Coffee heat rising

Out of the Frying Pan into…?…

A question that comes more and more often to mind: should you move out of your home and into a life-care community while you still can? They usually won’t accept you unless you’re ambulatory, so if you’re in a wheelchair, for many of those places, you’re no longer eligible. This means you’ve got to cut short time that you might be fully ambulatory and surrender your independence now to secure a place as insurance against the possibility that someday you might not be able to care for yourself.

Just this morning I found myself revisiting that question, when I came across this pretty nifty shack, on the market out in Sun City. It’s very different-looking from the standard Del Webb model, it’s been updated beautifully, and the seller is asking about $50,000 less than I could get for my house. Thus I could probably sell my house, pay the movers, and still have a few bucks in my pocket.

But still. It’s Sun City: a mausoleum for old folks who refuse to die and wish not to have kiddies around them. I lived there with my mother for awhile between undergraduate and graduate school and really don’t want to live there again. Not that it’s not nice and all…but…it is a ghetto for old folks. Ideally, I want to “age in place” in my present home. Yet it’s unclear whether that’s the best plan of action, given the costs and hassles, the crime rate here, the risks entailed in aging alone, and just the size of the property.

The alternative is a life-care community such as The Beatitudes, a destination upon which we have touched before in these precincts. One of my choir friends and her late husband moved into the Beatitudes and decided they didn’t like it. Even tho’ the outfit refunds your money if you decide to move out within a certain period, it must have been a mighty pricey fiasco for them. The cost of moving alone is a big hit, to say nothing of the costs of selling a house and then having to replace a lot of furniture that wouldn’t fit into a tiny old-folkerie apartment. Add to that the cost of having to buy another house and move again! Still, you have to think realistically about whether you can manage on your own if you age — even if you stay pretty healthy into your dotage, you’ll still be in your dotage. About the time you hit 85 or 90, you’re gonna need some help with everyday living.

Clearly, in a culture where adult children expect to pretty much divorce their parents, there’s no easy way to address the problems presented by old age. I figure the trick has got to be to plan ahead. Way ahead.

So if, like me, you’re inveterately rogueish when it comes to institutional life, then you need to come up with a plan that will work to keep you out of a warehouse for old folks, at least until you’re just a few months from the end. SDXB seems to have thought that through reasonably well. Consider what you need and don’t need:


  • A roof over your head without a lot of space to keep clean, and in good repair
  • A low-maintenance yard
  • Ideally, a place you can lock up and leave whenever the mood suits you — go away for the summer, go off on a cruise, whatever
  • Low costs
  • Reasonable safety (low crime rate; decent fire department)
  • Nearby medical care, hospitals, and yes — even nursing homes

Don’t Need:

  • A large amount of living space
  • Yard landscaping to take care of
  • Swimming pool
  • Central urban location (interestingly, now that the city has oozed that far westward, Sun City is “centrally located” in its space)
  • Pets
  • Children
  • Anything to hold you down

Well, Sun City exactly fits those needs. The floor plan of the house that SDXB found there is to die for. It’s perfect for one person, or for two people who like each others’ company a lot. If I could get that place and transport it to Prescott or Peeple’s Valley, I’d do it in an instant.

Costs are low out there because in the older tracts, there are no school taxes! When Del Webb started his first tract, he talked the County into exempting it from school taxes on the grounds that no one living there would be sending their kids to the local schools. Additionally, because people can get to shopping, churches, doctors & clinics, entertainment, and whatnot without ever leaving Sun City, car insurance rates are relatively low (though higher than you’d expect because the widespread senile driving habits do drive up the accident rate some); and because the houses are all block construction and most have no pool, homeowner’s insurance rates are in the sub-basement. So that fulfills three of the proposed six planning “needs”: easy-to-maintain living space, little or no exterior maintenance, and low cost of living.

Crime rates are very low. To the extent there is crime, most of it occurs along the main drags that run through the area, not in the residential parts, per se. This picks off two more criteria: low crime, and because of that, it’s reasonably safe to leave a house for several months at a time. And finally, there are two major hospitals out there, one of them among the three highest-rated hospitals in the state. They also have one of the best life-care communities in the state, if it should come to that.

My guess is that my father stumbled across Sun City — he was sailing out of San Pedro at the time and counting the minutes until he could retire. They’d seen a condo in Long Beach that I thought was very nice, but apparently it was also very expensive, something that was agin’ my daddy’s principles. With that idea vetoed, my father proposed that they move into a trailer on the coast: all very scenic…and appropriately cheap. My mother was having none of that.

Right about that time, Del Webb was building the first phase of Sun City, and he had a nationwide ad campaign going. My father must have seen some of that advertising or else one of the men on the boat knew about it and told him. Whatever, nothing would do but what they had to move to Arizona.

My mother didn’t seem to object to Sun City. They did, after all, have a house, not an apartment, for a change. The weather was nice most of the year. And she was an affable soul — made friends easily wherever she went.

