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Thinking About Relocating in Retirement What to Consider Before You Move

Insights & Ideas Team •  October 1, 2014 | Enjoying Retirement

When Roger Bryan said goodbye to a successful career with the federal government, he knew one thing for certain. After decades doing classified work in a high-security, windowless office, he wanted to spend as much of his retirement as he could outdoors. So he and his wife crisscrossed all 50 states plus Canada and Mexico in their RV, searching for the perfect retirement spot.

Turns out they could have saved on gas: The place that they ultimately fell in love with was St. George, Utah—just 328.6 miles southwest of the Clearfield, Utah, home where they raised their two kids.

“Taking time to explore our choices and not getting fixated on one choice was the best thing we could have done,” says Bryan. “We visited some amazing places, and any one of these would have been fine. But we quickly realized that relocating to one of these places after a short visit was probably a bad idea. It’s one thing to visit a town and love it; it’s another thing to actually live there day after day for the rest of your life.”

Retirement may be the perfect time to relocate for some people. You may be looking for a change of scenery, better weather in the winter, a way to save on living expenses and taxes, or the chance to explore new interests. Before you decide to pack up and move to one of the latest “best places to retire,” however, Angela DiCastri, a director of retirement markets for Northwestern Mutual, recommends that you:

1. Check with your partner. Many would-be retirees make the mistake of assuming their significant other shares the same goals for retirement. Yet couples often find they have different priorities. “I would have lived anywhere that enabled me to spend as much of my time out in the sunshine as possible,” said Bryan. “My wife likes being active, too, but that was lower on her priorities list. For her, staying in-state and close to family and friends was more important.” This is why it can be crucial for each partner to make a list of priorities and then compare them carefully. “Finding an ideal retirement spot often requires compromise,” said DiCastri. “The best way to avoid disappointment or resentment down the road is to discuss what you each would like before one of you gets invested in a particular location.” As Bryan commented, “My wife loved lots of places we visited, but would she have actually moved to any one of them? Not at all.”

2. Take a trial run. Don’t pick up and move without giving a new town a trial run; rent a place for a few months to make sure you get a true sense of what the community is like. “If you think you want to live in a particular place because you love the mild winters, spend some time there in the summer,” said DiCastri. “What you love about an area for a few weeks out of the year may not make for a great permanent home. For example, you may find that while the winter is perfect, the summer may be too hot or humid for your liking.”

Staying for an extended period of time will also give you a chance to experience the town as a local. “It’s not enough to want to move to Phoenix, for example. It’s important to learn about the specific community where you’re thinking about living,” warned DiCastri. “Life in a retirement community is likely to feel very different than buying a home in a residential neighborhood with families of all types and ages.” Websites like Top Retirements, Best Places and Find Your Spot provide an easy starting point to research your options and to learn what others have to say about various retirement locations.

3. Check out the amenities. When the Bryans bought their retirement home in St. George, they didn’t realize that the town, which was just being developed, did not yet have basic amenities like grocery stores. “Every six weeks, we had to make the 115-mile trek to Vegas to stock up. As the town has grown, so have our choices for shopping, eating out and other activities. But when we first got here, it was more of a sleepy desert town than we expected.”

Research each possible retirement destination to ensure it can support your lifestyle. Then make sure it’s a lifestyle you can afford. “Many retirees gravitate toward locations that they’ve enjoyed while on vacation. These places can offer a wide range of fun activities, but they can also be expensive if you’re planning to live there year round,” explained DiCastri. “Check housing prices, food costs, state and local income and sales tax rates, property taxes, and other cost-of-living items to see if you can afford a particular location.”

But don’t just consider essentials. DiCastri says you’ll also want to price activities that are important to you in particular. “For example, are greens fees affordable? That could be a big factor, depending on what your interests are.” Sperling’s Best Places Cost of Living Calculator can help you compare the cost of living in various places.

4. Is the doctor in? An increased need for health care is a reality of growing older for many people. If you have health issues before you retire, choosing a location with easy access to good medical facilities and doctors will be even more important. “Don’t plan on traveling a long distance to see a doctor you like,” said DiCastri. “Instead make sure you’re moving to a place that has top-notch medical care available—and check to make sure your doctors accept your insurance.” To learn more about a particular community’s medical care, you’ll want to visit and/or the website for that state’s department of insurance. If you’re eligible for veteran’s benefits, be sure to check the Veterans Administration website to make sure your chosen retirement location is close to medical services.

5. Proximity to family and friends. Moving to another state can be an adventure, but it also can put a lot of space between you and your loved ones. With that added distance, some family members may not be able or willing to visit as much. “When we moved to southern Utah, we didn’t think seeing our kids would be as difficult as it turned out to be. The busier they got with their own families, the less we saw them. Fortunately, that changed as our grandchildren grew. Now our house is once again the go-to place for family gatherings,” said Bryan.

Not everyone is as fortunate as the Bryans, warned DiCastri. “A lot of retirees move to vacation spots thinking it will be a draw for family and friends to visit. That may be true for a time, but eventually, school schedules, travel costs and time constraints get in the way. You may find you’re traveling more to see your family than you anticipated. That’s an added cost you’ll want to consider.”

One of the greatest benefits of retirement is having time to do the things you enjoy most. Finding the right place to live is an important part of the equation. By doing careful homework and considering all of your alternatives, you can ensure that your retirement is everything you want it to be.

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