Whether you’re approaching retirement, have been retired for several years or have an aging family member who may not be able to continue living on their own much longer, you may be thinking about exploring retirement communities. Perhaps you’re already well into the process of researching senior living options.
While looking into specific senior living communities, if you find any you’re interested in, ask if they have a waitlist. This option could be critical to your plans for the future.
What Is a Waitlist?
A waitlist for a retirement community is similar to a waitlist at a restaurant. By adding your name to the list, you have a place in the queue as openings (homes) become available.
In addition to specifying what type of home you want — for example, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, with or without a den, apartment, cottage or patio home — you may be able to request other criteria, such as:
- A specific floor plan
- The location (on the ground floor, near the elevator, near the dining venue, overlooking a courtyard)
- A certain price range
- A general time frame
The criteria you can select will vary among senior living communities, and so will the deposit you’ll need to make when adding your name to the list.
How Does a Waitlist Work?
If you decide you want to be placed on a waitlist for a specific senior living community, you’ll need to fill out an application and make the required deposit. Waitlist deposit amounts vary from community to community.
If your application is accepted, your name will be added to the list. Then, as soon as a home becomes available that meets your specified criteria, the community will notify you to see if you are interested.
You can turn down the opportunity without losing your place in the queue. The community will simply notify the next person on the waitlist whose criteria meet those of the available home, and you’ll be notified the next time a similar home becomes available.
If you decide you no longer want to be on the list, you notify the community and ask to be removed. Typically, the community will refund your deposit except for an amount to pay for administrative fees.
The Most Important Reasons to Be on a Waitlist
Every person’s situation is different, so your reasons for wanting to be on a waitlist may be quite different from those of another person. Still, there are several reasons that are likely to pertain to most people who are eligible or nearing eligibility to live in a retirement community.
#1: The demand for senior living residences is expected to increase and outpace supply.
By 2030, all baby boomers will be over the age of 65. Most will be older than 70. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, baby boomers are the second-largest age group, at an estimated 73 million. (Millennials, the children from 1982 to 2000, are the largest.)
Additionally, life expectancy increased for baby boomers, thanks in part to improvements in health care. So, not only are there more seniors in the market for senior living, they’re also living longer — which means they have the opportunity to live in a retirement community longer.
Plus, after dipping somewhat during the pandemic, occupancy rates for senior housing are increasing again. Counting the third quarter of 2023, occupancy rates have increased for nine consecutive quarters, according to data compiled and analyzed by the National Investment Center (NIC).
That same NIC data, referred to in a separate blog post, indicates the demand for senior housing is outstripping the number of new homes being added to the market. This trend has also persisted for nine consecutive quarters.
One real estate investment services company estimates that between 25,000 and 40,000 additional housing units will be necessary from now until 2030 to meet the increasing demand for senior housing.
#2: You’ll have more flexibility and control over your future.
We all know life can change our plans in a split second. What we thought we could put off indefinitely can suddenly become quite urgent.
Having your name on a waitlist may make the difference between you selecting the home you’ll live in or someone else making that decision for you, should your circumstances change suddenly.
Being on a waitlist could also keep you from having to settle for a less-than-desirable home, should you have to move on short notice. Some senior living communities have dozens — and some have hundreds — of names on their waitlists. All of those people have priority over anyone who’s not on the list when it comes to accepting an available residence.
#3 Not all retirement communities have the option to expand their footprint.
If you have your eye on a specific senior living community, putting your name on the waitlist practically guarantees you the opportunity to live there at some point.
Some communities with long waitlists have expansion projects planned or underway. Others may not be able to expand, whether due to geographic restrictions, limitations imposed by the community’s governing board or even local regulatory restrictions.
Even communities that are in the process of adding new residences may not have any availability in the near future. Expansion projects can take years to implement and bring new residences to fruition. A lot can happen in the interim.
#4 There’s virtually no downside to getting on a waitlist.
Although you will be required to make a deposit when you add your name to a waitlist, nearly all retirement communities will refund the lion’s share of your deposit if you change your mind. Some may retain a percentage to cover the administrative costs of maintaining their waitlist.
Knowing you have a place in the queue and the ongoing right of refusal as residences in the community become available can provide tremendous peace of mind.
And, if you do move into the community, your deposit will be applied toward the entrance fee.
The Future Residents Program at Heron’s Key
After reaching an occupancy rate of over 90%, Heron’s Key recently decided it was time to begin a waitlist, which we call the Future Residents Program.
When our community was in the conceptual stages, development plans included the option to expand Heron’s Key in the future. We are actively considering this possibility but have not yet made any firm decisions.
The Heron’s Key waitlist, which we call the Future Residents Program, will help us manage demand for homes that become available while we work through the decision-making process regarding a potential expansion.
Our First Future Residents: Jill Guernsey and Tom Stanfield
Jill and Tom made it their mission to be the first participants in the Future Residents Program.
Tom, who was our director of sales and marketing from the time Heron’s Key was in conceptual development until he retired in 2019, had advocated for a waitlist for quite some time.
Jill was on Gig Harbor’s city council when Heron’s Key was in the development stages and then served as mayor of Gig Harbor for three years while Heron’s Key was under construction and preparing to open. She currently serves on the board of directors at Heron’s Key, Emerald Communities and Emerald Heights, our sister community in Redmond, Washington.
Both Jill and Tom had been in previous long-term marriages and lost their spouses to cancer. Their involvement with Heron’s Key was instrumental in bringing them together. They began their relationship in 2018 and were married the following year.
When asked about their decision to put their names on the waitlist, Jill pointed out that they are both in their 70s and one day will no longer be able to life in “this gorgeous house we built.”
“I don’t want my kids to pick where I’m going to live,” she said. “I’d rather pick it myself.”
During his career of 20-plus years in sales and marketing for senior living communities, Tom said he’d heard every possible excuse and argument about why someone would not choose to live in a continuing care retirement community — and he says he wasn’t going to let those affect his decision.
“Gig Harbor is where we choose to live, and Heron’s Key is the best solution available to seniors in our local market,” he said.
“Because of my extended experience with Heron’s Key, I know a good majority of the residents there, and they are my friends,” Tom noted. “I have an appreciation for the people who live there and an appreciation for the culture of the community. When it’s time for us to make the move, there won’t be any culture shock.
“The people who live there are very ambitious, they’re active and they want to be involved not only in Heron’s Key but also in the Gig Harbor community at large,” he said.
Jill reinforced Tom’s observations: “I love the fact that they are their own community,” she said, referring to Heron’s Key residents. “They shaped Heron’s Key, and they run it. And they’re actively involved in the Gig Harbor community in many ways. I think that’s fabulous.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Future Residents Program at Heron’s Key and the benefits of being on a waitlist, let’s get in touch!
Featured Image: Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock