Keys to finding the perfect place to retire
Three days after Cheryl Gremban retired in 2018, she and her husband Charlie, 67, who had retired 10 years before, sold their home near San Francisco and moved to Carlsbad, California, near San Diego.
The move wasn’t impulsive. Carlsbad had been on their radar screen for a few years. Like many retirees, the Grembans wanted to live closer to family. Of their three sons, the nearest one lived in San Jose, an hour away on a good-traffic day.
“We couldn’t really expect a lot of support if we needed it regularly,” said Cheryl, 65. Plus, San Jose’s higher home prices meant a higher property tax bill. Another son lived in New York, also an expensive place. The third lived near Carlsbad.
Online research revealed that Carlsbad was a sizable seaside city where homes were more affordable than in the Bay Area. When visiting family, the couple stayed an extra day to tour neighborhoods and houses.
A few months before Cheryl retired, the Grembans found a house. They sold their former home, which they bought for $468,000 in 1997, for $1.13 million. They paid $912,000 in cash for their new home and never looked back. “The way it all fell into place, it couldn’t be a mistake,” Cheryl said.
Who doesn’t dream of retiring to an idyllic place? That’s the ultimate prize, but it only comes after a great deal of work and soul-searching.
You need to prioritize your needs and wants, identify and research prospective places, and spend time in them. Otherwise, you risk making a mistake that can be difficult and expensive to fix with another move.
Most retirees never move
In 2020, just 4.7% of 34.2 million households age 65 and older moved, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by the National Association of Realtors. Florida gained the most older newcomers, followed by Arizona and Texas.
The pace of retirement for Boomers accelerated beginning in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center. Many “pre” retirees are trying out new locations or have moved sooner than expected to the place where they will retire, partly because they can continue working remotely.
The majority of retirees, though, never move. Just over half of retirees stay in the same home they lived in during their early 50s, while nearly one-fifth move around the time of retirement, according to the Center for Retirement Research.
Aging in place becomes a default choice — but not necessarily the best one for many retirees who haven’t asked themselves what they want the next chapters of their life to look like.
“The right place can elevate our well-being. It can help promote purpose, facilitate human connection, catalyze physical activity, support financial health, and inspire community engagement,” said Ryan Frederick, author of Right Place, Right Time: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Home for the Second Half of Life.
Frederick’s book explores how to identify the right region, neighborhood and type of housing. Try his Right Place, Right Time Assessment (free at smartliving360.com) to help you understand why you should consider moving — or not — based on five key requirements for successful aging: place, purpose, social connection, and physical and financial well-being.
Couples should take the assessment, compare the results with their partners, and use that as a starting point for discussion.
List your must-haves
Holly Mabery, a real estate agent in Sedona, Ariz., said each spouse or partner should ask themselves how they want to live and spend their time. Be realistic about recreational pursuits, given your age and health. Identify your top 10 priorities. Then choose the top five that you both agree on, and look for places that hit the mark.
“When you know what’s important, a place either fits or not. If not, keep going, because there’s something else for you,” Mabery said.
Proximity matters. You should be close to everything you want to enjoy, such as outdoor activities, chain restaurants or fine dining, discount or high-end shopping, colleges and universities, museums or an airport if you intend to travel. Medical services should also be nearby with a way to access them if you cannot drive.
As you advance in age or decline in health, you may need to hire help in your home or move to a specialized community that offers assisted living or continuing care. Even if you don’t need assisted living or home help now, plan ahead by checking out what your options might be in the community where you plan to retire. You can search by location and type of care at medicare.gov/care-compare.
The 2020 edition of the Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard, by the AARP Public Policy Institute, ranks all 50 states based on affordability and access to long-term care services, among other measures. Despite Florida’s popularity with retirees, it ranks lowest among all states and the District of Columbia.
Research, test drive potentials
The appropriately named bestplaces.net is the best place to begin your online research. The site lets you easily compare cities using different criteria, such as housing cost, climate, crime, religious practice, voting patterns and education level.
Try their quiz, “Where Is the Best Place for Me to Live?,” which will suggest five locales you may never have thought of. Bestplaces.net also has a cost-of-living calculator.
Start by visiting your short list of places, staying with family or friends, or renting an Airbnb or a vacation home. Make each visit count by creating a “love/hate” list about every aspect of the location.
When you think you’ve identified “the one,” try vacationing there a few times throughout the year. Or even better, rent a home and live in the community for six to 12 months.
If you plan to live there year-round, stay in the community during the off-season. Living there temporarily will give you a better handle on the price of food, gas and utilities, not to mention the cost of your fun.
You’ll get a better feel for a place by mingling with the locals. Realtor Mabery offers these tips: Go to grocery stores and hang out in the produce section, where you’re most likely to interact with people. Eat breakfast at restaurants where the locals hang out.
Look for restaurants with a large bar, where you can be seated for dinner and have the best conversations, or visit a brewery. Ask questions. Make a point of talking to other retirees who have already moved there, and don’t forget the staff and volunteers at the local public library.
“They’re the second-best chamber of commerce you could imagine, with no sales pitch,” Mabery said.
When you’re ready, search realtor.com for a local real estate agent, preferably one who is a certified senior real estate specialist.
You want a neighborhood where you could make new friends and create a support network by joining a church, country club, recreational group or YMCA. A good agent will know what’s available to help you plug in to that community immediately.
Some financial reality checks
Consulting with your financial adviser before making any final decisions is a smart move, but no matter how you do it, get an accurate financial picture of where you want to live.
A high-tax state, for example, might be a deal breaker. Kiplinger’s “State-by-State Guide to Taxes on Retirees” can give you an idea of what to expect. But everyone’s circumstances differ, so you’ll need to determine the financial impact of moving to a new location.
For example, pensions, Social Security and IRAs aren’t taxable in some states, like Illinois. (Maryland and Virginia fully tax IRAs and private pensions.) However, if you have a large estate or an expensive home, the calculus changes because some states have estate tax and high property taxes.
Retirees who move typically sell and buy a home, with the capital gains taxes often taking a bite out of that transaction. [See “Understand taxes on selling your home.”]
Even if you own your current home outright, its entire sale price isn’t what you can spend for your next one. And your profit (after the home sale exclusion) in the year of the sale could increase your income, potentially pushing you into a higher tax bracket and raising your cost for Medicare.
Pay attention to potential costs from risks that aren’t readily obvious. A lower cost of living, and especially housing cost, may be a sign of a moribund economy. You could be challenged to sell the house or extract the equity you need from it to provide for care or to fund another move later.
Frederick suggests following the migrations of younger people to find places with dynamic economies.
Healthcare expenses in the new location also may surprise you. If you’re enrolled in Medicare, check the coverage and availability of providers in the new place, as that can affect your out-of-pocket costs. Search by ZIP code for healthcare providers and facilities at medicare.gov/care-compare, and check star ratings for quality of care.
The risk of higher costs is especially true of Medicare Advantage plans, which have regional provider networks.
A Medicare Advantage HMO plan or an HMO retiree health plan that is unavailable in the new location will still cover you, but because the providers are out of network, your out-of-pocket costs will be much higher. You may need to find a new Advantage plan or switch to traditional Medicare and get a medigap plan with Part D coverage in the new location.
Drive off into the sunset
The Grembans love their new home. The winters are warmer, and the summers cooler than in the East Bay. “The sun is beautiful,” Cheryl said.
Charlie rides his e-bike and enjoys local breweries, and Cheryl walks six miles a day. Their son has moved his family closer to them, and the couple babysits their grandkids after school twice a week. If their son and his family were to move away, Cheryl said they would still love where they live.
© 2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.