July 28, 2014 — Rich got our attention when he contacted us to suggest a city review for Ocean Shores, Washington. For one, we had never heard of this town. But more intriguing to us, he happened to mention that he had a 7 page analysis of how it stacks up to the criteria he found on Topretirements.com. That sounded pretty thorough to us. One thing led to another, and subsequently we had the pleasure of interviewing Rich about that analysis.
A Search for the Perfect Retirement Town
Rich and his wife, Jan, had lived in Washington State for 26 years early in their careers (1969 – 1995). Then they moved to Texas, where Rich worked for a number of years on the International Space Station (ISS), while also supporting the space shuttle program as a systems engineer. During that time the couple spent time thinking about their future retirement, making dozens of trips to check out places in Texas and around the country. We’ve incorporated part of Rich’s notes into this article, plus provided a link to the entire 7 page document at the end. Not only is it interesting reading, it makes for a great blueprint for anyone trying to make a smart retirement decision.
By trade Rich is a Systems Engineer, so his retirement location search was very detailed, assimilating all the requirements he could get access to via the internet, magazines, and other sources. After over 10 years of searching both within the Unites States and other countries he and his wife chose to retire in Ocean Shores, WA. In making that decision he asked himself why this was the place for their active retirement. His answer was that for them, Ocean Shores, WA came out best in a series of compromises in the factors of what makes a “good retirement location”.
How They Got Started
To find towns to visit they went through websites including Topretirements and checked off interesting cities, noting pluses and minuses as they learned more about them. No state in the Southeast or Southwest was immune to their visits: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Carolinas. They visited over 9 cities in Mississippi alone (Picayune, Bay St Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Long Beach, Ocean Springs, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Meridan, Corinth), as they were intrigued with the Certified Retirement Communities that state offers. One town on the Mississippi coast west of Biloxi (Pass Christian on St Louis Bay) intrigued them and they got ready to buy property there. Those plans changed when Hurricane Katrina barreled in and wiped it out.
Alabama got a thorough investigation as the pair visited over a dozen towns. Those included Mobile, Gulf Shores, Daphne, Fairhope, Foley, Dothan, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Lewis Smith Lake, Florence, Mussle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Decatur, Hartselle, Lake Guntersville, and Huntsville. They really loved Fairhope. During their visit there they were very impressed both with Fairhope’s beauty – it’s built on a bluff – and its friendliness – people noticed their Texas plates and stopped to wish them well. At that point they thought that this old Utopian community might be their “IT” town!
Closer to home in Texas they lived in the resort/NASA Johnson Space Center area of Clear Lake (south of Houston) for 13 years so that was an obvious candidate. But they went on to check out Galveston, Arlington, Mesquite, Kemp and Gun Barrel City (City both on the Cedar Creek Reservoir south east of Dallas), Athens, Corsicana, Richland Chambers Reservoir, Richardson, Desoto/Lancaster, Granbury, Amarillo, and Brenham (Home of Blue Bell Ice cream). In yet another close call, they actually went so far as to buy a lot on a lake in the Lone Star State, thinking that might be where they would retire.
Whoops – Washington State Calling
But all those plans for the southeast and southwest changed a few years ago. Jan wanted to be close to her mother, so they were off to the Seattle area of Washington State. Then both their adult children and their spouses moved there also, and now their first grand child has arrived. Jan’s Mom lives in the Jubliee 55+ community in Lacey, WA, and they moved across the I-5 freeway to the Hawks Prairie area of Olympia, which lived up to the good things they had heard about.
Once they decided to move back to Washington they resumed their retirement search in that State. In what has to be one of the most thorough searches ever, they looked at both the east and the west sides of the mountains. In the east they looked at the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Moses Lake, Spokane, Tricities, and Ellensburg (near where they once had a cabin on Lake Kachess). That search made them realize they wanted to see green scenery, so they turned to look in the western side of the state. There they checked out Tacoma, Olympia, Shelton, Bremerton, Gig Harbor, Belfair, Allyn, and Poulsbo (a Scandinavian town that is really nice). Unfortunately, their allergies got worse while checking out the cities and towns on the Kitsap peninsula. Also on the list to be scoped out were Port Orchard, Port Townsend, Whidbey Island, Camano Island, Sequim, Port Angeles, and Ocean Shores. After one particularly cold (for western Washington) winter the “siren of warmer winters” beckoned them so they went on numerous trips to check out the Las Vegas/Henderson, NV and Phoenix/Mesa/Tempe, Az areas, which had a whole lot to offer. The “Sun City” effect was very positive, but the green spaces of Washington State overcame the desert vistas and beckoned them back.
Looking for More – and Back to the Drawing Boards
But after 5 years in Olympia they looked at each other and realized they needed to start over. Although their house in Olympia was really nice with a large lot – it was just a house in a neighborhood. They knew they really wanted was a place that would be more attractive to their children and grandchildren – a destination with a lot to do when they visited. So the search resumed. Back looking at Ocean Shores,they came close to buying a house, but didn’t. A few months later their realtor called back -one of the houses they had looked at before was back on the market – would they like to look at it again?
