First on my list was weather. Weather plays a large part in the decision of where many will call home in retirement. For a variety of reasons, people stay in climates they dislike during their working years. Career and family responsibilities often keep us rooted in one place. We tolerated weather we didn’t like in order to have consistency in our lives. Now is the time to change that. But before you look at the national weather forecast and notice a few places that have better weather than you’ve been living with your whole life, there are a few things to consider that will land you in the place that’s right for you.
For example, my wife and I wanted to retire to warmer weather. We were living in Pennsylvania, and both of us despise winter. In our minds, almost every place has better weather than Pennsylvania; temperature alone was not going to narrow it down for us. We felt we needed to sample multiple warm weather locations. Not all warm weather is the same. Ninety degrees in Florida feels different than 90 degrees in Arizona; humidity changes everything. There’s only one way to experience weather in another place. Go there. Regardless of where you think you might want to settle in, I highly recommend visiting more than once. Visit at different times of the year as well. This will give you a good sampling of what you’ll encounter when you reside in your new home.
By the time you’re tired of airports and rental cars, you should have found a handful of places that have weather that pleases you.
An unpleasant fact of retirement is that we are getting older; therefore, you’ll need to place healthcare access high on your list. You’ll want quality facilities within a reasonable distance of your home. You don’t want to drive two hours to a mediocre orthopeadic surgeon for that joint replacement.
Arranging healthcare from a distance was the single most complicated issue that caused headaches for us. Our phones got a real workout, not to mention our patience. If you have an existing condition that requires a specialist, line up care with a new physician near your potentially new destination. If you have good specialists now, you may be surprised how helpful they can be in finding someone to continue care with in your new location.
Be certain to touch base with your insurance carrier. Not all doctors accept all insurance plans. This is probably no different than where you live now, but you want to make some calls anyway. Take nothing for granted where healthcare is concerned. Medical billing representatives tend to vary in their ability to answer your questions accurately. We made calls to the same facilities more than once and received different answers to the same questions. Call the providers and the insurance companies until you’re satisfied you have consistent answers from all involved. I will tell you that lack of good healthcare was the single thing that could have steered us away from a particular location.
If you’re over 55 and have children, it’s likely they’ve moved away to attend college or pursue their chosen professions. Their new locations may impact your decision on where to live. You’ll most likely want to live someplace where you can visit family easily and affordably. At the very least, consider somewhere close to major airports, has inexpensive airfares, or reasonable drive times to those you’ll be visiting most.
Cost of Living
You’ll want to consider the cost of living in your potential locale. A majority of retirees exist on a fixed income. It may be a very healthy income, but fixed nonetheless. When your income doesn’t change, the last thing you need are surprises in your expense column. Ideally, you’ll want your cost of living to be less than the area you’re leaving. This can be a balancing act since the things you deem important to your retirement are the things that also drive housing prices.
Also, Homeowners Associations (HOA’s) are often part of the equation, especially if you’re considering a 55-and-over resort community. They almost always have HOA fees; you’ll want to factor that into your monthly expenses. The fees can be minimal, or a significant part of your expenses; what’s important is which services you get for that fee. You may get amenities that you’ll use everyday and improve your quality of life, or you may just get some minor landscaping. When we eventually bought our new home, I breezed through the HOA book beforehand and it made my head spin. I chose not to spend hours examining it in detail. I let my realtor summarize it for me. I wouldn’t recommend you take my approach. So far I’ve had no surprises, but there’s no telling what might be in store for me down the road.
Property taxes affect all home buyers, not just retirees, but it’s most important to those of us looking for a place to call home permanently. Remember, we’re not just looking at housing costs, we’re also trying to avoid unexpected future expenses. Rising property taxes are an unwelcome event. Try to get a feel for which direction the property taxes are going. This information is usually easy to find. Your realtor should be able to steer you in the right direction.
Other taxes can also eat away at your retirement income. Do you have pension income? Some states tax pension income and some don’t. You’ll want to know how much of your pension you’ll be keeping when you relocate. You can find this information easily by spending a few quality hours with Google.
Not everyone plans to stop working altogether when they retire. Some people work part-time, others find ways to make a little side-money on hobbies they’ve always enjoyed. Whatever the case, all states tax income differently. This may determine whether it’s worth your time to try and add some pocket change by working. It probably won’t be a deal-breaker as to where you end up, but it might be a factor in how you spend your time when you get there.
Most states impose sales taxes of some kind on the goods you buy; this was something I didn’t think of, but you should. In some states, not only does the state tax your purchases, but counties and cities pile on their own sales tax as well. For instance, in Pennsylvania we paid 6% tax on purchases, except on clothing and unprepared food. Where we live now, we not only pay state sales tax, the county and the city grab a piece as well. Worse yet, they also tax consumer staples such as food and clothing. Before I tell you that it’s a horrible thing that we’re paying all this sales tax, I have to be fair and say that most common items tend to cost 10% less than we used to pay; so it’s a wash.
How do you plan to spend your days in retirement? The things you like to do in your spare time should play a big part in where you choose to live. For example, golf seems to be one of the activities I hear people say they want to do more of. The good news is that almost any place in America has its fair share of golf courses. Keep in mind, the golf season is longer in some regions than others. If you like to golf year-round, you’ll be limited to milder climates. If you’re content with six months of golf, you’ll have more options. Are you okay with average public courses, or will you want 10 challenging courses within a 45 minute drive? Florida and the Carolinas are well known to have many courses that can be played year-round. Arizona has a high concentration of golf courses and nearly perfect weather to accompany them. If golf is your passion, you might put one of those locations high on your list.
Landlocked states might not be your choice if boating is your thing; you don’t have to limit yourself to coastal regions though. While there are plenty of affordable locations in coastal states to drop your anchor, there are plenty of places where you can put that boat in a lake. Doing so might land you in the Midwest, where you’ll be sailing with a jacket on most of the time, but that may not bother you.
If you hike, any place with hills should appeal to you. You just have to decide what you want the scenery to look like while you’re walking. You might like greenery; maybe a place that has four distinct seasons; you get to see colors change throughout the year, or you might prefer to see rocks and cactus on your trail. Your preference of scenery will help you decide whether to go west, or stay east of the Mississippi.
We could discuss an endless list of recreational activities you may like; attending sporting events, seeing live music or going to museums. These are just a few, but you get the idea; make sure you find a place that maximizes your opportunities to do the things you enjoy.
Ultimately, there is no checklist that is perfect for everyone. The things I’ve mentioned
are the things that were important to us. Wherever you land, you will no doubt encounter some surprises; things you didn’t think of. Hopefully, if you investigate some of the topics I’m sharing here, your unpleasant surprises will be few, and you can get on with enjoying your new forever home.