Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)


A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is a senior living option that offers a continuum of care from Independent Living to Assisted Living to Nursing Care, all in the same facility or on the same campus. Residents enter into Independent Living and are guaranteed higher care should their needs change. This assures residents that they can age in place safely and comfortably within the same community.

CCRCs can be ideal for the right person, but they are not for everyone. They are expensive and require financial screenings. Potential residents must have sufficient income or assets to pay their monthly fees long term. Given the high costs, it is important to seek the advice of a trusted financial planner or elder law attorney before making this lifelong commitment. Also, potential residents are screened for medical issues and, generally, only relatively healthy people are allowed to buy into “life care” and “modified contracts” (see more in the “costs” section for explanation of these contracts).

Best Suited For

Individuals or couples with a higher income/assets who are capable of living independently (without assistance with Activities of Daily Living, ADLs), are interested in community living, and are focused on “aging in place.”


CCRCs generally involve a rather large buy-in fee to the community that pays for the home or apartment, and additional monthly fees that pay for the level of care they receive. There are three kinds of contracts:

Life Care or Extended Contracts have a high initial price, but guarantee that the monthly costs will never go up. Residents buy their home in the community (which may range from $150,000-$,500,000). In addition, they  pay a monthly fee (which may range from $1000-$3000 per month). This fully covers their care until they pass away, whether they remain in their home or spend their final years in Nursing Care or Memory Care. When residents do pass on, the home is sold and the estate is refunded most (between 80-90%) of the original purchase price. For those with the financial resources, this can be a great way to safeguard a portion of the estate for heirs, while guaranteeing care at a set price. Some Life Care Communities also have a policy that, if the residents become unable to pay their monthly fees due to financial hardship, the community will absorb that cost. This is not the norm, however, and most CCRCs have stringent financial requirements that potential residents must meet.

Modified Contracts have the same expensive initial buy-in but, in general, the monthly fees are not as costly as those with Life Care contracts. Residents start with relatively low monthly fees, which increase as care needs increase. Long-Term Care may be discounted for residents, and, in some cases, residents receive a specific number of days in long-term care free of charge. But when that time allotment expires, monthly fees may change radically. A person who pays $2000 per month while living independently may end up suddenly paying $7000 per month or more when they require nursing care. As with Life Care Extended Contracts, the home is sold when the resident passes away or moves to a higher care level within the community, and again, generally 80-90% of the purchase price of the home is refunded.

Fee-For-Service Contracts may or may not charge an entrance fee. If they do, it may be used to  pay for the cost of care that residents encounter as their needs change. These contracts generally charge market rates for their Long-Term Care; there are no discounts, and no amount of long-term care is free, unless specifically noted and covered by the entrance free.


  • Residents are guaranteed access to appropriate care when needed.

  • Families and seniors have peace of mind knowing that, no matter what medical changes seniors experience, they will never have to move to a different community (although they may have to move rooms/buildings within the CCRC). This continuity of care can be a great benefit. 

  • Contracts may have substantial tax benefits.

  • Estate assets may be saved.


  • Upfront costs are substantial.

  • Health and financial screenings may be required for potential residents, and the results may disqualify you.

  • Community dissatisfaction - If you become dissatisfied living within the community, it may be difficult to terminate the contract because of the initial investment (though some CCRCs have policies in place to return entrance fees or some portion of the fees under certain circumstances).

Insider Tips: What to Look For

One of the most important things to consider when looking into Continuing Care Retirement Community is whether their continuum of care includes Memory Care. For example, a married couple came to us for advice and assistance after they bought in to a CCRC at a high cost and needed to terminate their contract when the wife developed dementia and required a type of care that was not available within their CCRC. The situation was particularly challenging because most of their assets were tied up in their CCRC home, and the community was not contractually obligated to refund any money until the home sold. Therefore, before the CCRC home was sold, the husband had to pay for her Memory Care at another facility, and he had to finance a new place to live himself. It was a very stressful experience for this family. Fortunately, we were able to help him achieve a sound solution, but it took some strategy. It is better to avoid this potential situation and choose a CCRC with Memory Care if this is an option available to you.  

Other life circumstances may arise where an individual or couple wants to leave the community. Before you sign, it is important to understand the process and policies on terminating the contract. Be sure to inquire about a refund on the entrance fee. Ask how money is refunded and under what circumstances. If any part of the contract is unclear, ask questions of the community’s liaison. You might choose to review the contract with your elder law attorney to make sure you understand everything.

