Whether you are planning on moving in within the next 6 months, a year, or longer, understanding the “rules” of the wait list in your target communities can be the difference between getting in when you decide you want to or not. It’s also not a bad idea to get on multiple wait lists if there is more than one retirement community you would consider moving into if there was an apartment available and the timing was right for you.
Most communities require a refundable deposit of between $1000-1500 per person plus a non-refundable processing fee ($250-500 is common.) This ensures that less-serious people are not joining multiple waiting lists and “clogging up” the list with folks that need to be contacted when something comes available though they have l little intention of moving into that particular community.
Keep in mind that people on waiting lists usually have a wide range of time frames when they would be ready to accept an apartment and move in. So don’t be discouraged if there is a long list in one or more of your target communities. Just keep in close touch with the “keeper of the list” (usually the Director of Sales) and let him/her know if your situation changes ie. You planned on moving in from 3-4 years from when you got on the list, but a health issue has come up and you’d like to accelerate the process. Which brings us to the issue of health and timing.
Most continuing care retirement communities (now being called Life Plan communities) require that new residents meet minimum health levels, including both physical and mental. The actual levels vary from community to community, but in general a person needs to be able to live independently without assistance when they move in, including not having any memory-related issues which can exclude them. So as we know, one day you might be doing great, the next day that “something” you thought would eventually prompt you to move into a community, happens sooner than you expected. Did you make sure you kept your options open by getting on a waiting list? If yes, call the list keeper and let them know you are ready or close to it. Sometimes they will have an opening coming up that they know no one on the list is ready to take and you just might get a chance to get in. If you didn’t get on the waiting list already, you might be out of luck since you now have a need to move and there’s a bunch of folks ahead of you.
So timing a move into a retirement community can be a little like timing the stock market. You try to “buy” when you finally “need” to move in, and you hope that something has not happened physically or mentally to keep you out because you waited too long. That kind of "market timing" is very risky. As a resident who moved in and then had a health condition pop up unexpectedly said: Better two years too soon than one day too late.
Ask if the community you are interested in has an internal waiting list. Basically, if you already live in a community and that 2 bedroom with a view comes available, residents on that usually short internal list can jump ahead of everyone on the outside waiting list. One strategy is to take an available apartment and then transfer to another, more desirable apartment when one comes available. Often you might find that that smaller apartment you thought you couldn’t possibly squeeze into from your 3000 sq ft home actually worked out and you really don’t have the need any more for a more expensive, larger one.
In the end, it's about keeping your options open by getting on the wait list of communities you think would be a good fit for you someday down the road, just in case that "some day" comes sooner than you thought it might. It's a small investment with a potentially big payoff.