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Seniors, boomers discover independence in retirement communities

Nancy Hughes, 71, pauses Dec. 12 while talking about the transition from her home to Rockwood Lane Retirement Community in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Nancy Hughes, 71, pauses Dec. 12 while talking about the transition from her home to Rockwood Lane Retirement Community in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Nancy Hughes was tired of yard work and calling the plumber for every drip and leak. She wanted fun: golfing, long cruises and the freedom of spontaneity.

So following the trend of many older Americans and baby boomers, Hughes sold her 2,200-square-foot home and large yard on the South Hill and downsized into a retirement community in August.

“It seemed like time,” Hughes said from her fifth-floor, 1,400-square-foot apartment at Rockwood Lane Retirement Community with enviable views of Mount Spokane and downtown. “I wanted to move here while I was still young enough to do all these activities and enjoy life.”

There was no pressing health issue and no pressure from her son. Hughes, 71 and long divorced, just wanted more freedom and less commitment to a large home.

Gone is the stigma that downsizing to a retirement home equals a loss of independence. Today, it’s all about gaining independence and a better quality of life and security.

Spokane real estate agent Karen Jones is working with more clients like Hughes, who want to live in retirement settings to free themselves for life’s adventures while they are in good health and mobile. This spring, Jones took a certification class offered by the National Association of Realtors to become a senior real estate specialist. The movement of younger people to retirement communities was a highlight.

“Boomers are really starting a trend that big isn’t necessarily better,” Jones said. “We are getting smarter.”

She said this is true especially after so many in the generation embraced the McMansion, which loses its luster in downward economies and as owners age and downsize.

No longer is retirement living reserved for those forced to leave their homes by doctors, children or finances.

“It’s so encouraging and uplifting,” said Jones, who helped Hughes buy her space at Rockwood Lane. “It’s great thinking for people in their 60s and 70s. It’s all their decision.”

Like many retirement communities, Rockwood Lane residents buy the space with a lifetime-occupancy guarantee. The average age at Rockwood Lane, which offers 88 apartments and 16 stand-alone villas, is 76 with ages ranging from 62 to 102, said assistant property manager Jason Finley. With a younger population, retirement communities also are serving more couples.

“There’s definitely an influx of younger-aged people because of the baby boomers and the economy,” Finley said. That means the activity director has to come up with new things to keep all ages engaged, he added.

While giving a tour of the dining room and activity center, Hughes stops at a bulletin board where residents sign up for van trips to the grocery store and other errands. She shook her head. Hughes doesn’t partake, opting instead to drive her own car and go on her own outings on her own schedule. Yet she does share the occasional meal in the dining room, just to keep social with the neighbors. She also swims in the indoor pool and can grow flowers in her garden plot. The facilities is pet-friendly so Hughes can keep her cat and it’s secure when she leaves on long cruises and other adventures.

“Before I moved in I was referred to as ‘young blood,’ ” Hughes said with a wide smile. “I like the sound of that.”

After looking at several retirement communities in Spokane, Hughes chose Rockwood Lane because she already had one friend living there, it was affordable and she was able to keep a top-floor space with high ceilings and panoramic views. She’s at the top of the waiting list for a garage space.

Hughes’ ex-sister-in-law and favorite travel companion, Judy Corrao, 71, is considering eventually moving to Rockwood Lane, but she’s still working part-time in Clarkston where she lives. She embraced Hughes decision.

“I thought of it as a new adventure,” said Corrao, who was in Spokane for a visit. “It was probably a good move but I thought it was pretty brave to make a step that big.”

Hughes shrugged.

“Judy and I are young enough to do anything we want to do,” Hughes said. “Some people wait until they are really old to make a move. It’s so hard then. I bought my house from a couple who were 95.”