Cohousing Options for Seniors

Senior cohousing can make budgeting in retirement easier.

Senior Cohousing Options

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Communal living isn't just for college students. Senior cohousing is a relatively new but growing housing trend for older Americans.

There are currently more than 292 cohousing communities in the U.S. spread across 44 states and the District of Columbia. While the majority of cohousing options welcome residents of all ages, a select handful caters specifically to Americans aged 50 and older.

There are multiple benefits to consider senior cohousing if you're retired or ramping up for retirement. Weighing the advantages against the potential disadvantages can help you decide if it makes sense for you.

Senior Cohousing Yields Financial, Health Benefits

The premise of cohousing is relatively simple. Residents of cohousing communities live in private homes but also have access to shared spaces, including recreational areas, gardens, and community kitchens. Community activities, such as weekly potluck dinners, movie nights and parties, are designed to bring residents together on a regular basis.

The idea is to help residents draw closer connections in a mutually beneficial environment. For seniors, that type of interaction can be critical to their physical and emotional health. Loneliness in older adults has been linked to an increased risk of coronary disease, stroke, dementia, and a shortened life expectancy. Loneliness has also been tied to poorer mental health overall.

Senior cohousing communities can also be a more cost-effective option for older Americans who need to stretch their retirement savings as far as possible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, Americans aged 65 and older spend an average of 35 percent of their income on housing each year.

The cost of purchasing a property in a senior cohousing community can be similar to the cost of buying a home in a traditional community, but some offer affordable housing options for buyers with limited or moderate income. Buying a home in a newer development and downsizing to a smaller property can reduce maintenance and overhead costs, such as utility bills. Some senior cohousing communities also encourage neighbors to share resources, such as lawn maintenance equipment, further reducing expenses.

Are There Any Downsides to Senior Cohousing?

Living in a senior cohousing environment can be a great way to foster new friendships and connections while staying active through community events but it can be an adjustment from living in a traditional neighborhood. One of the biggest adaptations you may need to make centers on privacy and boundaries.

In senior cohousing communities, your home is your private domain, but you're expected to share common areas with other residents. That could potentially lead to disagreements or frustration as you learn to accommodate different personalities and other residents' individual quirks. In the beginning, at least, you may struggle with learning how to communicate with your neighbors effectively.

Affordability may also be an issue. As mentioned previously, many senior cohousing communities sell homes at market rate. If you're looking at a community that's in an in-demand area or hotter housing market, buying a unit could be out of reach for your budget.

As you're comparing prices, it's also important to balance what you're getting in exchange for what you're paying. Moving into a community with higher-priced homes may be worth it if it comes with a multitude of amenities, but perhaps not so much if the neighborhood perks are on the skimpy side.

There's one other important caveat to consider: your long-term needs. As you age, you may develop health conditions that require you to have professional care, either part- or full-time. In that scenario, an assisted living community may be a better fit. What you'd have to plan ahead for is the possibility of having to sell your home in the cohousing community and the likelihood of being able to do so quickly.

Compare Senior Cohousing Options Carefully

If you're considering senior cohousing in retirement or pre-retirement, take time to canvas different communities. Specifically, focus on things like:

  • Cost and how much you'll pay to buy and maintain a home
  • Range of amenities available
  • Proximity to shopping, dining and health care
  • Access to local doctors and the cost of health care
  • Demographic makeup of the community
  • Community structure and programming
  • Local climate and weather
  • Overall vibe of the area

At the end of the day, senior cohousing should yield both financial advantages while fulfilling your need for a sense of community connection. Looking at the big picture can help you determine whether a senior cohousing option is ideal for your retirement home sweet home.