April 11, 2016 — We love hearing stories from real people about their adventures in finding the perfect place to retire. So we were very fortunate recently to get an in depth interview from 2 old friends, Sandy and Ann, who shared their retirement search adventures. We hope you will find it interesting and instructive. (Don’t miss the Further Reading section at the end – over the years we have interviewed a whole lot of people about their retirement search experiences – and the links to those stories are all there!)
Prior to retirement the pair lived in a comfortable New York suburb, from which they commuted to successful careers in the Big Apple. Their enviable lifestyle included frequent ski trips to Vermont in winter and a busy social life at a country club the rest of the year. But when it came time for retirement, both were interested in a change of scenery. They agreed on two main motivations: to have easier access to outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking, biking, and skiing; and to escape New York’s expensive cost of living and real estate taxes.
Looking down south
Like so many others, they were faced with a big question – where were they going to live the rest of their lives? The idea of a milder winter climate was appealing, where Sandy could play golf and they could both bike, play tennis, and hike year round. But there had to also be some way that they could ski in winter – perhaps with long trips west or a second place in the mountains. With so many of their friends headed to the Sunbelt for retirement, they decided they needed to check out that lifestyle. So off they went on a southern tour of exploration.
One of the first places they explored was Savannah, where Sandy’s mother had grown up and they still had family. They liked Savannah and also visited The Landings, a large active development of 4,400 homes near there. Sandy thought thought it was like a giant play pen for adults, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. They also visited friends who lived in Charleston (SC) in a great old home. From there they looked at homes on Daniels island and Kiawah Island. Sandy and Ann also toured one of the luxurious Cliffs communities, of which there are several in the mountains of North and South Carolina. Their friends were in love with the Cliffs because of the extraordinary golf. Although Sandy and Ann enjoyed the presentation from a representative from The Cliffs, there were no sparks. Ann doesn’t play golf, so a big downside there was the tennis center, which was at least 20 minutes away. Also, they felt the whole community was too isolated.
As a good example of turning ordinary travel experiences into retirement research, the pair got good use of a trip to North Carolina to attend the wedding of one of their son’s friends. They ended up visiting Highlands NC, a very cute mountain town on the South Carolina border they had never heard of before (and neither had Topretirements). In the 1930s Highlands became a golfing mecca when Bobby Jones of Atlanta and some of his golfing pals founded the Highlands Country Club. Today that club is one of seven successful residential country club communities in this area of very western NC. Anne loved the town, partly because of its mountain location and partly because of the nice stores and luxury hotel and spa in town, the Old Edwards Inn. One drawback to Highlands, they learned, is that it is definitely a seasonal town – stores close down in the winter, which is a pretty big drawback.
Neither one of them had much interest in retiring to Florida – Sandy had been there many times on birding trips, but the Sunshine State didn’t click for him. Some of their retirement location requirements further disqualified a lot of places in the south – the high humidity and temperatures were unappealing, and so was worrying about hurricanes.
After a few of these scouting trips Sandy and Ann took stock of what they had learned. It was clear that Sandy had a strong interest in retiring to the south, but Ann was not that enamored. They liked a lot of what they saw in the Carolina mountains, but there were some drawbacks. For one, they wondered whether they would enjoy living there year round. For another, the skiing was not going to be good enough to meet their needs, and that meant having to live in 2 places, a big drain on the budget. At this point it seemed they were not destined for southern living. Ann, who had family in the Midwest and in Colorado (where she went to college), suggested they explore that area, which they both had always enjoyed and considered living in.
Off to Colorado
One of Ann’s cousins was a real estate agent in Colorado. She escorted them to various developments and towns in the Vail Valley, about 100 miles west of Denver. One of their objectives was to find a nice little town that felt like a community. Another requirement was that it had to have a Catholic church. One of the first places they looked that winter was Singletree, not as expensive as Vail or Beaver Creek, but very nice and with good facilities. Unfortunately being that close to Vail meant that home prices were high too; no single family home they liked was affordable. The cousin suggested other towns slightly more to the west, including Eagle Ranch, which she told them they would like. They visited there and did like it, but still kept looking. People told them that they really needed to come out to the area in the summer, when the experience is completely different. They did visit again, and discovered one of Eagle’s biggest advantage – it is a real town and not a resort (See our review of Eagle and our comparison of Mountain Retirements in Utah and Colorado for more).