Do some additional research to make sure a financially solvent company runs the community. When you or your loved one is looking at investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to enter a community, it is important that they have a sterling reputation and will be able to provide what they have promised, whether it be for the next five years or the next twenty. Find out how long they have been in business, ask to see financial reports, and check for lawsuits against the company.

When touring, speak to other residents and ask about their impressions of the facilities, staff, and social activities.

Nursing Care


Nursing Care Communities may also be called Skilled Nursing Facilities, Rehab, Long Term Care Facilities, Rest Homes, or Nursing Homes.  

A Nursing Care Community is generally the highest level of long-term care available to a person outside of a hospital. As opposed to Assisted Living Communities, where generally only custodial care is available, Nursing Care Communities have the licensure and qualified staff to assist with 24/7 medical needs, such as medication administration (including IV); insulin injections; physical therapy; wound care; management of ventilators/catheters/oxygen, and other assistive equipment; and assistance with all Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Commonly there are some on-site activities to provide social interaction and stimulation.

Nursing communities can be divided into two categories: 

Skilled Rehabilitation: This is for short-term stays. It is an interim place for a person in need of medically supervised recovery from an illness, surgery, or injury. Medicare will help pay for skilled care under the right qualifications. Once a patient plateaus in their recovery and can be safely discharged, they return back home. If safely returning home is not viable, another care community, such as Assisted Living or Long-Term Nursing Care, may be needed.  

Long Term Care: This is generally for patients who have little expectation of returning to an independent lifestyle. A person transitions to Long Term Care when his medical needs require professional attention daily. Medicare will not cover the cost of Long Term Care. Depending on the state, and your individual medical and financial qualifications, Medicaid will help pay for Long Term Care.

Best Suited For

Seniors whose medical needs are so great that they require trained nursing staff for short term rehabilitation and recovery or long term care.


According to the Genworth 2012 Cost of Care Map: 

  • National Median: $200/day for a semi-private room, $222 for a private room.

  • Maine Median: $264/day for a semi-private room, $288 for a private room.

  • New Hampshire Median: $270/day for a semi-private room, $288 for a private room.

  • Massachusetts Median: $322/day for a semi-private room, $350/day for a private room.

The cost of Long Term Care may be supplemented by Long Term Care Insurance, Veteran’s Aid & Attendance, Medicaid (depending on the state and your individual medical and financial situation), or paid privately.  The cost of skilled Care may be supplemented by Medicare, your Long Term Care Insurance (depends on the policy), Veteran’s Aid & Attendance, and paid privately.


  • Qualified medical care with on-site doctor’s visits.

  • Improvements have been made to standard of living in recent years.

  • Covered by medicaid once senior qualifies for assistance.


  • Expensive if paying privately.

  • Small or shared living quarters, which can feel like a hospital.

  • Some seniors fear being “put in the nursing home.”  The transition can be difficult for the senior and the family.

Insider Tips: What to Look For

The federal government runs a website called Nursing Home Compare ( which houses information on all Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes. This site includes ratings on staffing, health inspections, and quality measures. It also provides detailed statistics on important information for each facility, such as the percentage of residents who got flu shots or suffered from urinary tract infections, as compared to the state and national averages. These details can be good indications of the quality of care.  

When doing research, Nursing Home Compare is a good place to start looking for facilities in your area. Once you identify communities that meet your needs on paper, it is important to visit those communities. Get a feel for each place and make sure that what you observe aligns with what you read. But please keep in mind that residents in Nursing Care Communities require a high level of medical support; the facilities often have the feel of a hospital in many respects. Be emotionally prepared for these visits and be realistic about your expectations.

When you visit, notice how the staff interacts with the patients. Do the patients appear well cared for? If you are uncertain about the interactions you observe and what they mean, do not hesitate to ask questions. In fact, asking the staff questions about how they interact with patients will give you a sense of their personalities and their professionalism. 

