Skip to main content
Plan Well, Retire Well

Surprises when shopping for a continuing care retirement community

Moving boxes in an apartment

You can teach something, but the doing is different. I’ve done workshops on choosing housing options as we age. I’ve even helped create a website about it! But I viewed the process through a different lens when recently helping my parents choose a continuing care retirement community.

A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) supports people at different levels of care, as they need these different levels. For example, someone might move into a CCRC and appreciate the dining services, housekeeping, and the availability of shuttle rides to a doctor or store. If their needs change, then they could receive services such as reminders to take medications, help with bathing or dressing, or escort to meals. Many CCRCs can also care for people with dementia. Of course, as more services are used the cost is likely to increase too.

What were the surprises as we shopped for a CCRC for my parents?

Meal plans

My dad was clear that the most important criteria of a CCRC was that they served three meals a day and the food was good. Hard to argue with good food! However, as we compared independent living apartments within CCRCs, we found that many did not provide three meals a day. In fact, even if you were willing to pay extra, one place only offered dinner along with a cold, continental breakfast. 

The meal plans often vary for independent living apartments versus assisted living apartments, and then again for memory care. Something to ask about!


Pets are not allowed in all CCRCs. While this wasn’t truly a surprise, my parents very much wanted to move with their elderly cat. This became an important screening factor as we explored CCRCs in both California and Illinois.

Shuttle services

Not all “shuttle services” are created equally. Be sure to ask how often shuttle rides are available, to where (doctors versus shopping versus wherever I want to go), and how far the shuttle will drive. For example, at the place that my parents chose, the shuttle service is available on specific days. There are planned days to a shopping center, and the shuttle can be arranged for doctor visits up to 10 miles away. Not as flexible as car ride services such as Uber or Lyft!


The cost of senior housing in California (the Bay Area) is much more expensive than the cost in Illinois (Champaign-Urbana). While I expected it to be more expensive, I didn’t fully expect the difference. And, to be honest, it was all more expensive than I had hoped.

According to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey, December 2023, the median monthly cost for an Assisted Living Facility (for one person) is $7,150 in San Jose California area versus $5,438 in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. That’s a difference of $20,000 in a year. These survey costs look realistic when I consider the research we did on costs. Of course, any CCRC could be more or less than the average.

When considering costs, keep in mind that the monthly fee can cover more than rent; for example, grocery and transportation costs are likely to go down. Other costs, such as home maintenance, trash disposal, gardening services, and more are likely to completely go away if a person is moving from a house to a CCRC. The worksheet, Compare Current Monthly Spending with Potential Later Life Housing Choice, can help people think about how income and expenses may change.

What were my takeaways?

Thank goodness my parents were able to save and invest money for this stage of life! Also, thank you to my parents for being willing to explore options before a health crisis that would have forced us to make a quick decision. We had time to explore and visit many places, consider what they valued in a new home, and then make a choice.

Another takeaway is to ask lots of questions and ask for it in writing so that all the details are clear. We found many details, and it was difficult to keep track of the options from place to place. A little bit like comparing apples to oranges. Ultimately my parents found a place that was affordable, felt “right,” and was close to family. Leaving their home of over 60 years was hard but they’re now enjoying exploring a new community. For those of you beginning this journey, good luck! It can be done.

Older woman looking at younger woman
Explore Other Resources

Looking for local resources to help with aging adults? Try ElderCare Locator -- a free government service. Enter your ZIP code or city and state to find resources in your community that provide information and assistance for older adults and caregivers.

Picture Kathy Sweedler
Meet the Author

Kathy Sweedler provides personal finance online education with Illinois Extension. Kathy’s emphasis is to encourage people to be confident in their financial decisions, and to help them explore new ways of thinking about and managing money. When Kathy is not engaged in Extension work, she is often traveling and piecing together family genealogy. Genealogy is a puzzle, not that different from managing money!

Sign up for Illinois Extension’s Personal Finance E-Newsletter, sent quarterly, to receive updates about blog posts and events.