One day in New York they got a call about a great house with mountain views in Eagle. And, it was far less expensive than what a comparable home closer to Vail. They had seen this house on their first winter visit – for about 10 minutes. When they came back for their second visit in the summer, the house was under contract to someone else, although they were able to visit a similar house by the same builder. Subsequently the deal on the original house fell through. They eventually purchased that home in a short sale, fingers crossed (it turned out great!). Now, 3 years later, they love living in Eagle, which meets so many of their requirements. The climate is interesting enough to allow activities they love all year round. Yet because it is in Colorado’s Banana Belt, it is milder than up the valley in Vail. The skiing, biking, and hiking are at their doorstep, and better than in the East. The scenery is beautiful, and the small town is interesting with good shopping. The Vail Club 50 has been fantastic for making new friends, and an easy way to get involved in all kinds of activities. One of their sons and many of Ann’s cousins live within a few hours, including one moving into their neighborhood. Although some Eagle residents journey to warmer climes during the winter (mostly non-skiiers), the year round population is fairly stable. They enjoy that they live in a place where people like to go on vacation, and that no one cares where you are from, or what you did before you came.
The golf is great in Eagle too, with two wonderful golf courses. The first is Eagle Ranch Golf Club (public), an Arnold Palmer signature course, which is generally thought to be the best public course in the Vail Valley. The other is Frost Creek Country Club, a spectacularly beautiful, private, mountainous course, designed by Tom Weiskopf. It is also worth noting that both of these courses are far removed from I70, which is a big plus compared to most other courses in the Valley.
Saying goodbye to the suburbs
Any time you make a move as big as this couple has made, people will ask – how could you move away? To Sandy and Ann the move to Colorado was relatively easy. When their real estate agent apologized that their new real estate taxes were going to be $6000/year, Sandy said “go ahead and hurt me” – in New York they were paying many times that figure. Downsizing to stay in the area didn’t make too much sense, as their kids are grown up and living far away – and no grandchildren yet. Although they enjoyed their country club, it was very expensive. The club scene was also starting to get boring, and one of them said to the other: “I don’t want to wake up in 10 years and say OK, it’s golf again (or tennis)”. They both yearned for more adventure while young enough to try.
Not that the decision to move was completely easy. They love and miss their friends (and still go back yearly to visit). Some of their friends remain in the suburbs, while others are moving to the South or even New York City.
5 Best Things about why they chose to retire Eagle
We asked the pair to list the 5 best things about their retirement choice (not necessarily in order):
1. Vail Club 50 and its adventurous, fun people
2. Delighted to discover the cultural scene with the Bravo!Vail Music Festival, Vail International Dance, Vilar Center for the Performing Arts in Beaver Creek (they say they see more cultural events now than they did living in New York!)
3. Year round community and a nice small town
4. Sports all year – bike, hike, ski, golf
5. Compared to New York the cost of living is low
The retirement priorities and choices of this couple are a little bit unusual, and wouldn’t apply to a majority of baby boomers. But, we like how Sandy and Annie went about finding their best place to retire, and think their process is worth emulating. They discussed it and worked out what their priorities were. They were open to different locations and visited many before they retired. And finally, they picked a place that works for them after exploring the area thoroughly. We are glad they are happy and enjoying their dazzlingly active retirement! See the Further Reading section for an amazing collection of previous interviews of retirees who have explored all kinds of locations!
Comments? What are your experiences in researching where to live in retirement? Please share your thoughts about what you learned, enjoyed, and regret in the Comments section below. We would love to hear your story too!
For further reading:
What Sandy and Roger Learned in 8 Years of Looking at Retirement Communities
Why We Retired to Tucson
One Year Later: Why Artie Moved to Carolina from New York
9 Things Betty and Jim Learned While Looking for Their Best Place to Retire
Morris and Carol Explore Florida and Texas
Hop on Jay Michael’s Retirement Tour Bus (2 part series)
Review of Eagle Comparison of Mountain Retirements in Utah and Colorado
Adventurous Baby Boomer Retirement Choices (a series profiling a dozen retirees)