2 New Lists to Help You Find An Affordable Place to Retire

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

Nov. 18, 2013 — Everybody nearing retirement should have their own criteria for choosing a place to retire. For many, it’s warm weather. Plenty of others want to be close to family, culture, or a favorite kind of recreation. Taxes on retirement income and distributions are often a key consideration. But for the millions of baby boomers whose meager savings are paired with tiny 401(k)s and social security benefits, finding an affordable place to live is consideration #1. This article provides a list of the most affordable places to retire in the USA, sliced two different ways.

We developed these lists using data from the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI), which is a measure of the percentage of homes sold in a given area that are affordable to families earning the area’s median income. In other words, the HOI compares home prices to what people make in a given area. Home prices might be above average there, but if the median income is also high, housing is still considered affordable.

Overall Affordability
We have seen this phenomenon before – if you are looking for inexpensive housing, get away from the coasts. The middle of the country – Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Michigan – these are the states where your housing buck goes further.

List #1 – Most Affordable by HOI
Here are the top 10 most affordable housing metros, based on the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI). (3rd Q Median Home Sales Price follows the name of the Metro):
1. Kokomo, IN $95,000
2. Vineland/Milville/Bridgeton, NJ $132,000
3. Davenport/Moline/Rock Island, IA/IL $98,000
4. Indianapolis/Carmel, IN $93,000
5. Syracuse, NY $92,000
6. Bay City, MI $79,000
7. Springfield, OH $85,000
8. Dover, DE $187,000
9. Monroe, MI $120,000
10. Salisbury, MD $140,000


A caution. The Affordability Index tries to match local earning power with housing prices. However, if you are retired, you probably don’t have a significant income, which might limit the index’s applicability to your situation. You might be better off looking for markets with the absolute lowest housing prices. On the other hand, local salaries probably do correlate to local cost of living, so there is some relevance.

List #2 – Most Affordable by HOI – Sunbelt and Quasi-Sunbelt
A you can see, only 3 of the metros on the top 10 list above are linked to a Topretirements review. Not that we have reviewed every great place to retire in the country, but we have covered a lot of the better places. In order to try to provide a list of more affordable Metros that are also desirable places to retire, we went through the NAHB/Wells Fargo HOI rankings looking for metros in the sunbelt, or close to the sunbelt. Our goal was to find more affordable places that might be more attractive to retirees. The first number following the Metro refers to the HOI ranking (e.g.; #8), the second is the 3rd Q Median Sales Price. Clicking on the link in the city name will take you to our review of that town/city:

1. Dover, DE (#8 HOI, $187,000)

The bell in Dover, Delaware

2. Carson City, NV (#17, $160,000)
3. Pueblo, CO (#21, $125,000)
4. Lakeland/Winter Haven, FL (#25, $110,000)
5. Wichita Falls, TX (#31, $100,000)
6. Winston-Salem, NC (#37, $128,000)
7. Roanoke, VA (#39, $145,000)
8. Ocala, FL (#42, $92,000)
9. Gainesville, FL (#44, $ $137,000)
10. Killeen/Temple/Ft. Hood, TX (#46, $138,000)

Bottom Line
Housing will probably be your biggest expense in retirement. If funds are going to be tight, saving money on that expenditure will help improve the rest of your retirement lifestyle. Use the lists above for suggestions on finding your best place to retire. To find even more, here is a link to the full NAHB/Wells Fargo data (Complete Listing by Affordability Rank is the most useful).

Comments? Have you found or are considering an affordable place to retire? Please share your thoughts on how to save money on housing, including finding places where your dollars will go farther, in the Comments section below.

About the Housing Opportunity Index. The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) is a measure of the percentage of homes sold in a given area that are affordable to families earning the area’s median income during a specific quarter. Prices of new and existing homes sold are collected from actual court records by Core Logic, a data and analytics company.

For further reading:
10 Affordable, and Highly Desirable, Places to Retire
Low Income Retirement – A Discussion

Posted by Admin on November 18th, 2013

18 Comments »

  1. How reasonably priced retirement communities???

    by Kathryn — November 20, 2013

  2. Just want to add that another thing to keep in mind, especially if expense is a big consideration, are the ongoing costs related to the real estate purchase. In particular property taxes, insurance or any association fees. You may pay a comparable amount for housing but the ongoing costs could be much different. So just important to consider the entire cost associated with a real estate purchase.

