When Virginia King’s husband died in 2018, she was suddenly faced with downsizing her home and, like many seniors, decided to move to a retirement community. “I wanted a place that was maintenance-free,” she says. “The added bonus of the great people who will be my neighbors is everything I want in my future living arrangement.”

King is one of a growing number of Washington state seniors who are sold on age-restricted cooperative communities. Co-op senior housing for active adults, age 62+, has been around since the early 1970s, but mainly in the Midwest. It’s only come to Washington state in the past few years.  

“Many of our owner-members tell us they felt isolated in their previous house and find the social opportunities here to be a wonderful benefit,” says Kate Grant, sales manager for Village Cooperative of Puyallup. “They want the housing value and amenities we offer, without the hassles of traditional homeownership.”

Village Cooperative in Puyallup features 57 spacious units and is currently under construction. It’s 75% sold, which speaks to the demand, and another Village Cooperative community is being planned for Olympia.

Co-op or condo?

If downsizing and reducing home-maintenance are part of your aging game plan, investing in a home in an age-restricted independent-living development fits right in with that strategy. But how do you choose the right community?

“Many people know what condos are, but they aren’t as familiar with co-ops,” says Grant. “They tend to think they are the same, and that’s definitely not the case.”  Both condos and co-ops are multiunit structures that include ownership of commonly used property, but that’s where the similarities end. When you buy a condo, you own the unit. A co-op owner is a shareholder in the entire building. An equity share allows the owner to own a home.

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Here are some amenities to ask about when checking out a senior community. 

  • Community area with full kitchen
  • Reading areas
  • Fitness room
  • Workshop
  • Laundry in each home
  • Guest rooms
  • Indoor, heated parking
  • Outdoor raised-bed gardens
  • Maintenance of common areas and home appliances
  • Special-interest groups and other social activities
A co-op owner is a shareholder in the entire building. (Village Cooperative of Puyallup)

 How cooperative retirement communities work

Think of your housing community — the buildings and land — as a corporation. Each resident buys stock in this corporation and becomes a shareholder. Becoming a resident/shareholder requires two primary costs: the equity share purchase — which is a one-time payment based on the size and location of the home — and the monthly fee for operating expenses. The value of this equity share increases in a predictable way, appreciating at a set percentage (3% for Village Cooperative) for every year that members live in the community. This keeps the units affordable for new residents and decreases the selling time.

There’s also an executive board, elected by and made up of residents, that makes sure the bylaws are followed, as well as the rules that vary from community to community.

“All residents have one vote regardless of the size of their home,” says Grant. “And all residents are owners, unlike some condos. This means there is likely more pride taken in their community.”

Is senior co-op living for you?

An Ohio State University study on senior cooperative housing found that the majority of residents felt a positive effect on their lives in the following areas:

  • Ease of maintaining home (93%)
  • Ability to live independently (84%)
  • Personal safety (82%)
  • Life satisfaction (80%)
  • Access to activities and entertainment (77%)
  • Happiness (77%)
  • Amount of contact with friends (77%)
  • Personal privacy (67%)
  • Physical health (63%)

“What drew me especially was the maintenance-free living,” says new Village Cooperative of Puyallup owner Barb B.  “What occurred to me later was sense of community.”

Village Cooperative of Puyallup is a community for active adults 62+ who want home ownership with no maintenance in a secure setting. The cooperative offers a worry-free lifestyle with financial benefits that traditional senior condos or apartments cannot provide.