This Is Rocket Science – How A Space Engineer Found His Best Place to Retire

Category: Retirement Planning

July 28, 2014 — Rich got our attention when he contacted us to suggest a city review for Ocean Shores, Washington. For one, we had never heard of this town. But more intriguing to us, he happened to mention that he had a 7 page analysis of how it stacks up to the criteria he found on Topretirements.com. That sounded pretty thorough to us. One thing led to another, and subsequently we had the pleasure of interviewing Rich about that analysis.

A Search for the Perfect Retirement Town
Rich and his wife, Jan, had lived in Washington State for 26 years early in their careers (1969 – 1995). Then they moved to Texas, where Rich worked for a number of years on the International Space Station (ISS), while also supporting the space shuttle program as a systems engineer. During that time the couple spent time thinking about their future retirement, making dozens of trips to check out places in Texas and around the country. We’ve incorporated part of Rich’s notes into this article, plus provided a link to the entire 7 page document at the end. Not only is it interesting reading, it makes for a great blueprint for anyone trying to make a smart retirement decision.

By trade Rich is a Systems Engineer, so his retirement location search was very detailed, assimilating all the requirements he could get access to via the internet, magazines, and other sources. After over 10 years of searching both within the Unites States and other countries he and his wife chose to retire in Ocean Shores, WA. In making that decision he asked himself why this was the place for their active retirement. His answer was that for them, Ocean Shores, WA came out best in a series of compromises in the factors of what makes a “good retirement location”.

How They Got Started
To find towns to visit they went through websites including Topretirements and checked off interesting cities, noting pluses and minuses as they learned more about them. No state in the Southeast or Southwest was immune to their visits: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Carolinas. They visited over 9 cities in Mississippi alone (Picayune, Bay St Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Long Beach, Ocean Springs, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Meridan, Corinth), as they were intrigued with the Certified Retirement Communities that state offers. One town on the Mississippi coast west of Biloxi (Pass Christian on St Louis Bay) intrigued them and they got ready to buy property there. Those plans changed when Hurricane Katrina barreled in and wiped it out.

The fountain in lovely Fairhope, AL

Close Calls
Alabama got a thorough investigation as the pair visited over a dozen towns. Those included Mobile, Gulf Shores, Daphne, Fairhope, Foley, Dothan, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Lewis Smith Lake, Florence, Mussle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Decatur, Hartselle, Lake Guntersville, and Huntsville. They really loved Fairhope. During their visit there they were very impressed both with Fairhope’s beauty – it’s built on a bluff – and its friendliness – people noticed their Texas plates and stopped to wish them well. At that point they thought that this old Utopian community might be their “IT” town!

Closer to home in Texas they lived in the resort/NASA Johnson Space Center area of Clear Lake (south of Houston) for 13 years so that was an obvious candidate. But they went on to check out Galveston, Arlington, Mesquite, Kemp and Gun Barrel City (City both on the Cedar Creek Reservoir south east of Dallas), Athens, Corsicana, Richland Chambers Reservoir, Richardson, Desoto/Lancaster, Granbury, Amarillo, and Brenham (Home of Blue Bell Ice cream). In yet another close call, they actually went so far as to buy a lot on a lake in the Lone Star State, thinking that might be where they would retire.

Whoops – Washington State Calling
But all those plans for the southeast and southwest changed a few years ago. Jan wanted to be close to her mother, so they were off to the Seattle area of Washington State. Then both their adult children and their spouses moved there also, and now their first grand child has arrived. Jan’s Mom lives in the Jubliee 55+ community in Lacey, WA, and they moved across the I-5 freeway to the Hawks Prairie area of Olympia, which lived up to the good things they had heard about.

Once they decided to move back to Washington they resumed their retirement search in that State. In what has to be one of the most thorough searches ever, they looked at both the east and the west sides of the mountains. In the east they looked at the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Moses Lake, Spokane, Tricities, and Ellensburg (near where they once had a cabin on Lake Kachess). That search made them realize they wanted to see green scenery, so they turned to look in the western side of the state. There they checked out Tacoma, Olympia, Shelton, Bremerton, Gig Harbor, Belfair, Allyn, and Poulsbo (a Scandinavian town that is really nice). Unfortunately, their allergies got worse while checking out the cities and towns on the Kitsap peninsula. Also on the list to be scoped out were Port Orchard, Port Townsend, Whidbey Island, Camano Island, Sequim, Port Angeles, and Ocean Shores. After one particularly cold (for western Washington) winter the “siren of warmer winters” beckoned them so they went on numerous trips to check out the Las Vegas/Henderson, NV and Phoenix/Mesa/Tempe, Az areas, which had a whole lot to offer. The “Sun City” effect was very positive, but the green spaces of Washington State overcame the desert vistas and beckoned them back.

