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Keys to Finding the Perfect Place to Retire

Just packing up and heading south when you retire isn’t the answer. We offer some smart guidance to finding your best place to retire.

By: Patricia Mertz Esswein

Three days after Cheryl Gremban retired in 2018, she and her husband Charlie, 67, who had retired 10 years before, sold their home in the East Bay area, near San Francisco, and moved to Carlsbad, Calif., near San Diego. The move wasn’t willy-nilly. 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,” says 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. Carlsbad had everything the couple needed — stores, restaurants and medical facilities — all with a small-town feel.

The Grembans wanted to be near the beach in a walkable neighborhood with residents of mixed ages and a community pool. When visiting family, the couple stayed an extra day to tour neighborhoods and houses.

In October, a few months before Cheryl retired, the Grembans found their 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,” says Cheryl.

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.

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 baby 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 a fifth move around the time of retirement, according to the Center for Retirement Research. Aging in place becomes a default choice and 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,” says Ryan Frederick, author of Right Place, Right Time: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Home for the Second Half of Life (Johns Hopkins University Press, $19.95).

His book explores how to identify the right region, metro area, neighborhood and type of housing. Try his Right Place, Right Time Assessment 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.

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