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Writing the book on retirement living

Couple outlines criteria for evaluating continuing care retirement communities

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February 16th, 2017
Ralph and Loni Smith published their book, Worry-Free Retirement Living: Choosing a Full-Service Retirement Community, in 2005.

Ralph and Loni Smith published their book, Worry-Free Retirement Living: Choosing a Full-Service Retirement Community, in 2005.

Loni and Ralph Smith wrote the book on retirement living—literally.

Their comprehensive guide, Worry-Free Retirement Living: Choosing a Full-Service Retirement Community, was six years in the making as Loni and Ralph traversed the country visiting hundreds of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs).

“We were inspired by our friends Jerry and Gaye Kirkpatrick, who started us on this adventure,” says Ralph. “They visited more than 20 retirement communities in their search for a CCRC, but there was still an information vacuum. The more we talked with them, the more we realized the need for a resource that allows prospective residents to evaluate retirement communities and assess if they are a good fit.”

Questions to ask

Ralph and Loni’s first introduction to retirement communities came through Loni’s parents, who lived in Air Force Village [now Blue Skies of Texas] in San Antonio for 18 years.

“I’d never heard of a continuing care retirement community until my parents moved into one,” says Loni. “But that’s when we started to recognize their value. CCRCs provide socialization, health care, and worry-free living.”

Ralph and Loni also recognize that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to CCRCs.

“You might want to live by the ocean, up in the mountains, in the city, or in the suburbs,” says Ralph. “You might want to live near your children. What the book gives you are guidelines and questions to ask.”

When Ralph and Loni first visited retirement communities with their friends Jerry and Gaye, they started out with a list of nine questions. Soon, the list grew to more than 100 questions to ask at each community, ranging from topics like entrance require-ments to long-term financial stability.

“We included checklists and questions to ask in the book,” says Loni. “We wanted people to be able to evaluate communities on their own.”

On a mission

At the time Ralph and Loni were crossing the country and working on the book, they lived in a 55-plus community in Alexandria, Va. 

Loni, an attorney, was teaching business law and business management at Northern Virginia Community College. Loni is also the author of The Needlepoint Book, written under the pen name Jo Ippolito Christensen.

Ralph spent 40 years in the grocery industry and 10 years managing his lawn-care business. The couple maintained their jobs as they worked on their joint book project. 

“We hit a point in our research when we’d developed a thorough list of questions from the point of the consumer,” says Ralph. “That’s when we felt we needed to look at the industry from the vantage point of the companies who own and manage CCRCs.”

The couple attended conferences sponsored by the American Association of Homes and Seniors for the Aging [now Leading Age].

“We heard some of the challenges and solutions companies were finding as they developed CCRCs,” says Loni. “Overall, our research confirmed what we’d felt since my parents moved into a CCRC. They are active communities with the potential to add several quality years to life. CCRCs are one of society’s best kept secrets.”

Choosing a place of their own

When it came time to begin considering which CCRC was right for them, Ralph and Loni outlined their top priorities.

“I was ready to run away from winter,” says Loni. “We knew we wanted a community in the south. We also wanted to be in a city with stellar medical care. That put Houston at the top of our list.”

In addition to their wide-ranging checklists, Ralph also considered less tangible factors.

“We visited so many communities that I can get a sense of a place just by walking into the lobby,” he says. “Eagle’s Trace was full of friendly people, both residents and staff.”

The couple was familiar with the company that developed and manages Eagle’s Trace in West Houston. They’d visited several Erickson communities during their travels and even joined the priority list at Greenspring near their home in Virginia.

Priority list members put down a fully refundable $1,000 deposit, plus a nonrefundable $150-per-person processing fee, to reserve the apartment home of their choice. The date they submit their deposit becomes their priority list date. When their desired floor plan becomes available, priority list members are given first right of refusal based on their priority list date.

“The priority list deposit is refundable, so we knew we didn’t have anything to lose,” says Ralph. “We were also able to transfer our priority list status to Eagle’s Trace once we decided to move to Houston.”

Right fit

When Ralph and Loni learned that Eagle’s Trace was planning to open a new independent living residence building, Amarillo Terrace, in the fall of 2016, they were pleased for many reasons.

“Successful CCRCs are continually investing in new growth, bringing in new residents and adding additional amenities, as is the case with Eagle’s Trace,” says Loni. “Amarillo Terrace also gave us the opportunity to choose a brand-new apartment.”

The couple selected a two-bedroom, two-bath, Menger-style corner apartment and moved to their new home in December 2016.

“When we were writing our book, people kept asking where we going to move,” says Ralph. “Eagle’s Trace is the right place for us.”

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