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A Guide to Retirement Living in Dallas

From the communities to the residents who call them home, the face of retirement living in Dallas is changing.
By | |Photos Courtesy of Shutterstock
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There is a good, and simple, reason senior living communities throughout the Dallas area are undergoing change—consumer demand. Today’s seniors who are transitioning from their longtime homes to retirement communities want their move to feel like a lifestyle upgrade—something that mimics the resorts where they vacation. They want to continue with their lives as usual—but without the hassles of home ownership. When weekly happy hours, on-site spa services, and front-door meal delivery are part of the deal, they know they are home. 

Approximately 52 million people in the United States are age 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2060, this demographic is projected to double in size. This means one in five people will be senior citizens who have retirement living on their minds. Thanks to improved medical care and healthier lifestyles, people are living longer. However, there’s a challenge that accompanies this good news—finding the perfect time to make a move. While many seniors are open to the idea of moving to a retirement community, they’ll do so with one caveat—the senior living community they choose can’t resemble where their grandparents and parents spent their senior years. 

“We are in a new era with respect to best-in-class retirement living,” says Patricia Will, founder and CEO of Belmont Village Senior Living. “We have a very sophisticated consumer today, relative to the consumer who came to us a decade ago. There is more interest in staying current and engaging in programs that lead to resilience and well-being.”

Nearly one-third of all seniors live alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While this living arrangement may be common, it doesn’t mean it’s always healthy. Isolation for seniors can lead to depression, weight loss, and cognitive decline, among other health issues. The pandemic has created increased isolation for seniors, as they remain in a high-risk group for COVID-19. Staying indoors and away from others is safer, but the restrictions for limited interaction that helped protect them during the pandemic have created other risks in their physical and mental health. This has led to a resurgence in the interest of senior living communities, as the importance of connection, socialization, and access to medical care has been emphasized.

“There has been this relatively long pandemic-invoked period of hibernation,” Will says. “As we begin to emerge from this, there is a wonderful sense of celebration in retirement communities now. There was a time when seniors clung to staying at home for as long as they could, but we are seeing the pandemic as a game changer. The isolation many seniors felt created a thirst for social engagement, a recognition about the need for on-site access to medical care, and an overall gravitation toward community living.”

Seniors who are shopping for retirement communities are impressed with the changes. Ke’o Velasquez, executive director of The Preston of the Park Cities, says most everything about today’s senior living communities is getting an upgrade—from concierge services and culinary experience to activities and programming. Also included in this transformation is the overall look and feel of the communities. For example, some communities feature artwork from local artists on display in on-site art galleries, lush gardens, an abundance of natural light, and handsome libraries—even billiards and bar areas. “Today’s communities are minimizing the clinical look of the buildings,” Velasquez says. “Many of the current residents grew up in the 1960s—the Woodstock generation. They are interested in adventure, engaging activities, elevated cuisine, concerts, culture, and unique opportunities for socialization. We are meeting those needs by providing excellent hospitality and offering a lifestyle that promotes flexibility and wellbeing. Additionally, our residents enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing customized care and services are easily accessible.”

“Today’s seniors are looking for a resort-feel lifestyle with on-site spa and salon services, movie theatres fitness centers, and casual restaurant-style dining.”

Julie DeBaun, The Retreat Senior Living

A lock-and-leave lifestyle, chef-prepared restaurant-style meals, concierge services, opportunities for travel, and a packed calendar of social activities have made retirement living in Dallas look better than ever. Just because seniors aren’t living at home doesn’t mean they are no longer active. Tim Mallad, chief executive officer with Forefront Living, says residents here are often on the go, entertaining friends, and trying new things. “Gone are the days of putting on a coat and tie and heading to the dining room for dinner,” he says. “Flexibility and customization are important. Seniors in a retirement community today may prefer to have dinner delivered to their front door or meet friends at the on-site café in t-shirts and shorts and order whatever they want.”

