A common retirement dream is picking up and moving to a new location. Whether it’s living in a warmer climate, settling down in a vacation destination, or being closer to grandchildren, the decision to make such a major change requires a great deal of thought and planning. Here are eight steps to consider before you make your move. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on February 26, 2009.
1. Begin planning your move by asking some basic questions.
The first questions I would ask are what are your hopes for retirement and what would you like to do in retirement, what are your hobbies, what is most important to you? Is it the weather, is it access to health care, it is recreational opportunities, cultural activities — what do you envision doing in retirement? You should have a conversation with your spouse about what both of your expectations are for retirement and then try to find a place that has what both of you would like in retirement.
2. When considering a location, focus on what’s best for you.
I’ve gotten hundreds of letters from people recommending places to retire. And very seldom do even two or three people recommend the same place, so it is a very personal decision. Different people want different things in retire — some people want to play golf, some people want to ski, some people want to retire near their grandchildren — so it is an extremely personal decision where you want to retire and I would encourage people to pick a place based on their personal criteria.
3. Make sure to visit before you buy.
You should definitely visit a place ahead of time, if not several times. You might want to visit during each season so you can really get a feel for the place and you want to sort of learn your way around a little bit, because if you do end up moving there you want to know where you can find a dry cleaner, a doctor, etc.; you have to relearn all those things so you have to learn where to find them again.
4. Consider your long-term health care needs.
One of the most important things to look for in retirement is good health facilities nearby. That is one of the reasons you don’t want to retire to too small a town; you want to make sure there is access to health care that is going to address the needs you already have or think you might have in retirement. So you want to look for that before you move somewhere. You want to make sure that there are doctors nearby that can treat your condition, but also that there is good emergency care nearby. So you want to make sure that there is a hospital in town or nearby that you have access to.
5. Look for locations that reduce your cost of living.
A lot of people downsize to smaller houses in retirement. That is a great way to stretch your budget farther. You can also move to an area with a lower cost of living. Sometimes it is only a matter of going to the next town or into a different neighborhood and you can save significantly.
You can also compare tax rates. Tax rates can vary considerably by state and by locality. Some states even have no income tax or no sales tax, so you should weigh that. That is a great factor that could save you a lot of money in retirement.
6. Find out if there are any free or senior benefits in your new location.
One of the great things to look for in a retirement town is free activities, such as outdoor activities, parks, places where you can find discounts; a lot of places have senior discounts. I would also look for places that have a lot of free outdoor activities.
7. Talk to people to find out what’s happening in your chosen community.
I like to go to the senior center and ask people who live there if they grew up there, or if they moved there and, if they moved there, why they moved there. I also like to ask what they like to do there. What has been their experience in getting health care locally? How do they get around; if you can’t drive anymore, how do you get around town? Are there services that help you get around? What do you do for fun there? What are the activities going on at the senior center? I like to get a feel for what life is like in the town.
8. Think about living near a college campus.
I think one of the greatest places to retire is a college town, because they are a little bit more affordable than big cities in general because there are a lot of college students on a budget. But you get access to a lot of the cultural attractions. There are speakers, and concerts and shows and in a lot of college towns, seniors can either take or audit classes for free or at a discount. That’s a great perk of college towns. And you can often get discount passes to all the concerts and speakers that come to a college.
At certain state colleges you can take classes for free at a discount, but individual private colleges also offer free or discounted classes. You can just go to the colleges website and you can do a search for it and it will tell you if they offer a discount rate to seniors.
A lot of baby boomers don’t want to retire to retirement -only communities. They want to be a part of a community where there are all different age levels and activities going on and small towns are a great place to retire.