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10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go on a Retirement Scouting Tour

Category: Travel

June 8, 2017 — Your Topretirements Editor is on a retirement scouting tour that will take him through 5 states. The trip has been an wonderful source of fun (we visited a number of friends who live in great places) and a learning experience. The focus of this article is what we learned about how to go about taking a retirement scouting tour.

For the record, we started last week in Batavia (IL). From there we went up the west coast of Lake Michigan through Wisconsin, drove across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, crossed the Macinack Bridge, toured a number of great retirement towns along the east side of Lake Michigan, made a couple of stops in Indiana, and will end up in Columbus, Ohio. The concentration was on the extremely popular retirement towns in the Michigan part of the trip. We’ll report on the towns we visited in next week’s issue, and a future installment will cover what retirement looks like for several of the retired folks we visited on the trip.

How to go about planning and executing a retirement tour
Above all think of this as fun!

1. Select a region you want to explore. You can get ideas from friends, sites like Topretirements, or the bucket list you have in your head. Once you select a region that you can cover in the amount of time you have, pin down some must-see towns and communities, and then allow some time for ones you come across along the way.

2. Be opportunistic about where and when you go. So you are going to a wedding, family reunion, or business trip – great! Here is your chance to knock off a couple of potential retirement towns. If traveling by air, learn more and rent a car. Take a detour on the way to or coming back.

3. Buy some road maps. This was a mistake we made; relying on GPS. While these newfangled tools are great for getting to your destination (most of the time!), they are very difficult for getting the big picture of where you are going. AAA is a great place to get them (free with membership). Some gas stations still sell road maps, but you might have to buy online. Rand McNally has great print atlases and maps, or try these sources:, (printable), or Amazon.

4. Get off the main road. If you drive through a town on the main road you might think you are seeing it. But you are most likely not, because most roads go along the outskirts and are dominated by motels, strip malls, and chains – not the real town. Follow the signs for the “Downtown Center” or look at your map to find the town center, parks, port, or other major attractions. On our recent trip we were amazed at how often our perception of a town changed once we got off the main road and did some exploring.

5. Be mentally prepared to visit unexpected towns. Along your trip you will undoubtedly run across a place you never heard of. Be flexible and veer off for a quick exploration – you might just be surprised at your discovery. At the minimum, you will learn something.

Elk Rapids, MI, an interesting little town we never expected to visit.

6. What does the town center look like? . Everyone has a different perspective on what makes a great retirement town. But for us, we wouldn’t think of retiring to a town that didn’t have a compact, vibrant center where you can go and contract most of your daily business. While visiting a new town look at the storefronts – are they all occupied or just made to look like there is a tenant? If you see vibrant shops and restaurants – good! Bail bondsmen and dingy bars – not so good.

7. Do the people you see on the street look like those you would like to hang with? You can tell a lot about a town from who is walking around. Are there families, or does the population all look older? Some folks want diversity of all kinds around them, others look to be around people like themselves.

8. Is there a neighborhood where you can live and walk (or bike) to a lot of stuff? The trouble with a lot of nice looking suburbs or active developments is that you have to get into get in your car to do everything. One trip for groceries, another to the doctor’s, then go back out to your activity. On our exploration we went through Fishers, Indiana. It is a beautiful and affluent place with many upscale neighborhoods and a new shopping complex downtown. But to get anywhere there you have to go by car (and there was a lot of traffic!)- OK for families, but not so nice for baby boomers looking for a relaxed lifestyle.

9. Population of snow birds vs. year round residents. Particularly in the north and in warmer climes too, a town can be completely different from winter to summer. Some folks like the change with attendant less traffic and ability to get into a good restaurant, while others fret that the place feels like a ghost town. We heard one story about a Grand Haven (MI) postal worker who deliveries drop to only 1 out of 3 homes in winter.

10. What kind of amenities does the town provide? Midwestern and Western towns often do a great job of providing low cost services. For example they fund great libraries, community centers, etc. Grand Haven has an inexpensive boat launch with 11 lanes and a city-owned ski slope ($11 lift ticket). Shrewsbury (MA) has a city-owned Internet service. Wherever you decide to live, consider the value added amenities that a town might provide for your tax dollar.

Comments? Please share your ideas about planning a retirement road trip in the Comments section below. What worked for you, and what didn’t? Did you have any great (or not so great) surprises along the way?