Looking for More – and Back to the Drawing Boards
But after 5 years in Olympia they looked at each other and realized they needed to start over. Although their house in Olympia was really nice with a large lot – it was just a house in a neighborhood. They knew they really wanted was a place that would be more attractive to their children and grandchildren – a destination with a lot to do when they visited. So the search resumed. Back looking at Ocean Shores,they came close to buying a house, but didn’t. A few months later their realtor called back -one of the houses they had looked at before was back on the market – would they like to look at it again?

By this point you probably have the idea. Rich’s system engineering background does not lead him to making half-baked decisions. He admits it takes him a long time to establish his criteria and requirements, and then do the analysis. So his due diligence kicked in – in spades! He talked with the mayor of Ocean Shores to get a better feel for the place. He investigated the healthcare situation there (there is a fine hospital in nearby Aberdeen, connected by a good road, and there are 2 clinics in Ocean Shores). The EMS can get you to hospital in Olympia or Seattle quickly, if needed.

The Beach in Ocean Shores (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

They checked out what there is to do in Ocean Shores. Turns out there are things happening all the time – entertainment as well as recreation. Ocean Shores residents are able to enjoy many amenities, for example: the ocean, Duck lake, Gray’s Harbor, golf course, numerous local tourist activities, the casino, parks, and wild life refuges that surround the community. He learned you could have the best of both worlds, be crazy active or just stay home in a beautiful setting and relax. There are all kinds of homes to choose from – you can live on the oceanfront, lakefront, golf course frontage, or canals.

Ocean Shores welcomes more than 3 million visitors annually. Its climate is mild; never too hot or cold. Summers stay pleasantly just under 80 degrees. In the heart of Ocean Shores there is a 121 acre temperate rainforest, called “The Weatherwax” that has many paths to enjoy the flora and fauna of a coastal rainforest, as well as a plethora of wild animals and birds. Wherever you go along the forest areas there are lots of wild animals especially an abundance of deer, which you might just think are lawn ornaments, at least until they move around. The 6-mile-
long peninsula of Ocean Shores hosts over 120 miles of flat roadways on which to ride a bike. The beach is a state highway, thus allowing the driving of motorized vehicles by the ocean.

The 13 Factor Analysis
They ranked Ocean Shores against 13 factors important for a retirement location, such as:
(1) affordable housing options for retirement;
(2) cost of living (excluding housing);
(3) most tax-friendly state/location;
(4) best retirement towns for the arts/cultural/entertainment events/activities (e.g., theater, entertainment events, ballet, symphony);
(5) best retirement towns for public events;
(6) best retirement towns for mobility (e.g., biking accessibility, public transportation availability, walking, vehicle rentals);
(7) easy access to out-door physical activities (e.g., golfing, boating, fishing, claming, bird watching, nature viewing, kite flying, horseback riding, surfing, boogie boarding, miniature golf, go cart riding);
(8) easy access to in-door physical activities (e.g., swimming, hot tubing, weight
lifting, bowling);
(9) easy access to in-door activities (e.g., bumper boats, game arcade, movie theater, antiquing, jewelry making, glass blowing, wine tasting);
(10) availability of bookstores;
(11) availability of shopping;
(12) availability health care; and
(13) availability of sight-seeing activities (within 100 mile trip).
(See the entire document for detail on each of these points)

Blastoff!
Adding up their subjective evaluation of Ocean Shores against these factors, the shear diversity of what is or may be available in Ocean Shores, made the couple decide to say yes to Ocean Shores. They took the plunge and purchased a beautiful home on a lake. His daughter, after pursuing Rich’s 7 page write up and his extensive matrices said to him – “Dad, this is too much, it looks like you are still working back in the space program.” To which he replied, “I wanted things firm in my mind so i didn’t miss anything.” Her response – “Dad, there’s nothing you missed here!”

Loving it
The couple absolutely love their new home in Ocean Shores. They sit in the living room and look out at the lake and admire the wildlife in their backyard and on the lake. In fact they hate to come back to check on their unsold house in Olympia.

Rich and Jan's new home when they bought it

Rich and Jan’s new home when they bought it

A Word about Ocean Shores
See the detailed review of Ocean Shores at Topretirements, which uses many details provided by Rich.

Ocean Shores was started in late 60s. Pat Boone, the singer, was one of the original investors. The developers bought a 6 miles long peninsula between the ocean and Grace Harbor, a major bay. There is Duck Lake, which is 4 miles long, and lake Menard. There are 26 miles of canals, which afford boat owners access to the lake. The original plan was for it to be a Sun City type development, although it was all ages, not just 55+. Home buyers could have a choice – they could choose a lot with oceanfront, canal frontage, golf course, lake, bay, or interior views. The developers put in roads and starting selling lots. Then the developer ran into financial problems, and the town never really took off. Although the original lots were sold, many of them came back on the market.

