Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald
Today’s retirement communities in Western North Carolina offer active lifestyles, top-notch amenities, and much more.
Look no further than Jane and Bob Ragan to find contentment and happiness at a Western North Carolina retirement community.
The couple, residents of Carolina Village, are spending their third summer at the retirement community in Hendersonville. They live in an 830-sq.-ft. apartment that, according to Jane, is quick to tidy, has a wonderful enclosed porch, a washing machine and dryer, a modern kitchen and great room, and a more than adequate closet, bedroom, and bath.
Bob retired from Chevron at the age of 55; Jane retired from Greenville (South Carolina) County Schools at 65. They have two grown children—Beth, who lives in Salisbury, Maryland, and Taylor, who lives in West Union, South Carolina. The Ragans decided to move to Carolina Village completely independent of other opinions—perhaps in spite of other opinions. They wanted to control and choose their own futures and decide how and when to downsize.
“For years, we spent six months on the banks of Lake Keowee and six months traveling the Intracoastal Waterway on a Trawler (boat),” says Jane. “Lake Keowee is just down the hill from Western North Carolina; my mom lived in Carolina Village; so, we had learned to love Western North Carolina long before we sold our house and moved here. How could we resist? Mom had provided us with the admission fee to Carolina Village and after checking out other CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities), we found it ‘a winner’ on all fronts—and who can resist living in Hendersonville? Many of our new friends came to Western North Carolina to retire and moved to Carolina Village later.”
Jane elaborates on their reasoning in their move, explaining, “Honestly, Carolina Village is not our ‘whole world.’ Bob and I split our time because we have friends and interests off campus. Living here affords opportunities to enjoy short and long trips and different kinds of experiences. However, we consider ourselves year-round residents and meet our financial and personal responsibilities even when we travel. Before we moved to Carolina Village, returning home meant leaves to shred and place under plants, mulch and fertilizer to spread, and house repairs to tackle. It also included dusting and vacuuming and other chores in the house. When we return to Carolina Village, the leaves are removed, the plants have been mulched, the maids have cleaned the apartment, and dinner is waiting in the dining room. We can continue our six months home/six months vacationing with much more ease. We enjoy the staff and our friends. I have never encountered a disrespectful, unfriendly, or unkind person here. The E-Building Garden is my passion! I love it and thrill when our new friends cheer us on as we work to make our shared garden more colorful and beautiful. Bob, who had a triple bypass last year, is making good use of the E-Building Exercise Room.”
Jane and Bob also have a third roommate—their dog, Jackson, who joined the family after they moved to Carolina Village.
“He absolutely loves it here,” she says. “He is shown affection up and down the halls. He knows every possible route to the front office where he gets treats. Jackson has many new human and canine friends. We were thrilled to find pets were welcomed at Carolina Village.”
Jane and Bob are just one example of individuals who have chosen a retirement community in the area. But what exactly is the definition of a retirement community? Who lives there? What activities are available? Let’s take a closer look.
In general, there are two types. The first would be independent retirement communities, which consist of single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, or duplexes in which residents live on their own with a variety of services available to them, such as taking care of lawn maintenance and providing a recreation center.
The CCRC, mentioned above, is the second type, and/or a Life Plan Community, where a continuum of aging care needs—from single family homes, townhomes and apartments in independent living, to assisted living and skilled nursing care—can all be met within the community.
The CCRC offers a thriving community for active seniors to enjoy life without the everyday hassles of cooking, cleaning, and yardwork. And if and when they need care, it is available for them within their own community.
David Ammons is president of Retirement Living Associates, Inc. (RLA), located in Raleigh. RLA is a development and management firm in the senior industry. They have developed a few communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. In some situations they manage existing communities, and in others they have both developed and managed communities. RLA’s community properties include Ardenwoods (located in Arden), Legacy at Mills River, and Mars Hill Retirement Community. Each is unique and specific to the location, the market, and the product determined or desired. They work to ensure that their communities fill a need in the market and meet the needs of seniors that may not already be met.