If possible, visit each location more than once at differing times so that you can see various staff members on different shifts. And when you visit multiple times, be sure to pay attention to the smell each time. In Nursing Communities, bathroom accidents happen. It is not rare to occasionally notice the scent of urine or other bodily fluids. When these accidents do happen, however, they should be cleaned up immediately and thoroughly. If you visit once and there is a smell, go back a second time and notice if the smell is still present. If the community is taking good care of facilities and residents you should not notice a consistent smell of bodily fluids each time you visit.  

There can be lengthy waiting lists for nursing communities. Therefore, it may be necessary to select several that meet your needs, since it might not be possible to have your loved one admitted to your first choice facility when the time that this level of care becomes necessary.

Memory Care


Memory Care within Assisted Living Communities provides dementia specialized assisted living care to meet the unique needs of people living with dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease.  Sometimes care is delivered in a separate Memory Care specific unit within an Assisted Living Community; other times communities offer a Memory Care Program to residents who are mixed in with the general population of the community.

Memory Care units generally have smaller populations of residents and have a higher caregiver-to-resident ratio than commonly found in general Assisted Living settings. Also these units offer therapeutic activity programs specifically designed to support and nurture individuals with memory impairment. Many units are “secured” with locked doors to keep the residents from leaving the facility unattended. This is an important safety element for seniors with dementia who may have a habit of wandering or exit-seeking.  

Room types on Memory Care units vary from shared rooms to private studios (without kitchens). The communities have public areas and serve meals in a public dining room just like other Assisted Living Communities. Days are divided into regular schedules, and most of the resident’s time is filled by a meal or activity. Many have outside courtyards that are secure, but allow the residents to enjoy being outside and to get fresh air. Staff is available 24/7, but a nurse may not always be onsite.

Best Suited For

Seniors with dementia who need management, supervision, cueing, and who could benefit from therapeutic or socially stimulating programing. These seniors can usually physically perform some Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), but require reminders and cueing to do them. It is especially appropriate for seniors with a history or risk of wandering or for those who exhibit exit-seeking behaviors.


Memory Care programs cost roughly $700-$2500 more per month than a general Assisted Living Community. In New Hampshire, where the average cost of AL is $4,000 per month, you can expect Memory Care to cost roughly $4,700-$6,500 per month. In Maine and Massachusetts, Memory Care costs run roughly $5,200-$7,000 per month.


  • High Staff ratios and a well-trained staff that understands how to respond to the unique challenges of dementia. 

  • A safe and sometimes secured (locked) environment, good nutrition, and medication management. 

  • A consistent routine - often people with dementia experience less confusion and happier moods once settled into a routine.

  • Therapeutic Activity programing that is appropriate for folks suffering from cognitive decline and who, despite this decline, deserve the dignity and respect that their age would otherwise command. Memory care staff are trained to provide that dignity and respect.


  • Expensive and the initial transition may be traumatic for the person with dementia.

  • Some residents do not need secured locked doors to prevent wandering.  Some people might not like that doors are kept locked. 

  • For people with early stage or moderate dementia, they may be at a disadvantage living in a community with residents with advanced dementia, and locked doors. 

Special Note on Memory Care in Nursing Communities

Secure Memory Care units or Memory Care programs within communities also exist in Nursing Care Communities. These programs are more appropriate for seniors whose behaviors require constant support and supervision, such as behaviors that threaten their safety or the safety of those around them. Alternatively, some seniors living with dementia require Nursing Care for unrelated chronic medical conditions and, therefore, are suited to Memory Care in a Nursing Community. 

In these units, individuals have less privacy and are more closely monitored than with any other care level. Doors and elevators are alarmed, and residents may have personal alarms on them to alert nurses if they attempt to leave or undertake a physical challenge that may be a danger to them, such as trying to stand, having forgotten that they have suffered from a hip injury. These units have frequent visits from specialists who are trained in addressing the residents’ psychological needs.

Insider Tips: What to Look For

Start by making a list of the medical, financial, and social concerns for your loved one, then add to that the questions you have regarding the community. Do your homework online first and find out as much information as possible regarding the reputation, state reviews, and ratings of each community.  

When you have narrowed your list, visit multiple residences for comparison. Ask to see the activity schedule, and ask what activities are catered specifically to the health of the patients’ cognitive function. If you are looking for a secured unit, ask what kind of security procedures are in place. It is ideal to find a setting  that also includes a secured outdoor space.  