Active town leadership
The town, located in the middle of Washington’s Pacific Coast, is due west of Olympia on (US 101/WA8/US12/RouteRoute 109). They mayor and the town leadership has done a great job of trying to attract relocations and retirees. They have developed tourism web sites. When Rich started asking questions he found everyone to be incredibly responsive and positive, big reasons why they finally selected this needle out of the haystack!

Further Reading
Topretirements review of Ocean Shores
2014 Ocean Shores Community Profile
Why retire at Ocean Shores_WA – the 7 page rationale!
Top Things to Do at Ocean Shores

Comments? Do you have comments or questions about the process Rich used to find Ocean Shores? Have you visited some of the places they did, and do you have comments about them? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on July 29th, 2014

26 Comments »

  1. I was surprised to see a scientist, with all his research, picked a ‘subduction’ zone along the west coast to retire. Ocean Shores seems to be in a particularly vulnerable area.

    by CJ Baskel — July 30, 2014

  2. “I was surprised to see a scientist, with all his research, picked a ‘subduction’ zone along the west coast to retire. Ocean Shores seems to be in a particularly vulnerable area.”

    Good point.

    by Peter Wang — July 30, 2014

  3. In the end, after all that research, they ended up doing what many retirees do. Moving closer to the children and grandchildren. So it didn’t really matter how much research they did, did it?

    by Roberta — July 30, 2014

  4. Great article ! We are so impressed with the search Rich did. We are in the process now of writing down our factor analysis and what is important, it does put organization into the search and makes you realize how much there is to discuss. Washington is not one of our choices due family logistics, but if I ever go near the area, I hope to visit Ocean Shores!

    by Paula — July 30, 2014

  5. This whole search seemed pretty confusing to me. Both my husband and I are in our 60s. If we took all that time find the ideal place we would be dead before we ever found it. Sometimes you have to go by your instincts. There is no perfect place. Even if you research something thoroughly you may still wind up not liking it at the end.

    by AnnC — July 30, 2014

  6. I’m intrigued with Rich’s analysis. I, too, am a systems person, so I totally get the detailed analysis route. Wondering if Rich would be willing to share some of his spreadsheets. I’ve just begun some of my own, prepping for when my husband retires in a few years. It would be great to leverage some of Rich’s tools. Rich??? :wink:

    by Betsy — July 30, 2014

  7. I agree with Roberta.

    by Marianne — July 30, 2014

  8. I agree with Roberta. The bottom line is the retirement decision appears to be based on being near family. Being near family is a major factor for many retiree’s.

    by Bubbajog — July 30, 2014

  9. In the end, it all comes down to family. Not just for rocket scientists but probably for most of us.

    by Maureen — July 30, 2014

  10. What I never see mentioned in retirement analysis is politics. Our country is so partisan and so divided these days that living in a nice place surrounded by people you strongly disagree with is not very pleasant.

    We narrowed down our search (a successful one) to only those parts of the country where we thought we would feel politically welcome.

    by Bob Haynes — July 30, 2014

  11. I’m an systems engineer/analyst by profession nearing retirement. I set up a similar multi-factor analysis of retirement prospects, including scales for each factor and weights so the options could be ranked by total scores or individual factors in a spreadsheet. On one hand, my (non-geeky) spouse and I both found it a very helpful “values clarification” exercise. One the other hand, there are intangibles that can make a low-score candidate very attractive, and a high- score candidate less so. In the end there’s nothing like experiencing an environment as much as is feasible. And like Roberta says, “family ties” are a strong center of gravity! :-)

    by freddie stewart — July 31, 2014

  12. Bob Haynes – Well spoken – Amen, although I want too /lol

    by Robert — July 31, 2014

  13. I like the 13-point retirement criteria. I think developing your own 13-point system and then rating the places you are considering against your own criteria would be key to finding the best fit. Maybe “Top Retirements” could survey their readership for a list of desired criteria? That would give all of us a place to start and maybe some criteria we hadn’t yet considered.

    I know that I have yet to consider moving. Cost of the move, and the amenities of my current abode stop me every time. Though I would love a beach front location, I will own my house soon and I have a new solar power generating system on my roof that is paid up for the next 17 years! So, I travel instead.

    by Lulu — July 31, 2014

  14. Both CJ Baskel and Bob Haynes raise very good points. As a master’s degree student at Oregon State, I wrote a paper on earthquake/tsunami hazards in Oregon (would very much pertain to southern Washington State as well). While I would consider Bandon, OR or Brookings, OR as a retirement area, the flatness of Ocean Shores, WA would bother me a bit. Otherwise, it does seem like a very nice area.

    by Roger Torstenson — July 31, 2014

  15. I agree Bob Haynes. Our country is very much politically divided. I believe politics should be a factor in retirement decisions. The red/blue state divide is very real. This is reality, and people do need to be comfortable within the environment they retire.