The industry has many options, from traditional bank financing, bond options, for-profit versus not-for profit-options. RLA has worked in several of these and can help a client community consider the various options, from equity to debt, in order to find a finance direction that works best.
Ammons explains that the industry has for many years had the CCRC category of community and licensing. In most states these CCRC communities are regulated by the State. Specifically, in North Carolina, CCRCs are regulated by the NC Department of Insurance; and these are covered in General Statute 58-64.
“A couple of years ago,” says Ammons, “many in the industry felt the term Continuing Care Retirement Community sounded too old and did not represent the fact that CCRCs aim to be vibrant, active lifestyle communities providing a continuum of care if needed. So, a group nationwide worked and came up with the term ‘Life Plan.’ In North Carolina the statutes have not adapted this new term, but all would agree, I believe, that a CCRC is a Life Plan community with just a name change.”
The Big Boom
Continued growth of retirement communities is expected over the next 20 years as baby boomers, born between 1946-1964, look for a place to spend their golden years. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double, from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent, from the current 15 percent.
So, Why Western North Carolina?
Obviously, one primary question becomes: Why is Western North Carolina such a popular location for these CCRC developments? While many have been in the area for numerous years and continue to expand to meet a growing demand, new communities are being built. One of them is Legacy at Mills River—a proposed continuing care retirement community with assisted living and nursing options on site. They are now accepting reservations for Phase 1 construction, which means prospects have the opportunity to become a first-generation owner—enjoying the process of selecting, designing, and building a dream home. A range of luxury living options, from apartment style to neighborhood style living, are available, and the Phase 1 construction will include 210 units. The North Carolina Department of Insurance, which regulates CCRCs in the state, requires that 50 percent of reservations are secured before giving approval to break ground. Legacy at Mills River anticipates opening in 2022. They have two phases of construction planned which includes approximately 250 individual homes and an 80-bed state-of-the-art Health Center inclusive of assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing.
Elizabeth Ford, director of marketing for Legacy, explains that there are many reasons retirees choose a retirement community: “We believe retirees will choose Legacy for its equity model, allowing their investment in owning a retirement home to grow as a result of the strong appreciation we experience in WNC. We also believe Legacy’s resort-like amenities, 100 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty, and the security we provide with a full continuum of care on campus will be the main motivators for retirees planning for their future. Legacy is opening in response to the tremendous demand for this type of retirement living in our area. Many of the local retirement communities have long wait lists. At Legacy, the only wait is for us to reach our pre-sales goal and begin construction.
“We believe there are several reasons WNC is a retirement destination. Our four seasons and natural beauty are a big attraction to this demographic. Our region benefits from a state-of-the-art health care system and a skilled medical community with a range of medical expertise, especially for an aging community. Our region is known for its arts, food, and entertainment options. We have also found that people discover our region as a tourist first and fall in love with the area.”
Supply vs. Demand
As the population ages and Western North Carolina continues to be a popular retirement destination, a shortage of space availability in retirement communities will inevitably continue. New CCRCs like Legacy at Mills River will help ease this shortage, and expansions of others are also planned. Carolina Village is currently expanding their campus—the largest expansion in their 45-year history. In July they welcomed 54 new residents in Phase 1 cottages. Phase 2 and 3—additional cottages and apartments—are scheduled to be completed in November. This expansion will add an additional 160 residents, making Carolina Village the second largest nonprofit CCRC in the state of North Carolina.
“Some communities have little-to-no waiting lists, and some have waiting lists that place applicants three or more years out for move in,” says Carolina Village’s executive director, Kevin Parries. “So, while there is a healthy demand for retirement living, the supply depends largely on you and what you’re looking for. Each retirement community has its own personality. It’s important to find one that fits you and your lifestyle needs. Once you find that—a place to call home—it won’t matter how long the waiting list is. Our best advice to anybody interested in CCRCs/Life Plan Communities is to find a community that fits well with you and to join the waiting list before you need to move. This will provide you with many more options when the time comes. You don’t want to be left without options.”