Ask about available psychiatric services and speak with as many staff members as possible. This will help you get a sense of the professionalism and personalities of the staff. Ask about the type of ongoing dementia training the staff receives, as new developments in this field occur frequently. Also ask about the turnover rate of employees, as this gives you an indication of staff morale.

Memory Care is high in demand and low in supply, so availability can be scarce. As you plan, be prepared for waiting lists. As with all situations where cost and availability are significant hurdles, you may want to consider consulting a Senior Care Advisor to guide you through this process and help locate the best available care for your loved one.

Assisted Living


Assisted Living Communities provide a range of care between Independent Living Communities and Nursing Care Communities, offering assistance with daily activities and custodial care, but offering limited or no medical care. This is a relatively new option in senior care. Thirty years ago there were only two options: living at home or transitioning into a nursing home. Assisted Living offers a more home-like setting than a Nursing Care facility. It provides as much independence as a resident can comfortably maintain, in a social setting, while still offering qualified support with the daily concerns of dressing, bathing, and meals, etc. 

Assisted Living residences vary in size and may be a studio, 1-bedroom or 2-bedroom apartments. Residents have access to common areas and daily activities, as well as meals served in a dining area. Depending on the community, transportation, housecleaning, and laundry services may be provided. 

The trend in Assisted Living is moving towards aging in place. Meaning, some AL communities have increased licensed nursing staff, and met higher licensing standards to be able to care for residents as their medical needs increase.  This allows age comfortable in place rather than transition to a Nursing Home.

Best Suited For

Seniors who need some assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), including seniors with dementia who may be able to physically perform ADLs but need cueing support to do so (note: Memory Care may be more appropriate depending on the individual with dementia). Depending on the state and licensure of the community, staff may be able to assist with medication reminders and other minor medical issues, and generally a nurse is on staff. But for those who require consistent medical assistance, an Assisted Living Community may not be suitable.


According to the 2012 Cost of Care Map by Genworth, the National Average is $3,000 per month; in Maine and Massachusetts the average is $4,500 per month, and in New Hampshire it is $4,000 per month. However, keep in mind these are averages. Meaning, depending on where you live these costs may be significantly higher.  For example, in Southern Maine AL communities tend to average closer to $5,500-7,000.  Whereas in rural Maine it can be less than $4,500. Depending on the state and the individual’s medical and financial situation, Medicaid may assist with the cost. Pricing structures are different in each community, most are month to month agreements. When you are comparing prices at different communities note that some will offer “all inclusive” pricing and others work on a rent plus services model. It can be very confusing, but be sure to understand both the move in price and what the price variation is for accessing more care or services over time. 


  • Great nutrition, socialization, wellness and activity programs, 24/7 staff for safety, peace of mind for family.


  • Expensive, small living quarters that may not provide desired amount of privacy; seniors may find the transition stressful or they may look at this as a loss of independence.

Special Note on Assisted Living in Maine

In Maine, our Medicaid is called MaineCare. MaineCare does cover the cost of Assisted Living if your loved one qualifies medically (determined by the state through the KEPRO Assessment) and financially, as set by financial criteria with regards to assets and income.  Accordingly, Assisted Living Communities can be categorized as those that accept MaineCare as the payer source, those that accept MaineCare as a payer source only after a minimum “private pay” period is met, and those that do not accept MaineCare and are private pay only.  

Be certain that before you get started in pursuing Assisted Living you know which category is right for you, both short-term and long-term.  It is advisable that you consult with a Senior Care Advisor if you are unsure. In addition to advising you on the right community for you, a SCA can advocate on your behalf, potentially leveraging what financial resources you have to help you access care that you otherwise would not qualify for. 

Insider Tips: What to Look For

Once you have determined that Assisted Living is the right option for your loved one, it is important to know how to choose the right community for his/her needs. There are many factors to take into consideration, including cost, location (see: Location Tips), and what the community has to offer in programing and services. 

Note that not all Assisted Living Communities are equal in the assistance they provide their residents, there are assisted living communities that require folks are able to ambulate and transfer independently (no wheelchairs) and others that provide up to a two person assist with these activities. One is not necessarily better than the other -- it depends on your needs which is better for you, so be sure to know the difference. 

Before you tour different communities, make a list of questions you want to ask. This list should include:

What activities are offered?

May I have a copy of the activity calendar? (When you look it over later, check for a for a combination of wellness, entertainment, game, and craft offerings. Compare this to other activity calendars). Can I attend some events as a guest?