    Since this article is focused on the cost of housing, this comment is meant only in relation to real estate and not any other expense considerations which of course should also be included in overall planning.

    by Mejask — November 20, 2013

  3. Not everybody likes to play golf day in and day out. And, if you move to a golf neighborhood, you could be paying for a facility you don’t use. Analysis: Eventually developers will run out of people that want to play golf, and thus, another housing crises. Boo hoo.

    An aside. Kokomo, IN, if my info is still correct, has been hit with an employment issue, thus the low housing costs. You may find a real bargain there if you don’t mind the cold and the poor economy. Don’t go there uninformed.

    by Edward — November 20, 2013

  4. The Delaware shore is remarkably cost effective–once housing is sorted out. New construction homes in the beach communities range $400-500K and up; beachfront can run multiples of that.

    That being said, property taxes are very low in the $1,000-1,600 per year (yes, that’s correct, “PER YEAR”) range. There is no sales tax. Income taxes for retirees are modest ($25K retirement income is excluded, no tax on SS income, etc.). DE offers lifetime state park passes (some wonderful beaches included) for those over 65 for a $50 one time fee (can be used in any vehicle including out of state visitors). There’s more. Come to Delaware…it’s all good.

    by Wik Mikelmoor — November 20, 2013

  5. Delaware sounds pretty good, but I, for one, sure could not afford to buy a house in the $400,000-$500,000 range. Isn’t there something that a retiree with not a million-dollar income, can afford?

    by Ursula — November 21, 2013

  6. Edward, I think you are wrong about golfing communities. The largest retirement/golf community in the US is The Villages. They expect to have more than 100,000 inhabitants when their build out is over. Thing is, even with almost 50 courses, most people there don’t golf. Golf is a big plus but it’s certainly not the whole picture by any means.

    by fred proeschel — November 21, 2013

  7. Ursula, there is a lot of housing much cheaper than that in DE. Go to Realtor.com or Zillow.com and take a look at what is on the market today. Wik’s example was for the beach area, but many more options than that.

    by Julie — November 21, 2013

  8. Wik and Ursula,

    Not all property taxes in Delaware are that low–really depends on the location and cost of the home. And don’t forget HOA fees and flood insurance (if one is close to the water). Many retirees have flocked to Sussex county due to Delaware being “retirement friendly.” Lower cost homes can be found but it’s important to do your homework. As for us, we decided not to build due to escalating cost of home due to add-ons that we wanted, cost of water (we were told most residents put in their own well), necessity of having propane gas (more expensive), HOA fees, flood insurance, crowded highways and restaurants (especially in the summer). It’s also important to speak with future neighbors to get the “true” story of what is happening in the community.

    by Fionna — November 21, 2013

  9. Why are all “affordable” areas based on home costs? What about those of us who have already downgraded? We LOVE living in our fifth wheel and so property taxes won’t be an issue. How about discussing which states tax personal income, how much, which kinds, etc and also the tax rates on license plates? Those will be our issues.

    by Claudia — November 21, 2013

  10. Mississippi not listed and has NO tax on your pension, NO tax on your 401K
    If you look at MS you will see ,their is cold in the north of state ,warm in the southern part, a coast, golf, fishing ,mississippi river, Anyone that would be looking for the most cost effective retirement should look at Mississippi

    by Michael — November 22, 2013

  11. Claudia, this interactive tax map should help with some of those questions. It is not all inclusive, but I like that you can pick up to 5 states to compare side by side: http://portal.kiplinger.com/tool/retirement/T055-S001-state-by-state-guide-to-taxes-on-retirees/index.php

    You are right that home costs can be controlled by your choices. By keeping things in our control as much as possible we can make the choices we need to make in order to afford retirement.

