Nine things to consider when choosing a retirement location

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Many retirees choose to move when they retire. Some stay in the same town and move to a smaller home, or a larger one. Some across the country to be closer to family or friends. And some move simply because a new environment better suits them. If you’re one of the footloose kind, how do you choose a place to retire? Here’s some advice.

First, don’t rely on published lists of “best places to live” or “best retirement towns”. Yes, many publications annually produce such lists, because they’re popular. And yes, we often cite such lists on this website.

But just because a town or state is good for the author or magazine editors, doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be good for you. Different lists use different sets of criteria for choosing best places to live. Many take low taxes and cost of living, availability of healthcare, and low crime as indications that a place is a desirable retirement destination.

But you have to look more closely. A place may have low taxes, but does that mean it also skimps on public services, and that public facilities such as parks and community centers are not kept up? Low cost of living and low crime may be desirable, but what if the place is remote and you have to spend time and money commuting to get to shopping and medical appointments?

Available healthcare is important, but is it the kind you need, and can you get to it? Public transportation isn’t even considered on many lists, but it’s important to many seniors who can’t or prefer not to drive, especially long distances. If you want to keep learning, you’ll want to make sure there’s a college or at least an adult community center nearby.

When choosing a locale, don’t forget other options like senior communities. The advantages of senior communities are that there are a lot of planned activities and events, transportation is probably readily available, and the other residents are of similar age.

Another aspect that’s frequently overlooked is how well you’ll fit in socially and politically with your fellow residents. A conservative couple may move from Wyoming to Seattle to escape the cold weather, only to find they have little in common with their liberal neighbors.

Here are nine things to do when deciding on a retirement destination:

1. Decide what’s most important to you. It’s unlikely that any location will satisfy every item on your wish list. So there’ll probably be tradeoffs. What’s a must-have, and what are you willing to compromise on? Is warm weather and good outdoor recreation worth a higher cost of living? Which do you like more, museums and concerts, or hiking and camping? Are the amenities of the big city important to you, or do you prefer to live in a smaller town?

Note that there are many small towns that are close to a major metro area, so you can have the best of both worlds.

Once you know your criteria, tools like SelectSmart’s city or state selector can help you narrow down your choices.

2. Consider demographics. A town with a proportionately large senior population is likely to have more programs and services for senior residents. Conversely, a college town in which the average age is 30 may be vibrant, but may not have all of the retiree amenities that you may want.

3. Consider all costs. Not just taxes and housing costs, but total cost of living, transportation, entertainment, etc. Bestplaces.net is a good place to start looking at the costs and living environment in various states and cities. You also will want to consider moving costs. MyMove.com’s moving cost estimator can give you an idea of how much the move will cost.

4. How far is it to family? You’ll want to visit with your kids and grandkids sometime, right? If they all live across the continent, that makes for a long trip. If you want to see them, or if you like to travel regularly for other reasons, you’ll want to check how far it is to the nearest major airport.

5. If you’ll want to work part-time in retirement, you’ll want to check out the employment prospects in your future home. Some jobs can be done anywhere, while others are more location-specific.

6. Don’t forget healthcare. You may not need much now, but healthcare becomes a concern to most people at some point. The number of doctors per capita and proximity to hospitals are useful, but even more important are how easily you can see specialists if you need to, and how far it is to a major medical facility just in case you ever need it.

7. Likewise, don’t forget availability (and quality) of assisted living in the area. Again, you may not need it now, but how about someday?

8. Talk with anyone you meet who’s familiar with the area. Find acquaintances who have lived there or who have family or friends there. Alumni of schools you attended and fellow members of professional associations who live in the area are also good places to start.

9. Finally, go to visit each location on your short list. Get to know the area and the people, and even try renting for a few months to a year. You may find out it’s different from what you expected, or you may find it’s every bit as good as you thought. The only way to really get to know a place is to live there for a while.

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