Where to retire? Take your time

Gene Schmidt, 61, has always had this Humphrey Bogart fantasy. “I see myself in a white jacket, standing in a window high above the city, a martini in my hand,” says Schmidt.Last December, his fantasy came true. He and his wife, Christine, had just moved from their three-storeyed house in Toronto’s Riverdale district into a ninth-floor downtown condominium apartment.

“It was just after a big snowfall,” recalls Schmidt, director of marketing for One Eleven Avenue Road, a prestige seniors’ development. “I was standing with my martini, looking at the city skyline, and I glanced down.” He wondered for a moment what was going on down there.
“Then I realized – they were shoveling snow. And I said, ‘Yeah!'”

Non-winter living
A lot of us have had a touch of that Bogart fantasy. There’s nothing like a blizzard or a driveway choked with snow to concentrate the mind on retirement living alternatives. And even on balmy winter days, snowball fights and snow angels don’t seem as amusing as they once did.

Many Canadians, leaning on their snow shovels, have promised themselves,  “Next winter is going to be different. There are gointo be some changes around here!”

Pat and Ivor James have put old man winter in his place once and for all. They began their search for a new life at the beginning of January 2000, and by this past winter they were snug in their bungalow at the Villages of Glancaster condo community in Ancaster, Ontario, just west of Hamilton.

There, snow clearing and grass cutting are all taken care of, and there’s a full slate of activities every day at the superb country club just a short walk from their front door.

Edna Beange, 80, and a widow, also enjoyed her first winter without ever having to move from her old neighbourhood. Deciding that the garden and the house were too much for her, she bought a beautiful apartment in a seniors’ building where she’s free to devote even more time to her round of community activities.

For Annemarie and Gary Slipper, winter’s only a distant memory. These Canadians moved to Mexico in 1987. “We couldn’t face the cold now,” says Annemarie.

Linda and Bryon Hollinger, from Kitchener, are also cutting their ties. They’ve sold their home and are heading south this fall in their brand-new 40-foot mobile home.

Is there such a thing as better weather without going south? Try Vancouver Island. That’s what Grant and Sharon Bridgeman did when they moved from Edmonton to Chemainus, an up-island community where they enjoy sailing and catching crabs.

Take your time
What’s the advice for folk tired of winter and looking for a better alternative? It amounts to three words: take your time.

Annemarie Slipper says she has seen too many Canadians come to her town of San Miguel de Allende and, bowled over by its beauty, buy a home within days – only to regret it later.

Leigh Terry, a consultant who advises retirement community developers, says one or two years is not too long to devote to the search for the right place for you. “One of the biggest mistakes people make,” she says, “is not doing enough research.”

And some people, she says, move too far out. “I would want to be within 20 or 30 minutes of a good-sized town so I wouldn’t be completely dependent on the community centre. I’d also want access to care services such as doctors and dentists,” she says.

Assess your needs
“Examine your activities now and make sure they’re within reach when you move,” she advises.

The type of ownership is important. Problems have arisen with some land-lease projects when land rents have gone up-it’s preferable to look for a guarantee that rents won’t rise above a certain amount. It’s also advisable to check on the resale potential, just in case you decide to move after a while.

Generally though, you should be buying with a 15-year horizon rather than buying with just the next year or two in view.

Assess your finances
Looking ahead, it’s also important to make careful choices in the finishing touches of your new home so you don’t have the expense of changing them a couple of years later when you’re not as enamoured of them. Also, make sure you understand exactly what’s included in the price of your unit so there are no surprises when you move in.

You also need to cut your cloth to fit your purse: many people are moving to downtown condos for a livelier pace of life, but expect to make compromises in terms of space. You won’t find condo bungalows in the city, says Terry. They’re too expensive.

Consider all options
Terry’s final tip on retirement communities (which are actually called ‘lifestyle communities’ these days as more and more ’50-ish’ people move in): buying beside a golf course is a good idea – even if you don’t play. Most golf development buyers, in fact, aren’t golfers. But they like the view, the course is great for cross-country skiing and walking, the clubhouse is handy and these projects hold their value.

Finally, you don’t, of course, have to move at all. You can stay where you are and hire the kind of help you need, whether that’s clearing snow, cutting grass or nursing care.

Of course, the choice is all yours-and what a vast array of choices there are.