The Unexpected Costs of Senior Living

A close-up of a black calculator, a metallic pen, and a yellow sticky note pad on a beige surface. The calculator displays several number and function buttons, including a "TAX RATE" button—helpful for managing unexpected costs in senior living. The arrangement is neat and organized.

By Sydney Clevenger, with research by Rose Schnitzer Manor Active Assisted Living Resident Arlene Layton

When searching for senior living, it’s important to consider potential costs beyond what’s quoted up front for rent. Many communities charge extra for health care, amenities like parking and package delivery, and even administrative services that seniors are used to receiving at no cost.

“Since every community handles amenities differently, we recommend that seniors touring independent and assisted living keep a check list of services that are critical to their day-to-day lifestyle so they know what to expect with cost before they put down a deposit,” said Cedar Sinai Park‘s Rose Schnitzer Manor Active Assisted Living Building Services Director Tammy Heard. “So often we hear from residents about previous living experiences where they were shocked at all of the other costs added to the base monthly fee.”

That was the experience of Ann, who moved to a facility for its close-in parking, access to a full kitchen, and in-room washer and dryer unit.

“Parking close to the front door was important to me, so I was happy to pay extra for parking,” said Ann. “I was excited to have my own washer and dryer in my unit, but when they needed repair, I had to pay for the maintenance, which I didn’t know ahead of time.” As for the kitchen, Ann said she ended up needing room service more often than not, and was unaware that such a service would be extra.

Ann said she wished she’d asked about additional costs, like package delivery, which turned out to be $5 at minimum per package, and the availability of amenities like added storage, which was touted, but turned out to be unavailable due to a long wait list. There were also fees for administrative services like faxes and copying.

“If I was going to move again, I’d find out what incidental costs would be, and ask more questions,” she said.

Pete lived at a new facility in Seattle, with his wife, Jan, and was also struck by the hidden costs.

“The cost at our new place was 15 to 20 percent higher than other communities,” he said. “It was very expensive to rent monthly because it was new.

“And then after two years, it was obvious my wife needed more health assistance, and we had to go to an outside agency to find help on our own because there were no nurses on staff, which we didn’t know about ahead of time. They were also having trouble with staffing minimum wage jobs, and staff wasn’t always handy to help with even small tasks.

“The extra fees to pay for health care added up,” added Pete, who said those inquiring about senior living should think carefully about future needs, and what they might cost, as well as current ones. He added that senior living homes often have a buy-in, which is another financial piece about which to inquire.

“When we decided to move to Portland, we looked at several places, but chose [one with many amenities included],” said Pete. “I feel very strongly it is the best choice we could have made.”