Today’s retirement communities are just as varied as the people who call them home. Some seniors continue to work part time while enjoying the efficiency and convenience of an independent living community. Older adults who are single are now moving to retirement communities with a friend or a sibling. Many couples who sell their homes and head to retirement communities are in their second or third marriages, and there is a growing number of same-sex couples in today’s senior living communities. “Today’s seniors are more active than ever before,” says Danica McGuire, executive director of Ventana by Buckner. “In our community, the average age of a resident is 76. Anything technology driven is welcomed by our residents, whereas 10 or more years ago, this was something more daunting. Physical fitness is important, as they have long prioritized their health. Many of today’s seniors want to continue to travel, even after they have moved. They want to proceed with worldly experiences but without the responsibility of keeping up with their homes. They are looking for a refuge that is easy and convenient—one where meals are provided, groceries delivered, a valet parks the car, and with plenty of opportunities for interaction. They want to be able to leave for weeks or months at a time without having to worry about a single thing. It’s a joyous way to live out the retirement years.” 

Tips from Industry Insiders About Planning for Retirement

Jennifer Austin, VNA of Texas

“There is a misconception that Medicare pays for your stay in a retirement community. That’s not always the case.” –Jennifer Austin, VNA of Texas

Sarah Harris, VNA of Texas

“Understand your long-term care policy and review it on a regular basis. What is the waiting period? The maximum amount? What kind of care will you get?” –Sarah Harris, VNA of Texas

Danica McGuire, Ventana by Buckner

“Consider communities that offer a continuum of care. Should your needs change, you won’t have to move to a different place. Instead, you’ll have a smooth transition from independent living, to assisted living, memory care, or skilled rehab. It’s like a bult-in safety net.” –Danica McGuire, Ventana by Buckner

Lacy Stanley, Christian Care Communities & Services

“Ask about and understand all of the fees up front. Look for hidden fees, and how they may change. Meet the residents and see what they like about the community. This is who you will spend the most time with. –Lacy Stanley, Christian Care Communities & Services

Ke’o Velasquez, The Preston of the Park Cities

“When you start to feel a desire to downsize and enjoy a new chapter without house chores and maintenance, senior living communities offer a convenient way to stay active and enjoy life. In some instances, if social connections or mobility decline, a move can be a welcome relief that often restores independence. We see a sudden blossoming with new residents once they move in and can engage with others in activities and shared meals.” –Ke’o Velasquez, The Preston of the Park Cities

Alyssa Adam, chief marketing officer for The Legacy Senior Communities, says the biggest trend in retirement living isn’t just one or two things—it’s a complete shift to cater to the Baby Boomer generation. From weekly themed happy hours to robots delivering and dispensing medication, nothing at The Legacy resembles the way retirement living once was. “We are starting to see Baby Boomers and their children shopping around, exploring their options for the next stage of life,” she says. “Our goal is to provide a resident-driven lifestyle that offers them more choices and control.”

Shared spaces aren’t the only areas of senior living communities getting a refresh—the homes are, too. You’ll find more square footage, top-of-the line appointments, extra storage, bigger closets, and added room for entertaining.  “I have seen a shift with the residents and their families and friends,” says Velasquez. “Retirement communities used to be a place where a resident’s loved ones would come only to pick them up to go out. Now, they come to the community for happy hour, dinner, family celebrations, or to join in the activities. We want our residents’ families and friends to come here and feel like they, too, are part of the community.”

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Ready to Retire?

Make sure you can afford it, and read the fine print.

How much will it take to retire? That’s a million-dollar question. The answer will vary based upon where you live, the age you retire, your plans for retirement, your health, and the type of community and level of care you choose. Planning is critical, as is using an experienced financial planner. Mark McClanahan, CFP®, managing director at RGT Wealth Advisors, says adults facing retirement should take a closer look at their investments as things have changed in this new economy.

“Historically, everything runs off the 10-year treasury and today, interest rates are low,” McClanahan says. “Anecdotally, 10 years ago, people could retire, and a municipal bond might pay them 3.5%. Today, that same bond may pay only 1%. In addition, the Federal Reserve has been stimulating the economy, and because of the economic stimulus, asset prices have been inflated.”

Today’s retirees find themselves looking at stocks, real estate, and private equity—all items that are expensive on a historically relative basis, he says. “If future investment returns are lower, you must take this into consideration if you are retiring in the next few years. So, what do we do? Generally speaking, the response I give clients is to be aware of expenses; it’s the one thing we can manage. As you approach retirement, be aware of your spending, complete some type of projection by engaging with a financial planner or using software that projects your spending. If you are exhausting your resources, you may need a revised plan.”

