July 24, 2012 — Who wouldn’t be interested in finding a terrific place to retire where there is plenty to do, the climate is better than average, and most importantly – the cost of living is well below average. The list below highlights 20 interesting places to retire with a range of lifestyles – from living in the city… to small towns… to resort type locations on large lakes. The most interesting feature is that for all 20, the median price of a home was $125,000 or less in early 2012, significantly below the U.S. median. Note that prices have gone up since this article was written, sometimes a lot, but these towns still remain relative bargains.
How we developed the list
Affordability was the most important criterion on this list. So we picked places where home prices were at least 20% below the U.S. median of $158,100 (1st Quarter of 2012, National Association of Realtors). Secondarily, we limited our selection to towns and cities with a higher than average cultural life, or those with exceptional recreational possibilities like being on a large lake. And lastly, we ruled out towns from the reputations for high property and income taxes. See bottom of article for more details about how we developed this list.
The Top 20 Affordable (and more) Best Places to Retire from Topretirements (with median selling price of a home):
1. St. Petersburg, FL (C) $60,000*.
St. Pete offers a happy compromise in a very livable city,with many desirable neighborhoods and plenty of culture and recreation. Since St. Pete is on a peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, almost everything is near the water.
2. Paris, TN – Paris is situated between 2 giant lakes, one of them being among the largest man-made lakes in the world. Paris is a small town of about 10,000 in northwest Tennessee, 15 miles from the vast and popular Land Between the Lakes recreation area. The median price of a home in 2012 was $65,000 (C).
3. Lake Eufaula, OK – This area in east central Oklahoma is a popular resort and a low-key, relaxing retirement spot. Lake Eufaula has approximately 143,000 acres of water and over 600 miles of shoreline. Average home prices according to one source were about $70,000 (C) in early 2012.
4. Port Charlotte, FL – An amazing 40% of the homes in Port Charlotte have water access, thanks to a maze of canals and estuaries, complete with hundreds of species of marine life. There are dozens of active adult and 55+ developments /neighborhoods to choose from. The median value of a home here was about $75,000 (C) in early 2012.
5. Clearwater FL (C) $80,000*. Clearwater is the smallest of the 3 cities clustered here (St. Pete and Tampa are the other 2), and has the most small-town atmosphere. The area abounds with active adult communities and 55+ developments for retirees, along with rivers and bays for boating and fishing.
6. Mesa AZ(C) $80,000. This is the 3rd largest city in Arizona and has a suburban feel. The nearby recreation is great, and there are a host of active communities to choose from.
7. Leesburg, FL – This waterfront town in central Florida boasts 6 public beaches on 3 lakes, plus a yacht club. The centerpiece of the town is a former WPA project, the Venetian Gardens Waterside Park on Lake Harris. There is a community college plus a number of active adult communities to choose from. The median home sold for $90,000 (C) in the 1st quarter of 2012.
8. Grand Rapids, Michigan
This bustling small city is beloved by its residents. Yet hard times have left it with a median home price of $96,500 (NAR), a fraction of the national average. Highlights include The Heritage Hill District, one of the largest urban historical districts in the nation, in addition to the Gerald Ford Museum.
9. Murphy, NC – The downtown is beautiful with tree lined streets and many historic buildings restored to their original state. The climate is mild and the scenery is breathtaking with mountains, lakes (several large ones like Lake Hiwassee), and streams. The median home price was $100,000 in early 2012 (C).
10. Bartlesville, Oklahoma
This affordable city in Oklahoma has one of the world’s top Mozart Festivals, Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper, an Arts Center, a stunning Community Center, plus 2 college campuses. And they are just some of the surprising treasures in Bartlesville. According to City-Data the median selling price of a home in 2011 was just over $100,000 (C).
11. Myrtle Beach SC (C) $100,000. Myrtle Beach is a bargain. It offers low-cost housing, 120 golf courses, and of course – the Grand Strand, a great sandy beach that runs uninterrupted for almost 60 miles – from Pawley’s Island in the south to North Myrtle Beach.
12. Port Isabel, TX – Port Isabel is a beach town and a popular resort, as well as being a retirement destination. Fishing, beach going, and relaxing are popular activities. The area is quiet and the weather is warm in the winter. Median home price was $105,000 in early 2012 (C).
