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Don’t Forget These 5 Things When Choosing a Place to Retire

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

September 15, 2021 – Members in a recent Topretirements poll gave us their number 1 considerations for choosing a place to retire. Atop the list by a large margin was climate, followed by affordability, being near friends and family, and good medical.  Much further down the list were taxes and political environment.

These are all important things to think about when choosing a place to retire. But there are other, less obvious considerations that are even more critical. Here are 5 overlooked considerations that we think deserve special attention.

  1. Do you really know the area where you about to relocate?

“Rose”, who retired to Myrtle Beach (SC), listed a perfect example of this situation in our recent poll: “Never retire where you like to visit. There are so many tourists and so much traffic it is unbearable. There is very little here that I was looking for, such as classes and like minded people.” 

So many people have written over the years expressing remorse about not renting in a community before deciding to buy. “If only we had known!” is a familiar refrain. Only by living in a place for an extended time can you get a good picture of what it is really like to live there. By putting a toe in the water you also find out the best places to live in that area, as well as those to be avoided. You also might find out that the grass isn’t necessarily greener.

2. Will you be happy if you are far away from your family and friends?

Families, grandchildren, and friends are powerful connections. Many people find that moving long distance, especially retiring abroad, creates too much separation. Many experienced this early through pandemic-caused isolation. A better choice, if separation will be too much, might be to choose life as a seasonal snowbird.

Disconnects between partners is another issue when choosing a place to retire. One might be an adventurer, and the other could be a homebody. One likes warm weather, the other loves winter.  Finding out these differences after you relocate can be painful and disruptive.

On the opposite side, many people move to be near their adult children, only to see the kids get transferred, or to resent being the default baby sitters.

3. Will you be comfortable with the political environment in your new location?

Unfortunately, this issue seems to be increasingly important in our now very divided society. Progressives moving to a conservative state or town might find themselves increasingly uncomfortable, and the same goes for conservatives migrating to a blue state. Fortunately, even the most dyed in the wool states have towns and areas that don’t fit the stereotype. Huge numbers of northern retirees are moving to southern states anyway, so how this plays out is unknown.

4. Do you know what kind of community you want to live in?

Most people entering retirement really don’t have a good understanding of what their community options are.  Just some of the community choices include 55+, active adult, co-housing, independent living, new urban, multi-generational, college town – or living in a city or traditional neighborhood. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and until you have explored them you won’t know which is right for you. The best way is to explore when on vacation, visit  friends and family, use short term rentals, and take advantage of the “Stay and Play” packages offered by many developments. 

5. Will the medical situation and other factors allow you to live there for the rest of your life?

One of the best pieces of advice we ever heard (and rarely acted on) is to plan on retiring to an area where you can live the rest of your life. To do that requires weighing several complicated factors. For example, are medical resources close and sophisticated enough to handle any health issues that emerge down the road? 

Living high in the mountains or way off at the beach might not be convenient when you have to drive for hours to see your specialist. Is there an assisted living or CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) nearby, or will you have to make a big move when your faculties decline. Abandoning the church, friends, doctors, etc. that you have come to depend on can be very difficult if you are lucky enough to live into your 80s or 90s.

Even climate change can come into play, as “Tim” commented recently: “Having lived in Northern California and Pacific Northwest for a long time, I am turning into a climate change refugee. All the lovely things that have kept me here are so much harder to enjoy when it’s smokey almost all the time.”

Bottom line:

There are plenty of good reasons for choosing a place to retire. Some aren’t quite as obvious as others, and although these might require a little planing and consideration, investing a little time in them can make a huge payoff in finding that perfect place to retire.

Comments? What factors, if any, did you overlook when you considered where to retire? Did all your plans work out as you expected, or where there some miscues. Please share your experiences, no matter where you are in your retirement search, in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on September 14th, 2021


  1. Over the last 18 years, I have worked with a few hundred couples searching for retirement locations, almost all of them in the Southeast U.S. Only a few of my clients did not address the “5 Things” TR suggests you not forget during a search for a home. “Rose” suggests you not move to a place you like to visit because the traffic and tourists will somehow bother you more when you live there permanently. One wonders if Rose paid any attention to her surroundings while she was a tourist. For many people, traffic is more annoying when on vacation…As for worries about being too far from family and friends, that is a decision that can be thought through before you decide to relocate — and can be neutralized by relocating near a good airport or interstate highway if you do move away. If the pull of family and friends is strong, maybe you downsize and stay pretty much where you are. At this point in our lives, age is supposed to confer wisdom. Surely we can figure this out before we relocate…You can pretty much figure out the political climate in areas you target by checking Presidential vote totals for 2016 and 2020. They are all readily available by county and city on the Internet. This will not guarantee that, within the gates of any one community, you won’t run into those who want to shove their opinions in your face — just like in the home town you are leaving. No one of the 150 or so communities I have visited comprise a single political party or mode of thought. You will always find people who think as you do, and others who don’t. You will learn to deal with it, even if it is annoying…The advice to take advantage of “Stay & Play” packages (also known as “Discovery Packages”) is excellent. You can learn a lot during two or three days stay (and at a nice discount) IF you ask all the questions that are on your mind. Most communities will match you with “ambassadors,” a resident couple used to working with prospects. They will almost always answer your questions directly and honestly; if you sense they aren’t, then consider moving on to explore another community for your permanent retirement location…Consideration of medical facilities nearby depends, largely, on your health profile. If you or your spouse have a history of heart problems or require occasional treatment for recurring cancer, you aren’t going to move two hours or more from qualified medical centers. If, on the other hand, you are a healthy 60 something, you might decide to forego proximity to medical care for the first part of your retirement. But, by all means, decide your preference and then filter out areas and communities that don’t measure up. Indeed, that is how you should treat all the most important requirements in your search, including those not on the list above.

