I recently visited a senior community in Santa Rosa, California. I was awestruck as I approached the front entrance. I didn’t notice the usual carport with pleasant beige stonework, an assortment of potted plants, and an automatic door.What I did witness however, told me I was in for something completely different.There was a huge Spanish tiled portico, a grand circular driveway, and beveled, twelve feet, double, glass doors, complete with a doorman.Those doors opened onto a lobby with a ten-foot high fireplace, marble tables, and seats of leather and velvet, which rivaled the Four Seasons Hotel.
Not to mention the view, which was infinite over the lake, out on to the Sierras. There were three dining rooms, a sports bar, a wine cellar, a movie theater, and a bank in the lobby. Lastly, it was complete with an “at your service” concierge, reminiscent of the great hotels of Paris.
This was not my mother’s retirement home. This was something out of a Hollywood movie. A movie about the future perhaps?
“It’s a growing trend,” says Nancy Ferrell, a community relations director at the senior community.”The seniors who are moving into retirement homes now, are more demanding,looking for exceptional service,and willing to pay in order to receive it.They are a bit different from the World War II generation that has come before them.”
Until very recently, the retirement housing communities have been serving the seniors of the greatest generation. Most of them lived in one home most of their life, managed to get through the war and the depression, and felt that asking for help was an embarrassing last resort. They were attached to the comforts of home and family. Many of them were full time homemakers.They cooked,cleaned,and repaired their homes throughout their adult lives,and into their later years.Most were forced into retirement or assisted living homes, due to failing health, or the death of their spouse. They were simply left with no other options,but all of that is beginning to change.The new retirement seniors tend to be the “young old.”They are moving to lavish communities earlier in life, so that they can enjoy the luxury and freedom of independent living, loaded with servicesfor a price.
Many of these seniors have had the luxury of going to college, owning a vacation home, indulging in an expensive hobby, and traveling the world when they were young enough to enjoy it. They’ve had many jobs, lived in several cities, and perhaps have married more than once. Simply put, they are used to change.They are much more comfortable paying people to do things for them, than the generation that retired just a decade ago.
Probably the biggest symbol of the new age retirement communities is the full time concierge. The concierge will make dinner reservations, arrange travel plans and theater tickets, pick up a package at Macy’s, and make sure your dry cleaning is delivered on time.If you wish,they can even have your shoes shined. At some communities you can have private transportation by appointment,and pet care, which includes walking and grooming. At most of the new luxury buildings DSL, high speed Internet, and digital cable are essential services. Many have complete business centers equipped with computers for day trading, email accounts for families, and digital movies on demand.
Food is often the thing that seniors dread most about retirement living, and for the most part, they are right. An over-salted, not-so-special, daily special, no choice side dishes, and frozen fruit pie for desert seem to be the norm. At the new wave communities however, a full gourmet menu and wine list is something that the residents have really embraced.There are trained wait staff, spectacular views, and candle light. A new meal allowance system enables you to use your dining budget over the course of each month, whenever you feel like eating.
One community I visited had a full service spa.It was not the familiar pink; vinyl chaired beauty salon on the main floor. This one had a refreshing twist, with marble floors and private rooms. Facials, massages, and mud wraps were available to residents, as well as the traditional manicure and hairstyling.They will even deliver services in the privacy of your apartment.
Of course, all of this comes with a price. The fees to live at these new communities are steep. Although, not so much when compared to the cost of running a house these days. Additionally, you don’t have to pay the gardener, housekeeper or a plumber. Resort style living is the next wave. It includes the best of a luxury hotel, the ease of condo living, and all the comforts of home.