6 Retirement Tips

  • Know Your Income
  • Consider Health Insurance
  • Don’t Count on Care
  • Define Retirement
  • Decide When to Move
  • Be Prepared

Before you retire, be sure social security, money from a pension, IRAs, and other assets will cover your expenses and determine what, if any, lifestyle adjustments will need to be made. Being debt free is always a bonus.

If retiring before age 65, have a plan on how you will pay for health insurance before Medicare kicks in. Have professional advisors in your corner who can help with tax, investment, and Medicare questions. You have a limited amount of time to make mistakes and recover the closer you get to age 65.

Don’t count on long-term care insurance. There aren’t many companies willing to underwrite long-term care policies anymore. It’s harder to get and more expensive than ever. If you aren’t going to get long-term care, explore your options. This could be moving in with a family member or considering a buy-in type of arrangement with a retirement community with the proceeds from the sale of your home.

Pause to think about what retirement means to you. Is your idea of retirement your own dream or what you have been told retirement should be? If you want to work, the goal is to be financially prepared to take any job you want regardless of the pay, including volunteer work.

How are you going to change lightbulbs? This is a question from a MIT study. Your answer can help you determine when it’s time to move from your home into a retirement community. Be realistic about what you can—and shouldn’t—do and make decisions accordingly.

The services and amenities in today’s retirement communities are incredible, but they are premium services. There are many ways to pay for retirement living communities, so you want to be saving as much as you can for as long as you can. This is something you are only going to do once in your life—maybe twice if you go through it with your parents. Take the time to plan well and understand your options.

Source: Jen Grant, CFP®, Perryman Financial

McClanahan also suggests considering whether long-term care is necessary. What you hope will happen and what you can afford may not match. “It is more likely than not, based on historic trends, that a couple over the age of 65 has a greater than 50 percent likelihood that one of them will go into assisted living or long-term care,” he says. “This could be for a brief stay or longer. You don’t know, so you need to plan for anything. Everything comes back to planning. Consider the money you need to pay your bills, charitable intentions, travel—all your objectives. Every decision you make can impact your balance sheet, particularly from a tax standpoint. Even an improper beneficiary designation can cost millions. There are so many decisions to make. Getting even a few of them wrong can be potentially harmful to your financial situation. Good counsel can bring great peace of mind and potentially save you money.

Christian Johnson, the Park Cities branch manager for Caliber Home Loans, says in addition to working with a financial planner, planning for retirement should also include consideration of your biggest asset—your home. Reverse mortgages that convert the home into an investment could be an option, as well as cash-out refinancing that allows homeowners to take out some of their equity and reallocate it to diversify their portfolios. “The appreciation rate for homes in Dallas was 17 percent in 2021,” Johnson says. “There are few investments growing like that. I have been reframing the conversation with clients lately when people say they want to pay off their mortgage. Sometimes, this is the right choice, but there may be other options to consider.”

When shopping around for a retirement community, keep in mind there are a variety of contract and payment options to meet different financial and care needs. Some require an entry fee similar to a down payment on a home. Those who choose this option often use the proceeds from the sale of their home and apply it toward the community’s entry fee. In addition to this fee, a monthly fee is required that may cover a certain number of meals, light housekeeping, and other amenities. When the home is no longer needed, the community issues a refund on the entry fee to the senior or his or her estate, usually about 90 percent of the initial payment. The other option is a monthly rental, like an apartment lease, where the fee may cover dining, some level of care, and other amenities. The monthly rate in this scenario is often a little higher than the entry fee model, and there are no refunds. 

“Seniors want us to meet them where they are in their journey—not where we think they should be.”

Tim Mallad, Forfront Living

“People are often surprised to learn that contracts aren’t only about pricing,” says Tim Mallad, chief executive officer with Forefront Living. “When reviewing contracts, look at service offerings and think about the type of lifestyle and amenities you want. Determine what activities are important to you and look for a social network you can enjoy. Some communities are more care-driven and some are more lifestyle-driven. Look at what is and isn’t included in the price. There are many different pricing structures in terms of amenities and levels of care. In other words, the price isn’t always the price. You don’t think in your 60s you’re ever going to be 80, and then all the sudden, you’re 75. Put some time and thought into what you want your retirement years to look like.” 

Shopping Around

One of the best aspects of living in a retirement community is choice. However, having too many options can become overwhelming. There are many types of retirement communities, and all have different pay structures. Choosing a community is first based upon what type of care you need and a close second, of course, is what you can afford. Retirement living means different things to people and is most often divided into categories based on level of care. Many communities will offer a continuum of care, and some are designed to focus on one type of care. 

