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Southwest Florida - Retirement Heaven for Midwesterners

This article about the southwest Florida is the fourth in a series of retirement regions. Go to the "Regions" section of the Tips & Picks feature to read the others in this series.

Southwest Florida has traditionally been the place where mid-westerners come to retire, leaving the East Coast of the Sunshine State to folks from New York, New Jersey, and New England.  Southwest Florida was developed later than the east coast; in fact it is still being built up.  Both coasts share the same warm weather, and each have a beautiful coastline (the Atlantic Ocean vs. the Gulf of Mexico: do you prefer a view of the sun coming up over the water or going down over the water?)

For purposes of this article we are defining southwest Florida as the region on or near the Gulf of Mexico from Venice to Marco Island. Go here for a retirement guide to the entire state of Florida with information about taxes, housing prices, and best places to retire in the state.



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Southwest Florida - Overview

Weather: Fort Myers sees an average July high temperature of 92, the average January high is 75. The average Jan. low is 45.

Several towns in this part of the state frequently make the various "best places to retire" lists. Warm winters, pretty downtowns, an amazing range of active adult communities to choose from, low costs, an ample coastline,  and a never ending array of activities are some of the reasons why these towns make the lists. Thanks to a meltdown in real estate prices from 2007 -2009, homes are extremely affordable in this region in 2010. Real estate prices and the cost of living in this part of the state are considerably less than in the rest of the country.



What's Good and Bad about Southwest Florida
Pluses:
- Housing prices are very inexpensive
- Warmest winter weather in continental U.S.
- Choose from a wide range of communities
- Friendly people
- Plenty of water - the Gulf of Mexico, bays, canals

Minuses:
- Real estate has been in a free fall, with many foreclosures still to come
- Defaulting owners are threatening Home Owners Associations' finances
- Summers are hot, sticky, and wet
- Horrendous traffic in season
- It can be boring: flat, featureless land and endless developments and big box stores

The Best Places to Retire in Southwest Florida
Venice.  Starting from the north, one of our favorite southwest Florida towns is Venice. It was originally built by a labor union and laid out along canals (that's the Venice connection).  The result is plenty of waterfront living and a low-key lifestyle.  The downtown is one of the most charming in this part of the state. There you'll find a great library, interesting shops, and some good restaurants. And all this is just a few blocks from a huge and gorgeous white sand beach. 
Venice 55+ communities exist for every taste and budget.

Cape Coral, Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte
These 3 communities north of Fort Myers share many commonalities thanks to their location on near the water.  Cape Coral, for example, has over 400 miles of canals (the most of any city on earth), so almost anyone can live on the water.  Punta Gorda, located to the north a bit on Charlotte Harbor, tends to be more affluent than the other 2 towns.  Port Charlotte is next to Punta Gorda and offers extremely good value for the money.
This link will take you to our Florida Directory of Active Communities

Fort Myers.  Thomas Edison put Fort Myers on the map when he built his home on the Bay in the late 1800's. At that time he had to bring in all his building materials by boat because there were no roads. Since then there has been an explosion of development, although the bulldozers are quiet in 2010. In Fort Myers you can choose from an astonishing assortment of neighborhoods and active adult communities.  Thanks to foreclosures and short sales, the median price of a Fort Myers/Cape Coral home had sunk to $98,000 by the end of 2009. South of Fort Myers are newer towns like Bonita Springs and Estero.
Fort Myers Active Adult Communities


Naples
Of all of the locations on the west coast of Florida, Naples is the town with the most cachet. Just say that you winter in Naples and most people will understand you have arrived.  The downtown is swanky and charming at the same time, and just a few blocks from the sensational beach. Lucky residents who can afford the luxurious condos and homes in the main part of town can walk just about everywhere. Spreading out far and wide are countless 55+ developments that trade on the Naples name. Most of these center on golf or boating. There are a few cooperatively owned communities, including some manufactured homes where even ordinary people can afford the lifestyle.  Near to Naples and a bit inland  is Ave Maria, a most interesting planned community we reported on recently.
Naples 55+ active communities.

Marco Island
The last stop on Florida's southwest coast before the Everglades is the newer town of Marco Island (sometimes just called Marco). Development was pretty intense in Marco until the real estate bust, but prices have remained high. Marco is also a popular resort.  Retirees have many high-end communities to choose from.


Resources
Florida Retirement Guide
Directory of Florida Active Adult Communities
More Topretirements Regional Reviews


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