How much assistance is available with ADLs? Is there a limit on the hours of care provided? 

What happens if my loved one needs more care?

Is transportation to and from appointments offered? 

How often are laundry and housekeeping services provided? 

How often do you have care plan meetings? 

Do you have a physician/geriatrician/psychiatrist that makes house calls to your community? 

If your loved one is incontinent or takes a high number of medications, explain her needs and make sure that the staff is able to provide an appropriate amount of support. Be aware that certain medical needs, such as insulin shots, may preclude your loved one from Assisted Living. 

Adult Day Programs


Adult Day Programs are often hosted by Assisted Living Communities, Nursing Homes, Senior Centers, and other senior care related organizations. The programs offer supervised activities and social interaction for attendees, and some offer assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Most programs are open Monday through Friday during business hours, although some have extended evening hours. Many offer transportation within a certain distance. The types of programs can be generalized as following:

Social: Provides meals, recreation, and some health-related services (like medication reminders).

Medical: Provides social activities as well as more intensive health and therapeutic services.

Specialty: Provides specialized services for particular needs, such as those with diagnosed dementias or developmental disabilities.

Best Suited For 

An Adult Day  Program is a great option for seniors living at home, either with family or independently, who could benefit from the structured socialization outside of the home, or for those who are unsafe alone at home while family caregivers are at work. Commonly these are seniors who need assistance or cueing with ADLs, but are healthy enough to commute to and from the program with transportation support.


An Adult Day Program may cost $10-15 dollars per hour, or  $300-$500 per week for a five-day schedule. Subsidized programs are often less, and some programs offer scholarships. While Medicare does not cover the cost, for some it may be partially covered by Medicaid or Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Benefits. It can be a more affordable solution than moving a senior into an Assisted Living Community, and it has the added benefit of keeping a loved one in his/her own home or with family.


  • Social activity during the day, respite for caregivers, one or two nutritious meals daily.


  • Some programs have low attendance, may not provide transportation, and/or do not address the need for respite care during off-hours.

Insider Tips: What to Look For                                                                    

Depending on your location, you may only have one or two options for Adult Day Programs in your area. To determine whether your loved one is a good fit for a given program, determine what kind of personal support she needs.  Make a list of the challenges your loved one has - for instance, difficulties with medication management, mobility, toileting, eating, socializing, communicating, etc. Then be sure to ask the program representative about how they manage or support each one of these challenges. Inquire about transportation. If they do not provide transportation to your area, ask if they can refer you to a reliable, senior-friendly transportation service.  Visit the program to be sure it is a good fit. 

The National Adult Day Services Association offers a great deal of information in order to help you find and choose an Adult Day Center for your loved one, including a step-by-step guide to choosing a center. Visit their website at

Independent Living


On the spectrum of senior living options, Independent Living falls somewhere between Retirement Communities and Assisted Living in service offerings. Like a Retirement Community, residents live independently in small apartments or houses without assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Often there are amenities such as restaurants, salons, libraries, and wellness centers onsite, as well as scheduled social activities. This makes them an attractive option for seniors who are no longer driving.

Some support systems are in place for those who may want assistance with light housekeeping, laundry, and/or meal preparation (usually only one meal per day is included, but there is the option of buying more meals). There is often a 24-hour staff member on duty in case residents encounter an emergency, and some communities have homes set up with emergency pull-cords or pendant monitoring systems in case of a fall.  

Independent Living and the level of services available may vary greatly from one community to another. In some cases, Independent Living Communities may be associated with Continuing Care Retirement Communities, where residents can transition from independent living to assisted living or nursing care within the same community as their needs change.

Best Suited For

Older couples or individuals that are relatively healthy and independent, but prefer the companionship, comfort, and safety of community living. The proximity to help in the event of emergency is paramount.


The range is $2,000 - $5,000 per month for rent, and additional services can have secondary costs. Sometimes it is based on a month-to-month lease. Other times IL Communities have a membership or “buy in” model that requires residents to put a large upfront deposit on their apartment or cottage and maintain a monthly fee that ranges from $1,000-$4,000 per month. When the resident either moves out or passes away, usually that original “buy in” is returned to their estate, less about 10%. 

