Your retirement home can be resort-like, if you can afford it

Costs vary greatly, as do amenities and services, for assisted seniors housing.

Diana Cawfield 1 June, 2018 | 5:00PM

If you are looking for a retirement home for a parent, factor in plenty of time for doing your homework. Laurie Johnston, CEO of the Ontario Retirement Communities Association (ORCA), says the research process can be lengthy, including visits and interviews for comparison among a growing choice of residences and amenities.

In Ontario alone, there are 723 licensed retirement homes, says Johnston, who is based in Oakville and previously managed two retirement homes. "It's a very diverse sector with myriad accommodations offering different amenities and services." The broad sector includes small retirement homes with only six residents to ones that accommodate more than 300.

Some homes are luxurious, others are more basic, and there are also mid-range alternatives. "It's just like people choosing a hotel," Johnston says. "There's a bed-and-breakfast type, a Best Western Hotels & Resorts type, and there's also the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts type. So it really is important that you do your research and make sure that you're getting what you need and what you want."

The cost of accommodation can vary dramatically, depending on the amenities and services provided. You could be paying as little as $1,200 a month, or many times more than that for high-end homes and services.

For example, the cost of accommodation for this writer's in-laws, both aged 99, in a mid-sized retirement home in Kanata, Ont., includes a monthly basic fee of $6,545 for "accommodation and support and meal program" for a couple. (The cost for a single resident is $4,350). For those who need expensive additional services such as daily nursing care, monthly fees may be more than $2,000 a month higher.

Amenities vary greatly among retirement homes. Some homes are simple, even rustic, in nature. At the other end of the cost spectrum are upscale, resort-like residences with features such as well-appointed dining rooms, a wine bar, a swimming pool, exercise facilities, and sparkling chandeliers in the foyer.

p>What doesn't differ is licensing, says Johnston. If the residence provides certain prescribed services such as distribution of medications, it will require a provincial retirement-home licence. These homes are also subject to public-health, fire-code and other safety-related inspections. Each province has its own legislation and regulations on what constitutes a retirement home. Also known as seniors' residences, these homes are privately run and must be paid for privately.


By contrast, long-term-care homes -- often referred to informally as nursing homes -- are co-paid by individuals and the government. Because of the subsidies, prospective residents or family members acting on their behalf must apply through provincial authorities. The application process can be complicated and invasive, and applicants can face lengthy waiting periods to secure a bed.

According to Johnston, there are more than 30,000 people on the long-term-care waiting list in Ontario right now. An individual could wait for years to get into the subsidized long-term-care facility of their choice.

As for privately run retirement-home properties, "I've never seen it so active," says Steve Hiscox, senior director of seniors housing and healthcare group, at CBRE Ltd. in Toronto, a commercial real-estate-services firm. According to CBRE, there are 3,428 retirement residences across Canada, representing more than 300,000 units. Publicly traded Chartwell Retirement Residences (CSH.UN), based in Mississauga, is the largest operator in Canada.

"The industry has evolved from the nursing-home environment," says Hiscox, "The retirement-home industry is basically the hospitality model of that." There's still the care element but the residences have become privately paid places for someone who doesn't need enough care to warrant a nursing home but need help under a supervised environment. To bridge the gap when health deteriorates, some retirement homes offer extended-care services in assisted living and services in memory care for those with dementia.

In some communities there are waiting lists for favoured residences. According to Hiscox, everyone in the industry is gearing up for a challenging future when the baby boomers, some of whom are now hitting their mid-70s, get even older. "People are living longer and staying in their homes longer," says Hiscox, "so age 85 is kind of the sweet spot when you start to get the most demand. We're a decade away from a huge demographic shift that will take place over the following 20 to 30 years." Looking ahead, it will be very difficult to build enough product to accommodate the demand, he adds.

In the interim, what hasn't been factored in is the age of some of the seniors' homes. "About 60% of it is a product that's 25 years old," says Hiscox, "and we really haven't gone through a phase of refurbishing. So you not only have more people coming on stream, you also have older buildings that have to be refurbished."

Douglas Lamb, a financial advisor and agent with Investia Financial Services Inc. in Toronto, draws on experience from finding homes for his parents and in-laws, and years of experience with senior clients. He also offers financial-planning services through his own company, Spera Financial.

"The advice I often have for people," says Lamb, "is to get a place that has a continuum of care services." That would include additional medical care, such as help with medications, and a visiting doctor that comes in to assess a resident's needs and can recommend different levels of care if needed. And if so, additional care that can be provided in-house "that doesn't involve a huge get-up and move across the city."

Commenting on a 2018 poll that 79% of Canadians worry about having enough money to pay for their care when they need it (conducted by DART Insight and Communications for ORCA), Lamb does not think the concern is warranted in many cases.

"The house was the original tax-free savings account," says Lamb. If you look at what it's replacing for someone moving out of a principal residence, including property taxes, utilities and repairs, and the retirement residence is providing food, it may not be a lot more. "A retirement home is kind of like an all-inclusive," he says.

Lamb's advice: "Make the decision on your own time, think about the options that suit your personality, where you feel comfortable, what amenities and services are included, or not included, and get on a waiting list."

Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar Rating
Chartwell Retirement Residences14.56 CAD0.48

About Author

Diana Cawfield

Diana Cawfield  Diana Cawfield is an award-winning writer who has been a regular Morningstar contributor since 2000. Her numerous publication credits include the Toronto StarAdvisor's Edge and Chatelaine, as well as the Canadian Securities Institute's online educational services.