Type A, B, and C
Since opening their doors in 1974, Carolina Village has been a not-for-profit corporation and a Type-A LifeCare CCRC/Life Plan Community.
“Our mission is to provide housing, continuing life care, up-to-date service, and a pleasant, congenial social environment to encourage personal growth and community participation for people aged 62 and older without regard to race or religious persuasion,” says Parries.
Type-A Life Plan Communities include housing, residential services, and amenities. Chief among these amenities is unlimited use of health care services at little or no increase in the resident’s monthly fee.
“We offer the full continuum of care,” continues Parries, “from independent living (342 current units, an additional 90 will be completed by the end of 2019) to assisted living (60 private suites) and skilled nursing (58 Medicare-certified private rooms) on our campus. By the end of 2019, we will have approximately 620 residents.”
Other communities may offer Type-B and Type-C contracts. Type-B, or modified contracts, generally include lower entrance and monthly fees, but limit the amount of health care services that residents can access without any increase in monthly fee. Type-C, or fee-for-service contracts, include similar housing and services as Type-A and -B, but require residents to pay market rates for any health care service.
At Tryon Estates, located in Columbus and part of the Acts Retirement-Life Communities, one of the most unique aspects is its life care plan (Acts Life Care®), which pre-pays any future long-term care that residents may need. Tryon Estates offers a comprehensive range of long-term care services, including assisted living, memory care, and skilled care located within the on-site health center. A full-time nurse practitioner is on hand for residents, along with home health services to round out a full continuum of care. As a Contract A CCRC (versus Contract C fee-for-service), Acts residents pay an up-front entrance fee and a monthly fee that does not increase solely based upon residents’ need to move to higher levels of care.
What’s in an Age?
Overall, age requirements for moving to a CCRC are anywhere from 55 to 62 or older. At Legacy Mills River, residents must be 55+ and qualify for home ownership. They have already experienced interest from a range of retirees, including a younger demographic.
“Our equity model allows people the opportunity to purchase a unit as an investment, and we will rent their unit until they are ready to move in,” says Ford. “Also, because about 40 percent of our units are located on semi-private and private home sites, we anticipate drawing a younger audience looking to retire to the Asheville area and live in a luxury mountain community.”
Biltmore Forest’s Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community, profiled by Capital at Play in the August 2016 issue and established over a half-century ago, requirements include age of 62, and there are financial and health requirements. To qualify for residence at Carolina Village, a person must be at least age 62, able to live independently, and meet financial and medical requirements. At this time, their resident demographics are 29.6 percent male and 70.4 percent female. They hail from Henderson County, as well as Europe, South Asia, and all points in between. Many Baby Boomers are searching for retirement living because they’ve experienced caring for a parent or have heard stories from others who have. They’re trying to plan in advance so as to take that burden off of their own children.
“The average age of our residents is currently 86.7 years,” says Parries. “Residents range from age 62, the minimum age that qualifies for residence, through 106 years. The 106-year-old is extremely active and doesn’t leave home without her iPad. We see residents live long, productive lives here, where they aren’t alone, they’re socially engaged, they feel secure, and they have access every single day to proper nutrition and medical care.”
Residents are age-eligible to enter Tryon Estates at age 62 and must have financial assets and income that allow them to move in and support themselves. Typically, residents move to Tryon in their mid-to-late-70s, with the median age of move-ins at 78 years old. Residents average approximately 10 years in Tryon’s independent living apartments. For those who move to a higher level of care (assisted living and skilled care), the typical stays are 3.5 years and two years, respectively. These transitions are made easier because of planning and the close proximity of care centers within the community (which are all under the same roof).
Carole Martin, CLU®, CASL®, RICP®, is a financial representative with Northwestern Mutual in Asheville. She advises clients on retirement planning and says that each stage in life brings change and new priorities. Your retirement plan should follow a similar process and evolve with life changes to meet your financial goals. Three common stages in the path to retirement are accumulation, transition, and distribution. The right plan should optimize and transition through each of the life stages and is essential to helping meet your retirement goals.