13. – Boynton Beach, FL – Boynton Beach has always been the step-child to its more prosperous neighbors like Delray Beach and Palm Beach. It’s the same ocean, just a few miles north or south. Boynton Beach, like most of south Florida, has had a real estate meltdown. Right now, prices are reasonable. The median home price in 2006 was over $350,000 – in the first quarter of 2012 it was $110,000 (C) (houses/condos close to the water will be more). There are many communities not far from or even on the beach that the careful shopper can choose from.
14. Tampa, FL (C) $137,200 (NAR). The city has a spectacular location on Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay. Tampa has a reputation for attracting 20-somethings as well as retirees who move here. The city has also been on lists for “cleanest city” and “best outdoor city”
15. Fort Myers, FL $135,900 (NAR) in late 2012. Ft. Myers is old and new Florida at the same time. Located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River on southwest Florida’s coast, its roots go back to 1886. It has the charming Thomas Edison Museum and a beautifully restored downtown along the river. It also has dozens of active communities.
16. Chattanooga, TN.
The median selling price of a home in Chattanooga was $135,000 (NAR) in late 2012. Chattanooga is famous for its friendly people, its Civil War history, and for a milder climate and lower cost of living.
17. Hayesville, NC – Lake Chatuge near Hayesville has over 130 miles of shoreline, much of which can never be developed. The artists’ community in Hayesville is diverse and growing, which gives the town another dimension. Median home price was $120,000 in early 2012 (C).
18. Las Vegas, NV (NAR) $122,100. The Las Vegas strip is justly famous for its glitz and many attractions. Even if you don’t ever bet a single nickel, it is worth it to see the astonishing architecture and excess that are Las Vegas trademarks. There are dozens of active communities to choose from.
19. Mount Airy, NC. Zillow reports median list price of a home in Mount Airy was about $124,900 in mid 2012. Andy Griffith, who hails from here (Mount Airy was the inspiration for Mayberry), has a theater named after him, the Andy Griffith Playhouse, which features regular community productions. The Downtown Cinema Theatre broadcasts a weekly bluegrass radio concert.
20. Aiken SC $125,000 (C). This town of 29,000 in western South Carolina’s Sand Hill country grew up as a healthy retreat where horse-loving wealthy folks could escape from hot weather. Now it has a lovely infrastructure and downtown for retirees.
The point of this list is that if you are looking for an affordable place to retire that is also an interesting place to live for culture and/or recreation, here is a good place to start.
Notes About the Selection Criteria
We used figures from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) whenever possible to determine housing prices in mid 2009. Smaller towns, however, are not included in that data. In those cases we used a data from Zillow.com or City-Data.com. Towns using Zillow date are marked (Z) near the home price, and those using City-Data are marked (C). Using different sources means that the sales price comparisons are approximate and should not be taken as absolutes.
What towns didn’t make the cut
When we developed this list of affordable towns we used some of our previous affordable articles as a starting point (see “Further Reference” below). Almost as interesting as what towns did make the list is the one of those not making it. Of course the reason they didn’t is because the median selling price of a home in those markets rose above $125,000, our cutoff. Here is the list of previous affordable towns – one could view it as a barometer of improving markets.
Phoenix, AZ $129,500
Corpus Christi TX $131,300
Morgantown WV $175,000
Knoxville TN $133,500
Sioux Falls SD $142,000
Pensacola FL $127,800
DallasFort Worth TX $148,000
Branson MO (C) $130,000
Tallahassee FL $137,400
San Antonio TX $149,9,000
Clemson SC (Z) $152,100
Columbia MO $144,900
Maryville TN $142,800
Holland MI $128,700
For further reference:
For further reference:
Affordable Places to Retire on the Waterfront, Part 1
Affordable Places to Retire on the Waterfront, Part 2
10 Affordable and More Best Places to Retire – Part 2
20 Great and Affordable Towns to Retire
8 More Affordable Places to Retire
Most Tax-Friendly Places to Retire
Affordable College Towns in the Sunbelt
Comments? Let us know your favorite affordable cities and towns for retirement. And if you have input on these towns, please use the Comments section below to share with your fellow visitors.