[REN #682] “Virtual Villages” Help Seniors Age in Place

Picture of Two Older Ladies for Real Estate News for Investors Podcast Episode #682

It’s a relatively new concept for senior living that’s making it easier to “age-in-place.” Virtual villages have been spreading across the country to help people maintain an independent lifestyle. It’s become a crucial piece in the retirement puzzle for people who want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. And there are plenty of them.

“There’s No Place Like Home”

The results of a recent AARP survey start off with a wish made famous by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.” According to that survey, almost 9 out of 10 adults over the age of 65 would prefer to remain in their homes and communities as they age. The survey found that many would share their homes to make that possible, especially if they needed help with daily activities. The “virtual village” was another solution that was embraced by at least half of those in the survey.

The village concept has been around for a while as a way to raise children, or for neighbors of all ages to help their neighbors, including seniors. But it was a group in Boston that created the first known senior-networking village in 2002 to help them live independently. The idea has caught on, and the Village to Village Network was established in 2010. There are now an estimated 200 villages in operation today, with another 150 under development.

Social Support Network for Seniors

The Village to Village website defines them as “a social support network for members that provide necessary services, community engagement activities and other important resources crucial to aging interdependently.” (1) They are run by local volunteers and paid staff, and require a yearly membership fee.

Each village is set up with the needs of its members in mind, but they often have similar services such as transportation to medical appointments or pharmacies, a technology team that makes house calls, and help with household repairs or referrals to trustworthy service providers. Members might also need help with simple tasks like shoveling snow from a walkway or taking out the trash. Villages also help keep seniors socially engaged by helping them participate in local events, volunteer work, and other activities.

Loneliness is Bad for Your Health

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently about Baby Boomers as “The Loneliest Generation” and how that is a big threat to public health. It talks about the effects of loneliness — that it can lead to smoking, drinking, obesity, depression, and mental decline. That’s expensive for the individual and the health care system in general. It says that 1 in 11 Americans over the age of 50 is single without any living children. That’s about 8 million people who have no close relatives they can call for help. And, that number is expected to grow.

Former administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Donald Berwick, told the WSJ, “The effect of isolation is extraordinarily powerful. If we want to achieve health for our population, especially vulnerable people, we have to address loneliness.” (2) Everyone’s support network shrivels as they get older, but the WSJ says that college-educated women and people without much money may be the loneliest. It says women are often lonelier because they live longer than men so more women are widowed or never married. They are also less inclined to date or live with a man in their elderly years. The WSJ says, “loneliness and isolation are bad for your health at any age.” Virtual villages attempt to solve this problem.

“Members Helping Members” in San Diego

The San Diego Tribune published a story on how well the village concept is doing in the San Diego Area. There are several villages there that offer seniors all sorts of help. For members of the Tierrasanta Village of San Diego, it’s a matter of “members helping members.”

Village founder Candy Walsh told the Tribune, “We have 60-plus members who participate. If you’re planning on an event and you need a table and chairs, you can see who has offered them and borrow them. Then you work out a time credit with them. Typically, it works where one hour equals one credit.” (3)

The village organizers also make sure that people offering to drive have a license, and that someone offering carpentry skills knows what they are doing. There’s also some flexibility in how “virtual” they are. Walsh says they use both snail mail and email for their members, and for people who want to learn more about technology, they can get help.

The Tribune says the village movement is growing in California. It says that the state organization, Village Movement California, has been holding regional meetings. It hopes to transform the aging experience for seniors across California.

Walsh says she was just 55 when she started the Tierrasanta Village. Her family criticized her saying that villages are for “old folks.” She told them, “I’m going to be one” someday. She says she’s glad she started her network early, and recommends that more people do so.

This could be significant for the massive numbers of Baby Boomers hitting retirement age. There are some 77-million of them in the U.S. with about 10,000 turning 65 each day. The V-to-V website says the village concept “transforms the “Silver Tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers into a “Silver Reservoir” that grows and strengthens its community.”

Making Ends Meet in Retirement

It’s also known that many Baby Boomers are not well-prepared for retirement. The Motley Fool cites a report from Vanguard that says the median 401k balance for someone in this age group is $177,000. If you apply the 4% rule to that balance, you can only withdraw about $7,000 a year. Even with Social Security, most retirees won’t be able to maintain their lifestyle. Going into assisted living is expensive. The Village to Village alternative could give many seniors a more affordable option, and make senior living more enjoyable as socially engaged members of a community.

And what does this all mean for real estate investors? Well, if more people are aging in place, there will be less available inventory on the market, and the housing market is already suffering low inventory levels. This means, prices could continue to rise, as the largest generation today is just now forming households. You, as a real estate investor, hold a very valuable asset.


(1) Village to Village website

(2) Wall Street Journal Article

(3) The San Diego Tribune Article

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