Jennifer Atwood Austin, managing director of development and communications for the Visiting Nurse Association of Texas (VNA), recommends stating your wishes, or those of a loved one, on the front end so that when the time comes to move, the only thing left to do is pack. Having conversations about next steps with your family before there is a crisis is something many families intend to do, but don’t get around to because the topic can be uncomfortable. VNA serves as an aging resource for individuals and families who are encountering these tough decisions. “We encourage people to plan ahead,” Austin says. “This includes where you want to live, who you want helping you, and who will be involved in medical and financial decisions. Make your wishes clear so the family isn’t left to interpret what you would have wanted at a time when emotions may be high.”

retirement reading
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Sarah Harris, managing director of hospice marketing with VNA Texas, says, “With so many options available for seniors, it’s important to consult experts in the field for guidance.” At the end of 2021, VNA Texas concluded the Medicare-sponsored palliative care pilot program as part of the CMS Innovation Model program. This program, which offered the option for in-home palliative care, was highly successful in improving patient outcomes and keeping those with serious illnesses at home, where they want to be. VNA provides high-quality hospice care when traditional medical treatments no longer offer the hope of a cure. Qualified and experienced doctors, nurses, hospice aides, social workers, chaplains, bereavement coordinators, and volunteers work as a team with the patient’s current doctor to provide care that meets the medical, psychological, social, spiritual, and practical needs of patients and families. “Every family is different,” Harris says. “Some families want mom or dad at home with them, and others feel they will get better care at a senior living community. We also provide resources on financial counseling and refer to vetted healthcare partners. For any level of care, doing research is important, whether you are researching a particular community or inviting a professional caregiver into your home.”

The most common types of retirement communities include:

  • Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). This is a community that provides all levels of care, including independent living, assisted living, memory care, and healthcare or nursing care (sometimes called skilled nursing) in one community.
  • Independent Living. This is often a choice for those who are active, independent, and don’t need any type of health or daily living assistance. Residents typically live in apartments and create their own schedules.
  • Assisted Living. This type of community provides housing options for seniors who may need assistance with daily living tasks, such as dressing, bathing, medications, meals, and activities. Fees vary depending on the level of assistance required. Care can be increased or decreased as needed. 
  • Memory Care/Alzheimer’s Care. These are secure communities that offer 24-hour support with a specifically trained staff that specializes in caring for patients with dementia or other types of loss of memory or Alzheimer’s disease. Structured activities and assistance with meals and healthcare and daily tasks are provided. Most communities are private pay and costs vary per month depending on level of assistance required. Medication management and 24-hour monitoring by licensed nurses and caregivers are typically included in the price.
  • Residential Care Home/Group Home. These are private homes that serve residents who live together and receive care from live-in caretakers. Assistance with daily activities is typically provided, and care is customized to each resident’s needs. Because the resident-to-staff ratio is low, residents get more one-on-one, personalized care.
  • Nursing Care/Skilled Care/Long-Term Care. Nursing care is typically designed for someone who requires a high level of care for a short period of time, such as recovering from a hospital stay or therapy services. Long-term care is for residents who need a high level of care with complex medical conditions who require a licensed nurse for a long period of time. Both levels offer around-the-clock care, meals, activities, and rehabilitative service under one roof.
  • 55+ Communities. Older adults who want to remain in their own homes but live in a neighborhood with their peers are gravitating toward 55+ communities, such as Gatherings at Mercer Crossing by Beazer Homes in Farmers Branch and Gatherings at Twin Creeks in Allen. Gatherings is designed for those looking to downsize without sacrificing the must-haves in their homes. The hallmark of Gatherings is the low-maintenance way of living, which includes everyday conveniences like trash valet service, professionally maintained grounds, secure building entrances, and a garage for every home. A series of built-in energy efficiencies help homeowners save on utilities. The condominium buildings are ENERGY STAR® certified, with energy-efficient details in place to increase comfort and lower monthly utility costs. “At the heart of Gatherings living are built-in opportunities for socialization, fitness, and recreation in an area bustling with energy,” says Jason Oates, division president for Beazer Homes Dallas-Fort Worth. “It invites a rich social experience to grow among adults in similar life stages. We love building communities where lifelong friendships spark.”

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Jennifer Sander Hayes

Jennifer Sander Hayes

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