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How to Find the Perfect Place to Retire
10 Resources for Finding Your Perfect Place!
Some of us dream about retiring to a beach cottage with perfect year-round weather. Others dream about retiring to a chalet in a quaint village near the ski slopes, or relocating to a one-story villa on a golf course, or an adobe house in the desert, or a condo within walking distance of a farmer’s market in a hip downtown. The choices are endless.
To find our perfect retirement or relocation destination, we need to weigh factors including the cost of living, climate, housing, crime rates, health care, cultural attractions, natural resources, restaurants, stores, transportation, walkability, income taxes, property taxes, and insurance costs. We also want to get a general idea of what it looks like, how it feels, and what the people who live there are really like.
Luckily, it’s easier than ever to find comprehensive information about potential retirement or relocation destinations. By using these resources, you can make a short list of places to visit to see if they “feel” as good as they appear online. Here are 10 helpful resources for finding your dream retirement or relocation destination:
1. Sperling’s BestPlaces (http://www.bestplaces.net/). The single most-comprehensive site for researching a new place to live is Sperling’s BestPlaces. Simply by entering the name of any city, town or village in the United States, you will find information about the place’s people, health, economy, housing, rankings, crime, climate, education, transportation, cost of living, religion and voting. You may also be able to read comments posted by people familiar with the area. In less than 5 minutes, you can get a general idea about the place, so it’s the perfect starting point.
2. City-Data.com (http://www.city-data.com/). Another comprehensive site for researching new places is City-Data.com. The format of this site isn’t as succinct as that of Sperling’s BestPlaces, but the information is more comprehensive. For example, while the climate data on Sperling’s BestPlaces only gives the Average July High and Average January Low temperatures, the City-Data.com site provides a graph showing the Average, Average Daily High and Average Daily Low temperature throughout the entire year (which is very useful, for example, if you are wondering whether you’ll be able to hit the beach during your vacation in April). Another very interesting feature of City-Data.com is its Forum (click on “Visit Forum” at the top of the home page), where you’ll find thousands of posts from other people interested and knowledgeable about the place. Frequently, you’ll find that the topics raised in this forum are things in which you’re interested.
3. CNN Money’s Best Places to Live (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2011/index.html). Each year, CNN / Money selects a list of the “Best Places to Live” according to certain criteria. For example, the magazine listed its view of America’s best small cities in 2010, and its best small towns in 2011. The information on this site isn’t nearly as comprehensive as on Sperling’s BestPlaces or City-Data.com. For example, only a small subset of cities, towns and villages make it onto the lists. However, this site does provide more subjective discussion about what places are “the best”. Whether you agree with their opinions about what’s “best” is, of course, entirely up to you.
Of course, a number of other organizations also publish lists of best places to live or retire. For example, AreaVibes has a list of their "Top 100 Cities in America", and also provides scores for more than 15,000 cities across the United States (http://www.areavibes.com/best-places/america/). Similar ratings are available from CityRating (http://www.cityrating.com/).
4. Zillow (http://www.zillow.com/). Since one of the key factors in any relocation decision is the cost and quality of housing, it’s important to research the real estate market in the area. As with many other websites, Zillow provides information about homes currently for sale. Unlike most other real estate websites, Zillow also provides an estimate of the current market value of houses and condominiums in the area (referred to as a “Zestimate®”). While it’s possible to criticize the Zestimates as inaccurate since they are not the result of human appraisals, they are great starting points for determining general housing values. Zestimates are particularly useful since they’re provided for any property even if it’s not on the market, and can be graphed over the years so you can see the current real estate trends in that area. Zillow also lists information on recently sold properties, which is useful in doing comparable sales analysis. Other useful real estate sites include: the official site of the National Association of Realtors® (www.Realtor.com); www.Trulia.com; and www.RedFin.com (though only for its limited geographic scope). Websites run by local real estate companies are also useful, and are easily found by searching the web.
5. Walk Score® (http://www.walkscore.com/). For most people, quality of life is higher when they can walk to a grocery store, coffee shop, library, park, restaurant, bar, or other amenity. This is especially true for retirees, who have more leisure time to enjoy these activities. A great tool for determining if a place has easy accessibility to amenities is Walk Score. When you type in an address, the site generates a “walk score” on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being a walker’s paradise. The site also provides, for each class of amenity, a list of the amenities closest to the address. Use this site to quickly determine if you can easily walk from the address you entered to the amenities you’re interested in. If you don’t have an address, simply enter an address you find from a real estate or mapping site. If, for example, you love coffee shops, use Walk Score to see if you could easily walk to one before you put in an offer to buy your retirement home. You may also see the Walk Score listed on many other sites which work with www.walkscore.com.
6. Google Maps or MapQuest (http://maps.google.com/maps or http://www.mapquest.com/). There’s nothing like actually seeing a place to decide whether you like it. While it’s best to visit a place in person before making a final decision, internet mapping tools are the next best thing. By using either Google Maps or MapQuest, you can get overhead and satellite views of any city, town or village. The resolution is usually sharp enough to view neighborhoods and even individual houses. Both sites also let you enter the names of particular amenities (e.g., hotels, restaurants, parks, etc.) so you can see where they are located in relation to where you might live. With Google Maps, you can get photographic images by using the Street View feature. By using your mouse, you can even enjoy the view as you virtually “drive” down a street.
7. State Taxes: Retirement Living Information Center (http://www.retirementliving.com/taxes-by-state). Anyone contemplating moving to another state should research the new state’s tax climate to see how it would impact your standard of living. One useful site for comparing the tax climate of different states is the Retirement Living Information Center. A click on the state on a nationwide map provides a quick summary of that state’s sales taxes, personal income taxes, property taxes, and inheritance and estate taxes. You can do a more detailed review of a particular state’s tax climate by visiting the website of the revenue office for that state.
8. Local Newspaper (http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/north-america-newspapers.htm). A good way to learn about a new community is to regularly read its local or regional newspaper. The www.onlinenewspapers.com site makes it easy to find the newspaper for a particular area even if you don’t know if it’s called the “Times” or “Tribune” or “Gazette”. Alternatively, you can simply search for the name of the city and “newspaper”. The local newspaper will give you information about local events, politics, crime, weather, sports, etc. You can also read through the online classified ads to research rentals, real estate, etc. Another good alternative to find local information is www.craigslist.org, which provides online classified ads for many localities.
9. Top Retirement Destinations (http://www.topretirements.com/Home.html). This website presents information on locations generally recognized as being popular retirement locations. One interesting feature is an annual list of 100 most popular places to retire. For each of these places, it provides some photographs and a short description with pros and cons for the place. Other features include information on retirement communities in each state, and blog entries likely to be of interest to people contemplating retirement in different locales.
10. Where to Retire Magazine (http://wheretoretire.com/). The only resource on this list which is not available online is Where to Retire Magazine. Each issue presents an in-depth look at about four different communities which are popular with retirees, plus snapshot looks at communities which are compatible with a particular theme (e.g., communities located near a college campus, or near a beach, or near a mountain village). Each issue also includes a useful chart comparing the cost of living between various towns and cities, with an emphasis on popular retirement destinations. While the magazine itself is not available online, you can easily subscribe at its website. The website is also currently offering a free trial issue of Where to Retire magazine.
A Del Webb survey found 59% of baby boomers plan to relocate after retirement.