Although the financial crisis has hammered retirement accounts, it has also converted a number of popular retirement destinations into bargains for home buyers. Indeed, the very states that took the brunt of the housing bust—like Florida, California, Nevada, and Arizona—also contain some of the nation's most enviable markets in which to retire. This development has handed today's seniors a chance to scoop up properties in many top-notch retirement spots at attractive prices.
To get a sense of which retirement markets offer the most compelling valuations, we obtained price-to-income data for 384 metropolitan statistical areas from Moody's Analytics. The price-to-income ratio—a key yardstick of housing affordability—expresses the relationship between home values and earnings. For example, in a market with a price-to-income ratio of 2.5, median-priced homes sell for 2.5 times average household incomes. By comparing a market's most recent price-to-income ratio with its longer-term averages, we can pinpoint areas that have become particularly affordable. Here is a look at 10 cities that are currently offering retirement property steals:
1. Bend, Ore.: Stiff demand from second-home buyers helped nearly double median home prices in lovely Bend, Ore., between 1999 and 2006. But the subsequent real estate collapse has dragged the area's price-to-income ratio from 3.4 in the third quarter of 2006 to 1.7 in the fourth quarter of 2009. That's below Bend's average price-to-income ratio of 2 for the 15 years ending in 2003. This increased affordability makes retirement property in Bend particularly attractive today, says Lester Friedman, president-elect of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors. "Central Oregon has always been a place where people came to get away," Friedman says. "And, of course, that is kind of the definition of retirement." Friedman points to a number of activities that can keep seniors busy in Bend year round, including hiking, mountain biking, skiing, fishing, boating, and volunteering. "We have wonderful college facilities, so continuing education is easy," he says. "You name it, we've got it."
2. Las Vegas: After speculation and risky loans juiced Las Vegas home prices by more than 141 percent from 1999 to 2006, the housing bust hit this desert playground with tremendous force. But the steep price declines have pulled down the area's price-to-income ratio from 3.2 in the fourth quarter of 2005 to 1.4 in the fourth quarter of 2009. For the 15 years ending in 2003, the average price-to-income ratio in Las Vegas was 1.9. SalesTraq President Larry Murphy says the return of affordability has created a great opportunity for seniors looking to spend their golden years in a sunny, low-tax community surrounded by golfing, gaming, fine dining, and entertainment. "There hasn't been a better time [to buy residential property in Las Vegas] in the last 12 years," he says.
3. Phoenix: From 1999 to 2006, home prices in Phoenix more than doubled, sending the area's price-to-income ratio to an inflated peak of just under 3. The subsequent meltdown in the residential real estate sector has dragged the price-to-income ratio in Phoenix to 1.5, which is below its 1.7 average for the 15 years ending in 2003, and has created opportunities for retiring seniors who are looking for bargains. "[In Phoenix] you have fairly good medical care, you don't have the snow and the cold and dangerous weather here, and you have a lot of nearby shopping centers and other things that make it easier for people to sort of carry out what they want to do," says Jay Butler, an Arizona State University associate real estate professor.
4. Napa, Calif.: Home prices in Napa, Calif., exploded during the housing boom, more than doubling from 1999 to 2006. But the real estate crash has reduced the sky-high price-to-income ratio of 3.9 it reached in the third quarter of 2005 to just 1.7 in the fourth quarter of 2009. For the 15 years ending in 2003, the average price-to-income ratio in Napa was 2.6. DataQuick President John Walsh says Napa's beautiful wine country offers "an extraordinary quality of life." And with home prices having retuned to 2002 levels, the area is ripe for seniors hunting for deals on retirement property, he said.