This is can be a good deal for the right family, but be sure to make sure you understand all the rules about the money return. Sometimes there are delays that might effect you; for example, they may only return your investment when a new resident moves into your space. So if it takes them 6 months to get a new resident you might not get your money back right away. This is something you will have to consider if you need to transition into Assisted Living and you are counting on those assets to fund the transition.


  • Great amenities such as onsite pools, golf courses, gyms, and social activities. 

  • Building and grounds maintenance are included.  

  • Age-restricted communities ensure a quiet and calm environment - no noisy, late-night neighbors! 


  • Can be expensive when compared to non-community living, and the house or apartment sizes may feel small, especially for the cost. Not covered by Medicaid or long-term care insurance.

  • Typically, no assistance with ADLs or help inside the apartment or home; it is common that residents eventually have to utilize a home care agency for personal care or medical help as their health declines, or they may have to move into an assisted living environment if home care is no longer financially or medically viable.

  • Just like with Retirement Communities, your choice in Independent Living Community may come down to your budget. Finding the right balance between affordability and availability of amenities and support can be difficult, and it may require some compromise. 

Insider Tips: What to Look For                                                     

Since the level of service varies greatly from one Independent Living Community to the next, it is important to determine what your loved one needs in services and social stimulation before choosing a community. Independent Living Communities that closely resemble Retirement Communities may offer, for instance, no housekeeping, while those that offer more Assisted Living type services may not offer a full kitchen in the apartment.

Make sure the level of support offered in your community of choice matches the needs of your loved one. Specifically inquire about  meals, laundry, and housekeeping. Also, it is good to know if they have an emergency monitoring system is in place, and whether a nurse can be made available if ever needed. It is unlikely that a nurse would be on staff daily, but one might be available on call to residents.

Regarding social activities, ask if there are community events. Many communities will welcome you to attend a few events as a guest to see if it is a good social fit.  If you have family that visits from out of town, ask if there is a guest apartment available in the community.

If your loved one is unable to drive, evaluate whether the community setup meets her basic needs with onsite access to amenities and/or transportation to the surrounding towns. 

Retirement Communities (AKA 55+ Communities)


Retirement Communities offer a maintenance-free living situation with great amenities, and they also offer and a strong sense of community among peers. Generally, communities are age 55+, and can range in structure from mobile home parks to apartment/condominium complexes or to houses of all sizes.  

Some Retirement Communities center around a particular theme or passion. For example, you may find a Retirement Community for golf enthusiasts where the homes surround a golf course, or you may find an atmosphere where seniors are singing, playing instruments, or actually acting in a play.

Best Suited For 

Retirement Communities are best suited for older couples or individuals who are relatively healthy and independent, who are looking to downsize, and who enjoy community living.  These people ideally do not need assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) but if they do, they may be able to access assistance through a private agency. 


To rent: Most average $1,000 - $3,000 per month. To own: Typically start around $200,000+ (less for 55+ mobile home parks). 

In many cases, rent or community fees include access to scheduled activities, to maintained common areas (such as walking paths), and to pools and tennis courts. Although not standard, some may offer transportation or housekeeping services for small additional fees.


  • Great amenities such as onsite pools, golf courses, gyms, and social activities. 

  • Downsizing living space to simplify housework.

  • Building and grounds maintenance are included.  

  • Age-restricted communities ensure a quiet and calm environment - no noisy, late-night neighbors!


  • Can be expensive and smaller when compared to a regular apartment or house.

  • No assistance given with ADLs or housekeeping; residents may have to pay for a home care agency for personal care or medical help as their health declines, or they may have to move into an Assisted Living environment in another community if home care is no longer financially or medically viable. 

Insider Tips: What to Look For                                                        

Retirement Communities range from humble to luxurious. It is easy to become attached to a place or to discard a place based purely on aesthetics. You can avoid this trap by making a list of the amenities that are important to you and align those with your budget before you visit. Take the list with you and be sure to ask questions about each item on it. This will help you be realistic about what you can afford and will help you identify the most important criteria that will make you comfortable, happy, and socially engaged.   

Do not be shy about what you add to your list. If you love to decorate your home with Christmas lights in November, make sure you ask if there is a policy on holiday decorations.  If the community advertises that dogs are welcome, do not assume that your dog is welcome; make sure you ask if there are any restrictions on breed or size of dog.