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What to Look for in a Retirement Town

What to Look for in a Retirement Town
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 What do you want in a retirement town?

A sunny, warm climate where you can go boating all year long or the opportunity to schuss down a snowy mountain from October to May?

The chance to wander along a shell-filled white beach and soak your toes in the surf or picturesque mountains where you can “get lost” on winding hiking trails? A landscape dotted with rivers and lakes and the chance to go boating on all of them  or high desert filled with mesas and flat-tops and vistas where you can see forever?

Want to be near the grandkids or your old friends or do you want to be near professional opportunities that might afford you the some additional income?

It can be very – very! – confusing. If you’re thinking about retirement—and thinking about spending it in a new place—you’ve got a lot of decisions to make. But the flip side is that—assuming you’ve still got something left of your retirement funds—you have more options than ever!

Some people pick out a place to live based on fantasies of what they think retirement will be like (or what they think the place will be like). And the cold, hard truth is that their “golden years” often turn out to be more “rusty” than golden, with some shattered illusions and broken dreams. For others, though, retirement in a new location turns out to be the most fulfilling time of their lives.

The difference is that some people do their homework … and make their moves based on the facts, rather than fantasies. And others don’t. Can you guess which of the two types end up happier?

Each of us, of course, has his/her own vision of retirement, and a retirement haven. However, the experts say there are some common rules that everyone should follow, no matter what they’re looking for:

  1. The first thing you should do is draw up a list of your criteria. Then, break that list into “musts,” “wants,” and “would be nice.” Decide your priorities. You may have to compromise on some things. But don’t compromise too much, because you might find yourself miserable in your new town … and you’ll have paid a lot of money for your misery.2)
  2. The most important thing to decide? Your budget! You need to think hard and long about cost of living, and about home prices. But that’s not all. You also may have to account for how your retirement income will be taxed,” says retirement expert Jan Cullinane (, author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, and the upcoming The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement. “And you’ve also got to consider estate taxes, sales taxes, home-owner association dues, and insurance.” States that will tax your pension or Social Security, or your income and dividends, may end up affording you a lower quality of life than you first thought. (You may want to speak with a financial advisor about this one!)
  3. When thinking about where to start your new life, one thing is not negotiable—there must be quality medical care available for seniors, as well as public and private agencies geared to the needs of seniors. One way to make sure of this is to move to a community with a higher percentage of seniors. Another way is to move to an urban area, where there will be a greater range of facilities available. You may be healthy and vigorous now. But medical care will only become more important as you age
  4. You should also look for an area with a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities: good parks, plenty of walking paths or exercise courses, air that you can breathe without your eyes watering, a few lakes or rivers, and golf courses. After all, you’ll have more time to pursue the outdoor activities that you couldn’t pursue before!
  5. “College towns can be great,” Jan Cullinane says. “But not necessarily if you need to work. You could end up competing with 20,000 students for a part-time position.”
  6. “Houses that are built for aging residents,” says Cullinane, “with wider hallways, curb-less showers, etc., will allow you to live in your home longer. Search the term ‘Universal Design Checklist’ on your computer, for a list of what’s important.”
  7. Don’t even think about making a decision without visiting the place first. If possible, visit in two different seasons. A town that looks charming in a magazine photo could be not-so-much when you move there. When you visit, speak with other retirees you meet there. Ask about medical care, the cost of living, recreational facilities, cultural facilities, services for retirees, ease of getting around town, the weather, etc. But, also, pay attention to your own senses! Listen. Smell. Taste. Touch. And feel. Your fantasies may betray you. But your gut-feeling usually won’t.
  8. Buy a few “Best Places” books aimed at retirees. And don’t hesitate to mark them up with notes; later on, you’ll be glad you did!
  9. “Don’t become a slave to too many choices,” Jan Cullinane says. “You can make yourself crazy. If your narrow your choices wisely, you’ll find it much easier to make a decision.

“And keep in mind,” she adds, “that, in the end, you may find out that the best place to retire is where you already live!”

Steve Winston ( has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles appear in major media all over the world.

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