Move-in Fees: Deal Breaker or Motivator?

A beloved friend, reluctantly considering a move into an assisted living community – and who did his homework – asked me what he could do about his only dealbreaker: the “Community Fee”, a non-refundable $4500 fee due at time of move in. I told him, he’s got 3 options (and so do you):

1) Negotiate it. These one-time fees go by a variety of names: “community fee”, “registration fee”, “move-in fee” – and they are all negotiable. Talk them down. Price wars, move-in specials and incentives happen all the time in senior housing. If you find a competing community offers a lower fee, ask your preferred community to price match. The $4500 my friend was quoted is high and usually a non-refundable “deposit”, which is there for the community’s financial protection. Some buy-in communities require $200K-$500K to move in. But, most senior housing communities are rentals and, like any other non-senior rental, a deposit may be preferred, but is negotiable. Like other rentals, a deposit can be reduced or waived entirely if you offer to pay a certain number of months upfront (e.g., 3, 6, or 9 months), which lowers the financial risk for the community and safeguards you from turning over more of your own dollars.

Some communities charge this fee to you to offset a finder’s fee the community might pay to a placement agency, for example. This falls under what I call “NYP” – “not your problem” – especially if you found the place on your own and nobody is paying you a finder’s fee!

2) Delay it. Most communities offer a trial period, called a “respite stay” whereby you can stay from 2-4 weeks to see if the community is a good fit for you. With this arrangement, you only pay for the limited time you spend there, thus no Community Fee is due. (However, if you convert to full resident status, the fee will be assessed at that time.) The paperwork is only slightly different for a respite stay and you might stay in a furnished room, but all the other work on the community’s end is exactly the same. So, if the Community Fee is not required during a respite stay, why would it be assessed at the time of move in if it offers no benefit to you, the consumer?

3) Pay it. Instead of seeking a waiver of the deposit, go after the “non-refundable” stipulation. In other words, the deposit becomes refundable to you if you stay for 3, 6, or 9 months. You’ll want to get this agreement in writing before you move in case the person who agreed to this stipulation is not employed at the time you go collecting what’s yours. Or, if the deposit is too steep a price tag for you to pay when you move in, see if you can spread the deposit over your first 3, 6, or 9 months by adding it to your monthly rent.

Shopping for senior housing usually happens after someone has had a health crisis, so the consumer is very vulnerable and so is their oftentimes exhausted support system. People sign on the dotted line without advocating for themselves because they don’t know where they have leverage. Hopefully, these ideas remind you: you are in a position of strength.