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6 tips to evaluating a retirement community

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2. Check the impact on your checkbook
Dr. Neal Cutler, associate director of the University of North Carolina Gerontology Program in Greensboro, says retirement is a much more complicated process for baby boomers than it was for their parents and previous generations. They also tend to take a different approach to their homes. "Boomers are more likely to move around and use their homes as capital, whereas their parents couldn't wait to tear up the mortgage," Cutler says. Because pulling up life-long stakes and moving into a new community is such a big decision, financial considerations should go well beyond housing.

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For example, a survey conducted in 2006 by Mercer Human Resources Consulting ranking the cost of living in major international cities lists New York City as the most expensive in the country. No big surprise there, but would you have guessed that Winston-Salem, N.C., was rated cheapest among U.S. cities surveyed?

You may have checked out property taxes and average home prices in places you're considering. But what about sales tax on necessities like food or the cost of homeowner's insurance and transportation expenses? How much is bread or coffee compared to where you live now?

Remember, too, that some necessities don't remain static. Heating and cooling bills fluctuate in places with extreme seasons. Residing in resort areas often mean that prices rise and fall with the tourist season, and services covered by taxes in your present community, such as trash pick-up, may be billed separately.

Don't forget to look at college towns. It's one place where you're sure to find good, but reasonably-priced entertainment and lots of bargains. Places that cater to student budgets can be a bonanza for retirees.

Bankrate tip: Find out how much it will cost to live in a desired place by using Bankrate's cost of living calculator and let us do the math for you. Follow it up by subscribing to the local newspapers (or read the online editions). Pay special attention to the advertising. Talk to the utility companies -- they're usually glad to answer your questions -- and ask local residents for their take.

3. Choose the home that best fits your lifestyle
What do baby boomers consider important? Some 79 percent of survey respondents cited medical services as a top priority, followed by access to public transportation (74 percent) and proximity to shopping (68 percent). The survey results appear in the book "The Maturing Marketplace: Buying Habits of Baby Boomers and their Parents."

Well-planned and well-operated retirement communities offer all of these.

"Homes in retirement communities are a better value now than regular communities," says Carol Fena, whose Web site,, is devoted to retirement real estate choices. "Right now in most areas they are (priced) a little under the regular market."

Next: " ... Rent a home or apartment before purchasing."
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