Comfort Life - Your guide to retirement & care

Planning ahead: having it all in a retirement condo

Dorothy and Grant Guthrie live in a condo. They also live in a retirement residence.

Like many seniors, a year ago they found themselves betwixt and between. They had sold their three-storey townhouse-after a hip replacement, Grant was not up to the stairs-and had rented a condo apartment for three years. But it was like a ghost town. "Ninety per cent of the people were at work," says Grant.

They wanted the freedom, and investment potential, of a condo, yet they also wanted human contact and activities. As they searched, "nothing seemed to twig with us," says Grant. Then they learned about the new Amica at City Centre project near Square One in Mississauga, which consists of two linked buildings, one a retirement residence, the other a senior condominium building.

Now, every morning around 10:00, Grant and Dorothy, both 80, cross via the underground link to the plush retirement residence for morning coffee in the lounge. "You come down, and every morning you see someone you know," says Grant.

These days, the lines are blurring between retirement residences and condos. The reason: Developers are rushing to meet the demands of "tweens" (aka "middle old") like Grant and Dorothy, who are not ready for the services and the costs of a retirement residence, but don't want the bother of a house of their own anymore. They are the crowd who, for now, are using golf clubs rather than walkers.

The Sunrise Senior Living chain of residences, for instance, caters usually to people needing a greater or lesser degree of care. But Sunrise's new Thorne Mill on Steeles building, opening in August, while it is still rental, caters to more active seniors. Although two meals a day are included in the rental, the apartments have full kitchens and their own laundry facilities. Luxury touches include a pool, spa and theatre.

"We are catering to seniors who are perhaps 80 rather than 85," says Jill Wetstein, director of sales and marketing. A few years ago, 80 would have been considered old; now many 80-year-olds are still on the golf course. And, says Jill, "they want an independent lifestyle."

Another answer will be provided by Palisades on the Glen (now Parkland on the Glen), a seniors' condominium under construction on the grounds of the handsome, stone Glenerin Inn in Mississauga. The Palisades is aimed squarely at the baby boomers heading for the retirement years. One-third of the apartments will be sold-at prices starting at $220,000 for a one-bedroom unit-while two-thirds will be retained for rental. It gives those boomers the chance to move into a luxury setting-with five-star restaurant and all the amenities of the inn-and, later, to the retirement residence floors where support services will be available.

Hearthstone By The Bay, on the other hand, will be all condominium, but with a heavy emphasis on seniors' services. Geared for "aging in place," it will have a 20,000-square-foot public area for its fitness facilities and wellness centre when it is completed next year on Toronto's west-end waterfront.

Why would seniors buy instead of rent? "The last thing they want to do is rent again," says Christine Brennan, director of sales and marketing at Hearthstone. They want to preserve their equity and enjoy an apartment with full kitchen and other amenities that go with a condo, she says. Buyers so far range in age from the mid-60s to the 80s. It's a great option, among many available when it comes to retirement homes.

Dorothy and Grant, too, wanted to "build up a bit of equity" when they bought their two-bedroom apartment at Amica at City Centre for $342,000. Also, in the residence, they would have been eating most meals in the dining room. "We weren't ready for that," says Grant. "Last night we had two lovely pieces of tilapia (in their apartment)." But if they don't feel like cooking and don't want to go out, they can make a reservation and pay for dinner in the dining room.

Condo owners pay maintenance fees between $320 and $460 a month, but don't need to feel guilty about using the retirement residence facilities such as the pool and movie theatre-the condo pays 55 per cent of the cost of those facilities. "But the best thing is making new friends," says Dorothy. "I can come down and chat and play cards." "Yesterday, she went down at 2:00 and didn't come back until 5:30," says her husband. "Some day, we are going to need this building (the retirement residence). We will know everyone, and we can just move across."




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