“As you save for retirement,” explains Martin, “you may use some or all of the following vehicles to accumulate wealth: deferred annuities, investments, 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, and life insurance. Once you transition into retirement, your retirement savings can funnel into your cash reserve—from liquidating investments when prices are higher, income-producing annuities, dividend, and interest generated by investments; or from other income sources such as cash value life insurance, Social Security, or a pension. By establishing a cash reserve, you won’t be as likely to have to sell your investments or withdraw from your other income sources at inopportune times, giving you a greater sense of security. Plus, you can be better positioned to more efficiently make withdrawals for your retirement income needs and have better control over income taxes.”
Martin warns that both taxes and inflation can take a bite out of your retirement savings—inflation by reducing your purchasing power, and taxes by reducing your income and leaving you with less money to spend. Your retirement plan should include tax-efficient options that can help protect your assets from the rising cost of everyday goods and services and from increasing taxes.
“If you decide to move into a retirement community or just downsize to a smaller home, two of the biggest home buying considerations are the costs of living, as well as how much mortgage debt you’re able to take on rather than stay in the home you already own outright. Take some time and do your research to see how the city or town you’d like to move to fares when it comes to factors like taxes, housing, and health care costs. For example, a 2016 analysis of top retirement cities by Kiplinger found that retirees in Decatur, Alabama, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, have a cost of living that’s about 11 percent lower than the average for retirees in other parts of America, in part thanks to tax-friendly policies and lower-than-average health care costs. In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, retiree housing costs are nearly 29 percent below the national average.
“Life can be unpredictable. A chronic illness, disabling condition, or cognitive impairment that requires long-term care could quickly deplete your retirement savings, especially since many long-term care services are not covered by private health insurance or Medicare. You want the freedom to either stay at home or get care at a good facility. Whatever choice you make, having a long-term care plan in place helps you afford it. Planning ahead with the help of a financial advisor can help ensure that you have the resources to cover an unexpected event or long-term illness and help protect your financial future. To protect against the cost of long-term care, it’s crucial to understand your long-term care insurance options and have a plan for getting the services you need that won’t jeopardize your family’s financial security. A retirement strategy should examine the risks of long-term care events occurring during retirement and the costs of paying for those events.”
So, Why Make the Move?
Why do individuals choose to make a major life decision and more than likely downsize their household for a move to a retirement community? Reasons vary from freedom from the upkeep and maintenance of a house and yard, to an active lifestyle, to accessibility to medical care.
“The reasons we hear most often from those looking into retirement community living are that they want the peace of mind of knowing they won’t be a burden to their children,” Carolina Village’s Parries says. “They want to know that they’ll be cared for—really cared for—and that they’ll remain independent for as long as possible. We put every measure in place possible for residents to remain independent. For example, residents never need worry about going out to pick up prescriptions; The pharmacy is right down the hall. Residents feeling a bit under the weather have a registered nurse available during the day to help. An independent living support team of nurses, certified nursing assistants, and medical technicians are available 24/7 to help with medication management and any number of other situations or questions that may arise at any time, day or night. Plus, residents are empowered with additional safety measures, including emergency call pendants and pull cords in their homes for emergency alerts.”
Many individuals have a goal of spending decades in the retirement community. At Deerfield, for example, moves within the community are usually from a cottage to an apartment, particularly if a resident is not driving anymore, which gives them easier access to dining and other amenities. Other moves would be transition from independent living to assisted living or skilled nursing due to the need for additional support services.
The Spice of Life
Variety is the spice of life—right? And that is one goal of a CCRC: to offer variety and allow residents to create the life they want. Many communities have an advisory board and also ask residents through a formal survey process what types of activities they would like to experience. The list of amenities at CCRCs are impressive in both the recreational and health aspect. Many lists of features read like a luxury resort—onsite massage therapist, movie theater, access to restaurants, and unlimited activities. But also included is on-site medical care when needed—health care centers, full-time nurse practitioners, care available 24 hours a day, fitness instructors, and life engagement coordinator. In many ways, today’s retirement communities are a small village within themselves, with all that one needs in one location.
“Our goal is to create a new standard for five-star retirement communities,” says Legacy’s Ford. “Life at Legacy doesn’t mean you have to say good-bye to the fine living you have earned and enjoyed. Our community will have multiple on-site restaurants, a fully-staffed fitness center equipped with everything you need for your workout, including a sparkling pool, aqua therapy sessions, and a European-style spa with first-class features. Additionally, Legacy will have a library, theater, multipurpose room, and a craft and activities room. We will have a full-time activities director to plan and execute daily activities both on- and off-site.”
“They move here so they can do more of what they love,” says Parries. “Residents can take in a movie in our theater, become active in countless clubs that suit their interests, hone creative hobbies in our art studio, photography studio, or woodworking shop, walk the campus for the expansive views, and so much else. We offer countless amenities right on campus so that residents are free to live how they wish.”
The key goals in the architectural design of a community vary depending on what type of community it is, but the RLA’s Ammons says that, universally, those designs need to encourage an active, interactive, open, and inviting lifestyle through well-designed spaces both inside and outside. He personally sees an ongoing balance sought between making a new community feel like home versus being as open and exciting as a very nice hotel. The hospitality industry brings many good ideas to design, but most seniors are not looking to live in a hotel environment. Many would say that the right blend may feel like a country club or similar design.
Each CCRC within Western North Carolina has an economic impact. With 100-plus employees at each retirement community, many jobs are provided for residents of the region. According to research provided by Riverbird Research, a division of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, the top five occupations employed are nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, licensed practical nurses, and registered nurses. Outside of the medical field, a range of jobs are needed, from groundskeepers to housekeepers to chefs. Carolina Village, for example, continues to hire in dietary, housekeeping, and maintenance in order to meet the needs of their current expansion.
Jimmy Buffett is joining the retirement community world with his Margaritaville-themed retirement communities located in tropical locations. Chances are that one won’t be located in our area in the future, but there are some trends already underway, including equity models and even affordable housing options for seniors.
Legacy at Mills River is the fourth equity model senior living community in North Carolina and the first in Western North Carolina. This is a transformative new model because now retirees have the opportunity to not only hold onto real estate as an asset, but have more control of the equity they will earn from owning a home in the desirable location of WNC. The home becomes the Legacy member’s outright—to keep, sell, or pass along to the next generation. Residents have a real estate closing and a deed to property in Mills River. When they leave Legacy, they or their estate will be able to sell their unit and likely receive 100 percent of their investment back, plus any appreciation of the value of that unit due to the region’s strong real estate market.
On the affordable housing front, Givens Gerber Park, located in South Asheville, and one of the more recently-established communities, offers affordable housing for 55-year-olds and better. According to Givens’ website: “Comprised of three buildings, Givens Gerber Park offers residents of modest incomes a welcoming neighborhood with amenities to make retirement a little easier. Rents are determined by the household’s income with broader ranges than typically found in traditional affordable communities.”
(Givens is part of the larger Givens retirement community, a United Methodist-affiliated organization initially established in 1975; in mid-July, South Asheville’s Givens Estates announced plans for a $42 million expansion in 2020 that will yield additional apartments—both upscale and affordable—and key upgrades to the seniors facility.)
Acts communities (Tryon Estates) offer discounts to retired veterans. In addition, all Acts communities have a Samaritan Fund to support residents who, through no fault of their own, have outlived their financial assets.
The Future’s So Bright, They Gotta Wear Shades.
“Gone are the days of sitting in a rocking chair in your twilight years,” says Parries. “Today, there’s a huge interest in staying active and staying involved. Recently, we had 40 Carolina Village residents show up at a county commission meeting to vocalize their support for a greenway expansion that would connect local parks to the Village campus. This would provide a unique wellness amenity to our active population. We’ve found that our residents always have an interest in this type of initiative.”
Seniors have a bright future within the retirement communities of Western North Carolina. An active lifestyle with a goal of spending decades in their new home is an obtainable goal. Today’s seniors are socially conscious and on the move, and Western North Carolina is an ideal home for them.
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