Making the decision to sell your family home and move to a retirement village or serviced apartment can be difficult. How do you know if you’ll like the community environment? Will you enjoy living in a new area? Will you be OK in a smaller home? And will you like the people there?

All of these questions can be running through your head and it can seem overwhelming. But now there’s a way to make it all a bit easier. Many retirement villages have a ‘try before you buy’ option. This means they’ll allow you to stay in a villa or apartment of your choice for a week or two for a small fee. At the end of the trial period, there’s no obligation.

When you think about it, it does make a lot of sense. You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test-drive first. So the same thinking applies here. Because moving into a retirement village is a major purchase, ‘trying before you buy’ means you can meet the other residents and get your own, first-hand feel of whether living as part of this village is the right thing for you.

While you’re there, you’ll be treated the same as all the other residents and you’re able to join in all the activities, so you’ll get a real glimpse of what you would experience if you were to join the village.

At the end of your ‘try before you buy’ period, it's up to you what you want to do. If you enjoyed the experience and think village life is for you, you can go ahead and organise the sale of your home and move into the village you trialled. This can take a few months or longer, depending on your situation. But there’s no pressure; it’s all up to you.

Keep in mind, some retirement villages call their ‘try before you buy’ option a ‘short-term stay’ – but they’re referring to the same thing. There’s also another term – ‘respite care’ – which really means a short stay in a retirement village for those who are recovering from time in hospital. But occasionally the term ‘respite care’ is used for the ‘try before you buy’ option.

First-hand experience
According to Rachel Lush, Sales Coordinator for RetireAustralia in South Australia, many people who’ve used the ‘try before you buy’ option have told her it gave them the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of living in serviced apartments or supported living apartments.

“They often say it gave them a ‘feel’ for whether they would get on with the people and if they would fit in easily,” says Rachel.

“Plus, it’s an ideal opportunity for people to familiarise themselves with the local area and amenities such as shops and restaurants, as well as entertainment on offer.”

“Sometimes, just being able to offer the option to try before you buy gives people the peace of mind they need,” she adds.

Rachel says in her experience, many people decide to stay once they’ve used the ‘try before you buy’ option: “A high percentage of people stay because they like it,” she says.

“It’s a weight off their shoulders once they don’t have to worry about meals and cleaning and washing – or the gardening! Plus they’re getting all the social interaction with other people which makes it so worthwhile. There are three social interactions a day just with their meals,” she says.

“A lot of people are so daunted by making such a big change – often they’re leaving the home they’ve been in for 60 years. But once they’re here, they realise everyone’s very supportive.”

If you decide to take up the ‘try before you buy’ option, most retirement villages work closely with you to make it a smooth transition to living in the village, if that’s what you end up deciding.

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Take the opportunity to explore the village's social life

If on the other hand, you haven’t enjoyed living in the retirement village, you’re free to go back to your own home with no strings attached. But if you’ve enjoyed it and you want to stay on, there are a few options you can take.

Some villages will give you a period of around 30 days to settle in. But if you need to sell your home, you can return to your home until your house sells and then come back to the village to take up your residence.

If you don’t want to return home, some villages offer you a relocation loan which is like a bridging loan. This loan allows you to stay living in the village while your house is on the market, giving you the freedom to enjoy village life straight away.

Top 10 tips to make the most of your ‘try before you buy’ stay

1. Chat with existing residents – make sure you talk to some of the existing residents about life in the retirement village, perhaps over lunch or a coffee.

2. Explore the grounds and facilities – each retirement village or serviced apartments is different, so use your time to check out all the facilities available and the grounds so you know what’s available to you.

3. Participate in groups or social activities – retirement villages are active communities with lots happening. Activities can range from coffee mornings to trips to the local markets or even yoga sessions! So join in and see if anything really takes your fancy!

4. Check out the local area, its attractions and amenities – find out more about the area’s attractions, facilities and nearby leisure pursuits. For example, find out how far away are the local shops and, if you like going to pubs and restaurants, or playing sports such as golf or bowls, find out how accessible these are.

5. Consider the distance of the retirement village from friends and family – you will have done this before as well, but while you’re there, really take a look at whether you’re close enough to your family and close friends.

6. Meet the retirement village manager and talk to staff – again this is something you’ll need to do before you try out a village, but while you’re there, keep in close contact with the village operator. If think of any more questions, ask them immediately. For example, can some of your meals be brought to your room? And what pets are allowed?

7. Check out the village’s care credentials – the village may have other facilities for those who need extra support as they grow older, so make sure you have a good look around here as well. If there are supported living apartments, take a look and enquire how you might be able to transition to these if you need to, later on down the track.

8. Scope out the properties on offer – while you’re there, you may as well get to know some of the residents and see what other villas or apartments are available. You may be very happy with the place you are trialling or you may prefer something else.

9. Security – if you’re planning to live in the retirement village or apartments on your own, you’ll have far greater peace of mind if you check on the security systems in place. For example, check if there’s an intercom system for answering the door and if your garage is well secured.

10. Enjoy yourself – as well as everything else, it’s important to make the most of your visit and enjoy yourself! Retirement villages are welcoming communities and you may as well enjoy your ‘try before you buy’ stay – so do just that.

Would you give aged care living a try before moving in? 

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