    Editor’s Comment: Thanks Larry, this is great input!

    by Larry — September 15, 2021

  2. Another factor to consider for those of a particular faith is will there be a congregation nearby. In the South, you may not have a place of worship you are familiar with, especially if you are in a more rural area. You may have to be close to a larger city to find denominations that are common in the North or Midwest.

    by LS — September 15, 2021

  3. Great summary ! Also the cost of living, tax, climate change impacts

    by Ron — September 15, 2021

  4. I always get ideas from your posts and comments. Have you done a writeup up on “Discovery Packages”? With so many communities it would save time to zero in on a few that offer the tours and the experiences of someone who went. Carol

    Editor’s comment: What a great idea! We’ll get on it. In the meantime, it would be very helpful if people who have been on these stay and play packages (or other site tours) chime in with their experiences. Thanks

    by carol — September 15, 2021

  5. I just want to add a comment that we took advantage of two Stay and Play packages several years ago when we were seriously considering moving to Virginia or North Carolina. The communities have both sold out since then, and although we did not buy, we enjoyed our stays. The homes for our two-night stays were very nice of course, as were the agents we dealt with. With each community were shown around, and invited to enjoy all of the amenities, Other than that we were left alone, no pressure to buy a homesite or sign a contract. It was mainly the locations that we decided was not for us. Our Stay and Play experiences were both informative and helpful.

    by Jemmie — September 18, 2021

  6. Jemmie, what was it about the locations that were not for you? In hindsight, do you think more research about those locations prior to booking the Stay & Play might have saved you time? One common mistake made by many couples I work with is that they surf the net for communities that match their preferences — and ignore where they are located. The hierarchy of decision making about a place to live should always start with topography — coast, mountains, lake or somewhere else inland. Once a couple agrees on topography, the next decision is the specific area. If, for example, the decision is mountains, personal issues and preferences should guide consideration of the area. If medical issues are involved or you want to be near good restaurants and other services, you might choose a community near a full-service city like Asheville or Greenville. If not, there are plenty of communities far from traffic and pollution. Choosing a handful of areas to explore initially is a good idea; choosing communities to explore without regard to their locations could make for a long search.

    by Larry — September 19, 2021

  7. Larry, all excellent points. We did choose the Stay and Play communities while we were renting an apartment for 6-months in Raleigh and explored a lot of towns from there. One of the communities was in Wilmington, NC and the other was in Fredericksburg VA. (Two of our kids were in VA at the time and both have moved to other states since). We were more interested in the cities we visited than the communities, so I agree with you, it’s more about location and what is offered outside of the community’s gates. Another thing we learned along the way was that although retiring near good friends did at first appeal to us, we found their perfect retirement spot was not what we had in mind for ours.

    by Jemmie — September 19, 2021

  8. Jemmie, that last point is such a good one: No matter how close you may be to friends, their preferences and requirements for retirement living could very well be miles apart from your own.

    by Larry — September 19, 2021

  9. Jemmie,
    Fredericksburg, VA is on our radar and I would appreciate your views on your visit there. If you would not mind sharing what your impressions were when you visited, I would greatly appreciate your input.
    Thanks very much, any information is helpful in this huge decision!!

    by Sally — September 20, 2021

  10. Sally we enjoyed Fredericksburg during our short visit there, I would not discourage you from checking it out. The town is historic and a tourist destination, and with its close proximity to Washington D.C. there was a lot of traffic. We would be going to visit our home in Pennsylvania at least one a month and it wasn’t a pleasant drive from Fredericksburg so that is why we had to cross it off of our list.

    by Jemmie — September 20, 2021

  11. Sally,

    Check out the below link with top communities in VA (especially the 2 in Stafford and Spotsylvania). Regards, Danno

    by Danno — September 21, 2021

  12. Jemmie and Danno,
    Thanks to both of you for your information. I appreciate hearing from your experiences. All the info we can share with each other is extremely helpful, but personal observations can make one think about something we might otherwise miss. Many, many thanks for tips on Virginia from all, it really is the place I want to retire, just hard to narrow down exactly where!!

    by Sally — September 21, 2021

  13. Sally, Virginia, like NC, has vastly different communities in very different parts of the state. You can literally apply all the variances from around the US to these two states. Fredericksburg is nice, but many communities around DC share most of the advantages (and disadvantages) and most are quite different in many ways. You can also go farther out from DC possibly as far as Richmond or even Roanoke and find commonalities in very different places.

    We have spent most of our lives in NC, but also lived 10 years in VA– both the remote western mountains and northern VA 30 minutes from Fredericksburg (Bealeton while working in DC). We had great difficulty trying to decide on moving back to NC because it was just not that different.

    So expand your view, understand what you actually are looking for in retirement and tour around as much as you can.

    by RichPB — September 21, 2021

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