    by Julie — November 22, 2013

  12. Claudia
    My wife and I are thinking about going full time rving. What advice would you give us? One problem I see is the cost of rv parks, maintenance and other items that you face with an rv. I would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you

    by Ron — November 22, 2013

  13. Thanks, Julie for reminder about the Kiplinger site. For 2014 tax info, you need to read the state profile. NC has some changes that will benefit some residents and not others…see the profile. Other states that I looked at have some minor changes or do not list 2014 changes. And as always, remember that state income tax can change relative to other states…it is always good to do a proforma income tax once you have narrowed down your states to ones that you would enjoy living in…or at least think that you would

    by Elaine — November 22, 2013

  14. Ron. We currently have a RV with a payment. Going to sell it end of 2014. Hopefully break even but not counting on it. Plan on one more year of Rving. Will be retiring within 5 years. Went to NFCU and they provide free financial advice. Sat with a financial advisor for 2 hours. A great eye opener. Rving is rewarding and lots of fun but expensive. He pointed out to us this is a lifestyle choice. For us we are planning to try and put away as much as possible between now and then and probably move to the villages in FL. A smaller home but a great lifestyle. Our thoughts may change but for right now unless you are planning to park the RV for long periods of time the gas is brutal. Just my 2 cents.

    by Vickie — November 23, 2013

  15. We have thought of Rving, but the big motorhomes are scary cost to repair and maintain…with shops in our area $110 to $125 per hour, doesn’t take long to rack up a huge bill. And a Diesel could be a lot $$. Fluid capacities of a large coach alone scare me to death. A guy that had a converted Bus, with a Detroit Diesel told me every time he got into the shop for service he didn’t get out of there for less than $3000 !! Now it was an older one and his business paid the bill but…something to seriously consider. Not for the faint at heart. Every time I think about Rving I talk myself out of it. Unless I can “steal” one (buy it cheap) I wouldn’t even consider it. For the moment the best way for us is to drive and stay in motels/hotels. If we want to take a trip in an RV…we rent one. Or we fly to a destination, rent a car, stay in motels. There are places you can fly to and rent a motorhome too…like Alaska. Several dealers in Anchorage cater to tourists in the summer months. I would love to own a motorhome but would plan to actually lose money on it. Also almost every one of them leak water at sometime in their life. By the time you realize it, there is serious water damage costing thousands to repair, and not typically covered by insurance. The only way around that is to step up to a Country Coach, or Marathon, or Prevost, or Tiffin, Maybe even a Holiday Rambler. Just my 2 cents worth.

    by Mark P. — November 23, 2013

  16. RVing is very possible on the cheap, but not if you want one the size of a house. My parents lived in a 27′ Holiday Rambler for 10 years full time, towing a car behind. They bought it second hand for a very reasonable price and it cost them very little to run when compared to paying for a home. They mostly stayed in state parks, which they could do for I believe 2 weeks at a time at a discount given their age. Or for the braver, free camp. I stumbled across this website about free sites, basically RVers around the US sharing, be it a lot they own next to a river, or a piece of their driveway.

    Affordable RVing can be done, but requires setting limitations and doing your research. Start Googling and you will be amazed at what you can find.

    by Julie — November 24, 2013

  17. […] on the Coast 10 Affordable, and Highly Livable, Places to Retire 8 More Affordable Places to Retire 2 New lists to Help You Find an Affordable Place to Retire NAHB/Wells Fargo Affordability Index William H. Frey Study of Net […]

    by » Disconnect: Most Affordable Places to Retire Are Not Where Retirees Are Moving - Topretirements — December 2, 2014

  18. Wik and Ursula, and Fionna ….Yes there are way cheaper coastal places to live in DE. We retired here 7 years ago. Live in a Mixed community of homes, villa’s and Condo’s with elevators..”Hearthstone Manor”..right off Coastal highway. ..
    11 minutes to the beaches. Easy access. Yes there is traffic in the summer but it’s the beach. 9 months out of the year it’s a breeze. We have public water, natural gas and electric. Clubhouse and beautiful pool. Golf course right next door and an Multi-Million dollar Medical Center going in right across the highway from us..also minutes from the beautiful little art town of Milford DE…great restaurants and shopping and art galleries. We have been loving it here for almost 8 years.

    by sunlovingal — December 3, 2014

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