SC worked out pretty well for my parents, but it must have been difficult for my mother. Her best friend lived in Long Beach, and her family lived in the Bay Area, a reasonably easy drive up the coast. She never complained, but my guess is she must have been only moderately happy there (which is a way of saying she may very well have been miserable). Long Beach was a city, part of the LA area. Sun City was a fake town in the cotton fields outside of Phoenix, which at the time was a dumpy small city/big town in the middle of nowhere. She was a city girl. Although my father’s brother & his wife moved there, as did two couples who had been longtime friends, if you don’t golf and you’re not into ballroom dancing or pointless crafts projects, there isn’t much to do other than play cards.


Now let us consider whether, if you were truly afraid to age in solitude (and there are good reasons to be afraid), the cost of living in a place like the Beatitudes would pay for itself.

Let’s assume that the rumor we’ve heard — a cramped two-bedroom in a tower at the Beatitudes costs $7,000 a month, inclusive all services — is actually true. That may not be a good assumption, as it may be based on the number of people occupying the apartment; and of course, it may be inaccurate. But let us assume.

At $7,000 a month, my total assets would support me for 25.9 years if I stayed in my home. At $3,500 a month (assuming the 7 grand figure is for two people and one occupant would be half that figure), obviously I could live here for almost 52 more years.

Although it’s not impossible that I’ll live beyond the century mark, it’s not likely, and so very probably that I could stay here until the end of my life. Especially since I don’t spend anything even vaguely like 7 grand a month, by the time I become infirm enough to need daily help, plenty of cash would be left to pay for it.

If I were to move into the Beatitudes now and fork over the total value of my home to move in there, then my remaining assets would support me for 17.8 years at $7,000/month.  And should I happen to live that long, I’d be 92 when the money runs out: right about the age when one really does need a life-care environment.

So: would it not make sense to stay in one’s home at least until one’s mid-80s? Preferably into one’s 90s, if one lived that long?


After my parents had been in Sun City about ten or twelve years, my father found out about life-care communities and, specifically, about Orangewood, an old-folkerie on the northern border of North Central Phoenix. My father thought the life-care concept was a GRAND idea. Even though the Sun City house was a low-maintenance affair — gravel lawns = no mowing! — he apparently was thinking they wouldn’t be able to care for themselves forever in a freestanding house, and they might as well get themselves in the door at Orangewood while it was still easy to do so.

My mother did not want to move to Orangewood and, for what was probably the first time in their marriage, she put her foot down and she got her way.

So they were still in the Sun City house when she succumbed to cancer. But as soon as she died — literally within a couple of weeks — my father applied to the place. The six- or eight-month waiting list was an exaggeration: within a few weeks they were welcoming him to c’mon in.

He didn’t mind Orangewood. It would have made me crazy, but he had lived on ships since he was about 17 and so was socialized to institutional life. And he was a guy who would eat whatever was put in front of him, so he didn’t seem to resent the awful out-of-a-bag-into-a-steam-table processed horrid food. He appeared to be happy there, at least until he was a couple years into the marriage with the dreadful Helen, who snatched him up the minute he walked in the door. The point being, if you don’t mind that lifestyle, including a life-care community in your long-term planning makes sense. In my father’s case, he rescued his family (families, actually) from having to shoulder a great deal of terrifying responsibility after he arrived on his deathbed. He received excellent care in his few final months, and for that matter, was kindly accommodated all the time he lived there. With the exception of a predatory doctor who was in the business of ripping off Medicare, staff at Orangewood truly were wonderful people.

My father’s Grand Plan for old age (first in Sun City; then, as an afterthought, in a lifecare community) worked well for him, except for his having married Helen. After the honeymoon wore off, she drove him nuts. At one point — get this!! — he found a similar life-care old-folkerie down the road, except you didn’t have to buy in: you could rent! So…being a wily old bustard, he snuck over there and rented a studio apartment. This he outfitted with an easy chair, a television, a lamp or two, and a coffee pot (no doubt a bottle of Canadian Club, too). He would tell Helen that he was going about one errand or another — usually his excuse was he had to take the car to the repair shop, and he was going to wait there for the work to be done. He must have had other excuses, too, but I have no idea what they might’ve been. Then he would drive over to this apartment and spend the whole day in blissful peace and quiet, parked in front ot the television set! 😀

After a few months of this, he gave it up. He sold the bargain furniture and TV set and returned to domestic…uhm…bliss at Orangewood. He must have been miserable. He told me he was afraid to divorce her because of the community property laws: “she’ll get all my money!” And, her mother being a Superior Court judge and her son-in-law being an accountant who also had a law degree, he could’ve been right…

  • So, item: Do not mess up your old-age plan by remarrying, should you be widowed. Far better to live in sin.
  • Item: In that department, a live-out arrangement is infinitely preferable to a live-in arrangement.
  • And item: Consider all the potential alternatives to your plan.