April 18, 2011 — Like most of our members you are probably working very hard on finding your best place to retire. Deciding whether your retirement destination will be where you live now, in the same community, or far away – there are so many possibilities it is hard to make a decision. This article is dedicated to another idea – that your best place to retire might be 2 places.
On the Plus Side – Avoiding Compromises
Perhaps the best reason to consider retiring in 2 places is that this solution can help you avoid compromises. Lets say you hate
cold winters and/or hot summers. That’s easy, keeping a home up north while adding a place in southern Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, or California will let you avoid both. In our view, if you can swing it (more about that later), that’s better than a compromise solution like moving to North Carolina full time where the winters are still chilly and the summers pretty darn hot.
Another compromise that can be avoided by having 2 homes is having to settle for one kind of community. Moving away permanently from where you live now would mean saying goodbye to most of your friends and ties to the community. Renting a low cost home in Florida during the winter, however, might allow you to come back every summer and not lose contact. Or, you might want the activities of an active adult community, but don’t necessarily want to be in that in kind of environment all year long. Perhaps you would like to add more of an urban environment as a change from the suburbs or small town where you have spent most of your life. Two (or even more places) can help you enjoy a wide and enriching array of lifestyles. Most of the retirees we know of report that living in 2 different places adds a great deal to their lives – new friends, experiences, and a break from the routine.
There are no rules about the different places you can live in, or the lifestyle you have to choose. Your choice could be as simple as participating in a home exchange program like homeexchange.com, which lets you swap homes with people around the globe. Many people find these invigorating – whether once a year or multiple times. You might own a home in one state (the one you live in now, or a new one), and rent in another. A big advantage of renting, particularly in this down market, is that you have no strings attached. One winter you sample Hawaii, the next year Arizona. Over at Eons.com there was a pretty interesting discussion about living in 2 places recently.
Coping with the Cost
So many retirees are worried about retiring at all, let alone living in 2 different places. Yet creativity can come to your rescue. You can start by selling your big house in the suburbs and downsize to increase your available retirement savings and reduce your costs. Rent instead of own. You could reverse the seasons and rent for a fraction of in-season rates (while renting your opposite home out at high-season rates). If you travel to the right place you might be able to get seasonal employment to help cover your costs. You can be creative in many other ways. We know a surprisingly large number of retirees (particularly former military) who winter down south or summer out west in a large RV. Others live on a boat for part of the year The turtle lifestyle can be inexpensive and fun too.
Spending a season in an international country can be another way to stretch your budget. Numerous communities in Mexico and South America offer a very low cost of living as well as a safe setting for expatriates.
On the Down Side
In most cases living in 2 places will add considerably to both your cost of living and the hassle factor. The 2 home lifestyle is definitely not for everybody. This is particularly true on the cost side if you own 2 homes – there is no escaping dual costs for insurance, utilities, taxes, and maintenance (although they can be mitigated by renting one or both out when you are not there). The hassle factor is not insignificant either. Twice a year (or more), you’ll have to close down one place, pack up, and move to another. That involves many chores, and once in the new spot, you will inevitably find that something you really need is 1000 miles away. As your editor’s dear wife says, “You are always missing one place when you are in the other.”
Another factor is the interruption to daily life. If you are an active volunteer with a key role to play in an organization, that will be very hard to maintain if you are away for months at a time. Likewise it is hard to get involved in a new community if your presence is not continuous. This drawback, if not addressed, can make you feel rootless.
Almost all the people we know who have retired to 2 or more places are very happy about that lifestyle. They relish the variety and stimulation it adds to their life from new friends and experiences. The cost can be a significant, but not insurmountable hurdle. And, particularly for snowbirds, there is no greater joy than reading about a whopping snowstorm instead of being there shoveling out the driveway.
What do you think? Please share your perspective and experiences about this topic. Have you tried it and loved it – or not so much? What makes a good pair of places to retire? Let us know!