Most people retire in the same town where they spent their final working years. But some seek out a new locale with ski slopes or perhaps ocean views. Of course, budget is a big concern. "Many people move close by and move to a smaller home or condo where they have less upkeep," says William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer. "But they still want to stay close to their children and stay involved in the business world by consulting and remaining close to their clients." Here are some tips for finding a place that fits your budget and interests.
Cost of living. Moving to a place with lower housing, food, and entertainment costs is an obvious way to stretch your nest egg. "A lower cost of living is the major factor behind retirement mobility," says David Savageau, author of Retirement Places Rated. "I don't know anyone moving from Kansas to Hawaii." Some 22 percent of Americans age 51 and older who moved between 1992 and 2004 did so to save money, according to a recent Center for Retirement Research at Boston College analysis. Estimate how your expenses will change if you move.
Low-tax locales. Tax rates vary considerably by location. Seven states don't levy an income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee tax only dividend and interest income. And five states have no sales tax: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. Be sure to evaluate property taxes and state and local tax exemptions for seniors.
Healthcare facilities. Your healthcare needs are bound to increase as you age. Make sure your prospective retirement spot has adequate health and elder-care facilities and a doctor who can treat any condition you may have. "You can call and see how difficult it is to get an appointment," says Michael Perskin, a geriatrics physician at the New York University Langone Medical Center. "If you're on hold for more than 10 minutes or you leave a message on voice mail and you don't get a call back, then you know."
Proximity to family. Many retirees would like to become more involved in their grandchildren's lives. Living near family sometimes has another bonus: help with lawn care or transportation for grocery shopping—services you would otherwise have to hire. More than a quarter (28 percent) of older Americans who have relocated after age 51 did so primarily to be near children or relatives, Boston College found. "People often migrate toward someone because they have become more disabled or have lost their spouse and they need some support that they are not getting in their current location," says Mark Fagan, a sociology professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama who studies retirement migration. "They will move toward their children or some friends to help them with their daily life."
Job opportunities. Many people who haven't saved enough or have seen their investments drop significantly in value will need to work during the traditional retirement years. More than a third (38 percent) of Americans between the ages of 62 and 74 worked in 2008, up 39 percent since 1993, according to the Census Bureau. Although the national unemployment rate has been climbing, cities such as Kennewick, Wash.; McAllen, Texas; and Danville, Va., have added thousands of jobs over the past year. Look for a place that has plenty of part-time job opportunities or consulting work in a field that interests you.
Recreation and culture. When you're no longer tied to a job, you have the freedom to live in wine country or within walking distance of a beach. Perhaps your ideal retirement spot has plenty of art galleries, golf courses, and hiking trails. College towns often fit the bill and host world-class speakers and entertainers, and they often have an affordable cost of living.
Public transportation. Retirees often reach a point when they can't or no longer want to drive. Consider the cost and quality of a town's public transportation system and how to get around without a car. AppalCART, a regional bus service in Boone, N.C., for example, provides free local transportation. And retirees who join Walnut Creek, Calif.'s Senior Club ($7 annual dues) are eligible for a minibus service that offers transport within the city limits for $1 each way.
Housing needs. Downsizing into a smaller house or condo goes a long way in stretching your retirement budget. "There's a lot of money tied up in your home, and sometimes there is someplace else you could buy a home and free up some of those assets," says Michael Goodman, a certified financial planner and president of Wealthstream Advisors in New York. Retirement communities and assisted living facilities aim to cater to baby boomers' changing needs and whims. "As you age, you are going to be less able to maintain a large home and [keep up the grounds], and you may be looking for a smaller place with less maintenance," says Fagan. "Rent in a place for a while to see how well you really like it."
Weather. To some, it's important to not have to shovel snow or defrost a car. But warm climates also come with the downside of larger air-conditioning bills. Think about whether you want four distinct seasons. Some retirees can get the best of both worlds by maintaining or renting a residence in the north and then heading south for the winter.
Amenities. Of course, you'll want to cover the basics, including the crime rate and quality of healthcare facilities. But don't forget about things like libraries, Internet and cellphone access, shopping, religious institutions, and senior centers. If you plan to travel on a regular basis, look for a place that's near an airport or train station. Some cities, including Boston, Princeton, N.J., and Washington, have developed nonprofit associations of seniors who pool their resources to stay safely in their homes longer. These aging-in-place communities typically provide a range of services, including affordable door-to-door transportation, home maintenance and meal services, and even a daily check-in phone call for an affordable annual fee.