Deciding where to live in retirement can involve more than checking the number of sunny days in various locations or calculating how long it will take to drive over to see the grandkids.
Studies indicate more and more people are deciding to remain where they are. When AARP surveyed people aged 45 or older, presumably a group that has at least started to think seriously about retirement living, nearly three out of four strongly agreed with the statement, “What I’d really like to do is stay in my current residence for as long as possible.”
Similarly, two-thirds of the respondents strongly agreed they’d like to remain in their local community for as long as possible.
In addition to the psychological considerations of sticking close to long-established community, family and social ties, some economic factors are also evidently at work. Earlier this year Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found many seniors aren’t staking for sale signs in the front yard because their home equity and retirement accounts have shrunk. They simply don’t have the money to move without taking a real hit. The number of people aged 55 or older who moved dropped 37.5% between 2005 and 2009.
Gary Brey, a real estate agent in Sarasota, Fla., has posted on a website ideas to consider when deciding where to retire:
- State income taxes or lack thereof.
- Average number of days of sunshine.
- Crime rate.
- Average temperature.
- Public transportation.
- Medical care/hospitals/physicians.
“Don’t automatically move to your favorite vacation destination,” Brey cautions.
“If you like Florida or Arizona in winter, you might hate it in summer. You might enjoy the autumn leaves in the Berkshires but find it brutally cold in winter. If you can swing it financially, try to live for at least a few weeks each in the places you’re considering. Consider this: in the city of Phoenix, three out of every five people who move to the city move out. Florida has some in and out as well. Not many, but some who move to Florida learn it’s sunnier, hotter and more humid in the summer than they dreamed possible.”
Purdue University offers some extensive advice to its retirees and their families to help them weigh retirement options. When it comes to aging in place, the advice indicates about 27% of retirees live in a NORC, a naturally occurring retirement community. For example, 30 years ago a new development of single-family homes may have been built that attracted young couples. Now those couples are empty-nesters who are retiring. They have formed friendships and are there to support each other and band together to establish needed services as they age. An apartment building or condominium complex can also become a NORC.
But many retirees still want to take advantage of the opportunity to move, often to a location with less brutal winters. They may have dreamed of golfing or sailing year-round, and now is the time.
For those who are considering a move, there are lots of books and other guides. A quick Google for “where to retire” will yield more than most people can absorb. You’ll find lists of bargain places to retire, best places for military retirees, places to retire on Social Security alone, historic places to retire and many more. Head for your local book store, and you can stagger out with dozens of books offering advice.
The Sunbelt states still draw large numbers of retirees. You might be surprised at what they’re seeking.
Sun City Center, between Tampa and Sarasota, was started 50 years ago by Del Webb. Developers have come and gone since then, but the town has blossomed into a community of some 14,000 residents. It’s age-restricted, so at least one member of each household must be 55 or older–or “55 or Better” as they residents like to say.
The volunteers who staff the visitors center talk with and e-mail dozens of people each week seeking information. Joe Elam, who heads the effort, sees a much more active group of retirees exploring their options. Bridge and shuffleboard are all very well, but they seem more impressed with the glitzy new fitness center with an array of equipment equal to the health clubs they patronized at home.
“They’ve gotten to the point in life where they’re retired, and they want to have fun,” Elam noted. “We have 152 organizations here and there’s a huge interest in that. We tell them we have a joke in Sun City Center. If you’re bored, it’s your own fault.”
“They want to be active. We have a kayak club. We have an archery club. We have a traveling tennis team that plays teams in other communities. We have the Wrinkled Riders club for those with two wheels, whether it’s a motorcycle, motor scooter or bike.”
“Another thing they look at is the security. We talk about our great record in Sun City Center in having the lowest crime rate in Hillsborough County.”
People are also attracted, he continued, by the volunteer security patrol and the emergency squad ambulance service operated by volunteers licensed as first responders and emergency medical technicians.
“They’re looking for the ability to grow old gracefully. When you no longer drive, the Samaritans will take you to your medical appointments up to 50 miles away or to a beauty parlor here in town,” Elam said.
But people aren’t making instant decisions. The vast majority are very realistic, he added. They’re waiting until their home up north sells. Even if they are spry right now, they’re not looking for a two-story home.
“As a generalization, the people who move here have done things right most of their lives. They worked hard, they saved their money, they didn’t buy the latest Cadillac, and they put away money for their retirement. They’re careful about selecting a home. Twenty-five to 30% want to rent before they buy. The fact they can get around town on a golf cart and avoid the cost of two cars is a big deal.”