By this point you probably have the idea. Rich’s system engineering background does not lead him to making half-baked decisions. He admits it takes him a long time to establish his criteria and requirements, and then do the analysis. So his due diligence kicked in – in spades! He talked with the mayor of Ocean Shores to get a better feel for the place. He investigated the healthcare situation there (there is a fine hospital in nearby Aberdeen, connected by a good road, and there are 2 clinics in Ocean Shores). The EMS can get you to hospital in Olympia or Seattle quickly, if needed.
They checked out what there is to do in Ocean Shores. Turns out there are things happening all the time – entertainment as well as recreation. Ocean Shores residents are able to enjoy many amenities, for example: the ocean, Duck lake, Gray’s Harbor, golf course, numerous local tourist activities, the casino, parks, and wild life refuges that surround the community. He learned you could have the best of both worlds, be crazy active or just stay home in a beautiful setting and relax. There are all kinds of homes to choose from – you can live on the oceanfront, lakefront, golf course frontage, or canals.
Ocean Shores welcomes more than 3 million visitors annually. Its climate is mild; never too hot or cold. Summers stay pleasantly just under 80 degrees. In the heart of Ocean Shores there is a 121 acre temperate rainforest, called “The Weatherwax” that has many paths to enjoy the flora and fauna of a coastal rainforest, as well as a plethora of wild animals and birds. Wherever you go along the forest areas there are lots of wild animals especially an abundance of deer, which you might just think are lawn ornaments, at least until they move around. The 6-mile-
long peninsula of Ocean Shores hosts over 120 miles of flat roadways on which to ride a bike. The beach is a state highway, thus allowing the driving of motorized vehicles by the ocean.
The 13 Factor Analysis
They ranked Ocean Shores against 13 factors important for a retirement location, such as:
(1) affordable housing options for retirement;
(2) cost of living (excluding housing);
(3) most tax-friendly state/location;
(4) best retirement towns for the arts/cultural/entertainment events/activities (e.g., theater, entertainment events, ballet, symphony);
(5) best retirement towns for public events;
(6) best retirement towns for mobility (e.g., biking accessibility, public transportation availability, walking, vehicle rentals);
(7) easy access to out-door physical activities (e.g., golfing, boating, fishing, claming, bird watching, nature viewing, kite flying, horseback riding, surfing, boogie boarding, miniature golf, go cart riding);
(8) easy access to in-door physical activities (e.g., swimming, hot tubing, weight
(9) easy access to in-door activities (e.g., bumper boats, game arcade, movie theater, antiquing, jewelry making, glass blowing, wine tasting);
(10) availability of bookstores;
(11) availability of shopping;
(12) availability health care; and
(13) availability of sight-seeing activities (within 100 mile trip).
(See the entire document for detail on each of these points)
Adding up their subjective evaluation of Ocean Shores against these factors, the shear diversity of what is or may be available in Ocean Shores, made the couple decide to say yes to Ocean Shores. They took the plunge and purchased a beautiful home on a lake. His daughter, after pursuing Rich’s 7 page write up and his extensive matrices said to him – “Dad, this is too much, it looks like you are still working back in the space program.” To which he replied, “I wanted things firm in my mind so i didn’t miss anything.” Her response – “Dad, there’s nothing you missed here!”
The couple absolutely love their new home in Ocean Shores. They sit in the living room and look out at the lake and admire the wildlife in their backyard and on the lake. In fact they hate to come back to check on their unsold house in Olympia.
A Word about Ocean Shores
See the detailed review of Ocean Shores at Topretirements, which uses many details provided by Rich.
Ocean Shores was started in late 60s. Pat Boone, the singer, was one of the original investors. The developers bought a 6 miles long peninsula between the ocean and Grace Harbor, a major bay. There is Duck Lake, which is 4 miles long, and lake Menard. There are 26 miles of canals, which afford boat owners access to the lake. The original plan was for it to be a Sun City type development, although it was all ages, not just 55+. Home buyers could have a choice – they could choose a lot with oceanfront, canal frontage, golf course, lake, bay, or interior views. The developers put in roads and starting selling lots. Then the developer ran into financial problems, and the town never really took off. Although the original lots were sold, many of them came back on the market.
Active town leadership
The town, located in the middle of Washington’s Pacific Coast, is due west of Olympia on (US 101/WA8/US12/RouteRoute 109). They mayor and the town leadership has done a great job of trying to attract relocations and retirees. They have developed tourism web sites. When Rich started asking questions he found everyone to be incredibly responsive and positive, big reasons why they finally selected this needle out of the haystack!
Comments? Do you have comments or questions about the process Rich used to find Ocean Shores? Have you visited some of the places they did, and do you have comments about them? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.