    by Bubbajog — July 31, 2014

  16. My wife and I also have attempted to logically analyze the characteristics of a potential retirement location. One trade-off that we constantly run into is the dearth of good health care facilities near medium and small towns. We both hate the congestion of bigger cities despite the arts and cultural amenities available in them. We also run into the issue of politics vs climate. It seems the more moderate the winter climate the less attractive (to us) are the politics of the folks who live their.:wink:

    by Punta Pete — August 1, 2014

  17. Political is relatively easy to research on-line and then have a litmus test when you finally visit. I am “ultra” Purple. Of course I am “right” on some subjects and “left” on others and I do not particularly enjoy discussing politics. But in many states you can find large clusters of red and large clusters of blue…for example Virginia or NC http://www.pbs.org/newshour/spc/vote2012/map/all_results.html#map_view=nc

    Th above is the 2012 election by county…but you can find this type of analysis predicting the 2016 election. Or look for resgistered voters by counties, MSAs, etc. You can get down to the level you like for other stats as well, such as unemployment, %latino, education level, fishing, sink holes, etc, etc. Spend some time searching.

    My students loved these interactive maps. So they always tried to get some in their PP presentations…fun.

    by Elaine — August 1, 2014

  18. Nice analysis. Family was a part of the decision, obviously, however, other benefits factored in. Taxes, however, aren’t that big a deal in their decision realistically due to the fact that there’s a 9.5% sales tax in WA which negates the savings compared to Oregon or other states that don’t have a sales tax.

    by John — August 1, 2014

  19. 1. To #4 (Cultural) add Public Library nearby
    2. Availability of prepaid annual appliance/plumbing/electricity service contracts. Here in south Florida, we have East Coast Mechanical, which, after a qualifying inspection of the abode, guarantees repair for about $300, and replacement, for about $400/year.
    3. How about a nearby gym that accepts Silver Sneakers. I go to the Powerhouse Gym daily for spinning classes and weight work.

    by oldnassau — August 4, 2014

  20. Elaine,
    Thanks for the map link. I’d been using politico maps but yours is more user friendly.

    by Tessa — August 5, 2014

  21. Tessa, glad you liked it. I had one that I liked even better, but do not remember the source…it took things even to a lower level than county and I think that I was using it for a class in health policy. It is fun to find interactive maps for the variable in question.

    by Elaine — August 7, 2014

  22. A couple of additional important factors are: 1) availability of an adequate drinking water supply (absence of long term draught conditions) and 2) avoidance of areas known to be susceptible to major disasters (wildfires, tornados, floods, earthquakes)

    by Les — August 10, 2014

  23. Interesting discussion. Not certain however why some seem to be so concerned about their neighbors’ political affiliation and voting records. Don’t we all have family members that have different views from us? Does that mean that we avoid them? I have been paying close attention to the various political leanings for many years. As with sports teams, it seems as though the main instrument they purport is to keep us as opposed to one another as possible. They seem to do this, so we will send money for their campaigns and party (or team) proliferation. The main problem IMO is that both sides have lead our country into unsustainable debt and monetization. This has to stop, for America to continue to be a great country.
    Most of us probably agree on about 90% + of all possible issues and merely desire a similar comfortable living situation and freedom to pursue our own happiness. Instead of seeking opposition, (or trying to avoid it) resist locking heads and try being good neighbors to one another; trying your best to live by the “golden rule.”
    Some of our family and best friends have totally different political views from us, and yet we remain friends for years. When topics of disagreement arise we gently state an idea or view to ponder, then quickly move on to less contentious topics. For example: “I can understand why you might feel that way…….yet have you ever thought of ____________such and such?” For what it’s worth………it seems to work for us anyway. In other words….”Can’t we all just get along?”

    by caps — August 25, 2014

  24. Great comment, Caps. Thanks!

    by ella — August 26, 2014

  25. I heard something about the “Great Sort” yesterday on the radio. It may have been NPR. The guest was saying that for a couple of decades, people have been moving to communities that they believe reflect their views more closely. They mentioned Idaho as an example. Apparently, many evangelicals and right-leaning people have been attracted to Idaho and they are moving there in large numbers. Once this happens and the word gets around, even more people with similar views move there as well. The same thing is happening for people of opposite views but they are attracted to mainly large cities and not spread out in a particular state. As Govenor Perry said recently, Austin is “a blueberry in tomato soup”. Would I choose a retirement destination based on the primary politics of the state or city? Probably not. For me, there are more important things to consider. But that’s just me.

    by LS — August 26, 2014

  26. Political leanings won’t be a deal breaker in my decision process. It’s just one of many things I like to look at when checking out an area.

    by Tessa — August 27, 2014

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