March 7, 2012 — One of the most persistent questions we get at Topretirements concerns how to get started looking for a place to retire. This is hardly surprising; the world is a very big place, and when you first start out looking at retirement locations the choices can seem overwhelming. Sometimes the questions we get are quite broad, e.g.: “I am about to retire. Can you tell give me some ideas on good places”, while others are amazingly specific, e.g.: “Can someone help me find a listing of Manufactured Home communities on the Gulf of Mexico side where you own the mobile as well as the land?” This article will give you a basic course on how to narrow down your choices to a manageable level.
1. Start by making a priority list. The saying “any road will get you there if you don’t have a plan” is applicable. What are you looking for in terms of weather, climate, topography, activities, neighbors, proximity to children, taxes, cost of living, etc.? Do you want to be in the mountains or near the beach? Do you have or expect health care issues? Will you be living somewhere year-round, or can you swing living in 2 places? Think about what you like about where you live now, and what you don’t like. Our free “Baby Boomers Guide to Selecting a Retirement Community” has several checklists to help you with this exercise, which can be fun. Look at the priorities we considered in our “How and Why We Rank the Best Places to Retire” article.
2. Rank your priorities. Once you have written down 5-10 priorities, try to rank them in terms of importance. Now you know what you are most interested in, so your search gets a little narrower. You can always change or refine your priorities as you get more experience.
3. Look over our “100 Most Popular Retirement Towns” list for ideas. We’ll be the first to admit there are hundreds if not thousands of great places to retire that are not on this list. But if you read up on some of these towns you will get a picture on what makes for a good retirement destination.
4. Check out the states that seem attractive to you. You can start with our mini State Retirement Guides. They will give you a quick overview from the ‘what it’s like to live there in retirement’ perspective, including housing costs and retiree taxes.
5. Go online to read about towns within those states. Our State Directories of Active Adult Communities list all of the towns we have reviewed for retirement. Click on the links for towns that seem appealing and find out more. There are usually links to more resources, but you can also check towns out in Wikipedia or Googling for their Chamber of Commerce or Tourist & Convention Bureau. Just by reading these short reviews you will become a lot more knowledgeable. Our Forum has some very helpful threads with other members’ questions and suggestions about where to retire. The thread started by scottp, “My Search for the (Almost) Perfect Retirement Climate“, is particularly helpful. So is “Questions from Members“.
6. Can you afford to live there? Prepare a budget that compares your income with expected expenses in some of the states or towns that interest you (including where you live now, if that is a priority). Include in your figures how much you will have to pay in taxes in that location (use our mini-State Retirement Guides, Google state tax sites, or go to www.retirementliving.com) for more detailed information about taxes.
7. Search for the specific attributes you want. The Advanced Search and Retirement Ranger features at Topretirements.com are particularly useful and powerful. Advanced Search will let you search towns on 7 attributes (cost of living, culture, average Jan. temperature, etc.). The Retirement Ranger asks you 10 questions; based on your answers, it provides you with a list of towns that might fit your priorities.
8. Check out Active Communities. Of course, many people want nothing to do with active adult or 55+communities. But many more are looking for the activities, resources, and social network that these developments provide. Using our State Active Community Directories you will find brief reviews of 1700 communities, arranged by town. You can click on each review to get a quick snapshot. Or, you can use Advanced Search, which lets you sort communities by 5 characteristics: state, amenities, size, cost, and type.
9. Get out and visit. Even the best eyewitness account is nothing compared to seeing a place with your own eyes and ears. So start your scouting expeditions – whether you connect them to a business trip, a vacation, or a specific trip. Go visit several places a day, and spend the night in the ones you think might be most promising. When you are there get out of the car and talk to people. Talk with cab drivers, go into a coffee shop or bookstore, check in with the Chamber of Commerce. Getting multiple opinions from people who live there will help you overcome your stereotypes and give you things to think about that you never even considered.
10. Plan for an extended stay. In our opinion, before you buy anything you must stay in the community or have repeated visits to it. You can do this with the discounted visits, frequently called “Stay and Play” or “Discovery” packages, that most new communities offer. Rentals are usually easy to find, so why not rent for a few weeks to a season and see what it is really like? Buying in the wrong community is a very costly mistake – if you have stayed there for a while you will usually not make a bad decision.
Comments: Please tell us how you are going about making a decision on where to retire. Have you been on site visits, relied on recommendations from friends, whatever? Let us know in the Comments section below.