For further reading:
Best Way to Visit an Active Adult Community

Posted by Admin on June 7th, 2017


  1. Many states will provide a free roadmap when you visit their welcome centers located at the state lines, and sometimes even the centers within the state. Great way to get a recent, detailed map at no cost!

    by Dave Balius — June 8, 2017

  2. A lot of town centers here in Florida cater to tourists. If you want restaurants or shops selling knick-knacks, that’s great. However, rarely will you find a functioning grocery store or even a drug store, so again you are in your car to head to the edge of town where all the shopping resides. We have found a couple of exceptions. Publix has begun opening up in some downtowns in the South, such as St. Petersburg, FL and Greenville, SC.

    by Lynn — June 8, 2017

  3. The article mentioned snowbirds but other places have tourist seasons too. We looked at reasonably priced real estate in one town then I saw some photos on Pinterest of what it looks like in the summer. Yikes! Wall-to-wall people headed to the coast. Too much for us – we’re looking in a different town.

    by HEF — June 9, 2017

  4. If you don’t belong to AAA Barnes and Noble sells maps of pretty much the whole world.

    by Bob — June 9, 2017

  5. After the first trip to talk to a Real Estate Agent in an area, you get a better idea of what questions you need to ask. Keep a list handy so you can check it over before a meeting. Questions could include: Is there a YMCA/Sr. Center/public gym in town or near-by; how old/big/active is the library; what sports are in the area like minor league baseball or a regional football team; how far away is a major airport; what pro teams do people follow; where’s the closest major hospital for cancer care or heart patients? We have been researching our retirement home location for the last year and started with the 50 states and narrowed it down from there. We’ve looked at places that have great reputations, but when we got there were saddened to learn that these were sorely exaggerated, or were not in the region we were looking in. We have found that telling people we are seriously researching a retirement home often gets us some great info to follow up on. Take heed of the nay-sayers! Listen to why they don’t like an area and do your own research on the subject; weather, house prices, availability of houses, etc. Granted, the internet can’t tell you if you will be bothered by the humidity, but if you keep track and compare the humidity levels at your current location and a possible future location, you can get a pretty good idea whether you’ll tolerate it. Don’t let a real estate agent pressure you into a purchase. We explain that we are doing this research and that we WILL NOT be buying a house until the end of 2017 at the earliest. This does not keep them from following up frequently, so if a town or state has been eliminated, tell them and let everyone move on. This research takes A LOT OF TIME, but will be worth it in the long run! Our plan is to retire in early 2018 and we only have a couple places left to visit before making our final decision. At least we’ve got the state chosen and are now concentrating our efforts on specific areas!

    by Amy Chizen — July 2, 2017

  6. An interesting article from on cities people are leaving included Wichita Falls (TX), 2 cities in IL (Danville and Kankakee), New London (CT), and Vineland (NJ) – plus big cities like New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago. They are mostly moving out of the northeast and midwest and into the Sunbelt – southern cities such as Orlando, Atlanta, and Houston. (we didnt include the link because it goes to one of those annoying pages that have one city per slow loading page)

    by louise — July 3, 2017

  7. Amy Chizen, dying to know where you are from and which states, county’s you have chosen and why.
    My husband and I recently retired…. thought I did my
    Home work on many issues… missed a few. The good news we renting for a yr. I will continue my
    Search in the hopes I can find ‘exactly ” what I want

    by Roseann — July 3, 2017

  8. What are your thoughts on moving to Illinois with their financial troubles?

    by Daisy May — July 3, 2017

  9. Another thing to research about potential retirement locales is their. EMS systems. There may be excellent hospitals in an area, but if the EMS system is understaffed, getting to that hospital in a timely, and lifesaving manner, may be an issues. Ask about number of providers and reponse time.

    by Sandie — July 3, 2017

  10. This is just my opinion but for me a retirement location cannot solely be a logical choice because after all, this will be my home. It is my experience that if your basic needs are being met, how you feel about a place is largely emotional. The location I chose (or locations as more than one phase of retirement might be needed as you age) has to have some kind of ‘hook’ for me or else I won’t even consider it. This means it could be a place I’ve always dreamed of living, or somewhere I have lived in the past in which I have fond memories of. But to just pick a town or a community (especially one in an unfamiliar region of the country) move there, and try to set down roots; well, that may be harder than you think. You do run the risk that no matter how lovely the place is, or how friendly the people are, or how much there is to do, it might never feel like home.

    by Alice — July 3, 2017

  11. Don’t forget about the financial aspects! Many states with no income tax have really high Sales Tax Tennessee is one of these. North Carolina has many tax structures Sales Tax State Income Tax city tax etc. Property tax and home and flood insurance is another very high cost in many states especially coastal areas.

    by Ron — July 3, 2017

  12. Alice….you are so very right!!! For me it is definitely an emotional connection that made me and my husband finally decide! I have lived in 7 different states and have been in the Monterey Bay of California for 30 years ( too expensive to retire here!) We have visited North and South Carolina, Washington ( San Juan Islands) Florida and have decided on a beautiful town outside New Orleans. Lived there and in New Orleans for 20 years ( my 20’s) and keep returning. Yes it rains, the humidity is high and there are bugs ?? But….the cost of living is Good, food amazing, southern hospitality, great hospitals in New Orleans, a train station and airport and the Saints football? Not for everyone but the oak trees and Spanish moss, the Acadian homes ( affordable!) It almost breaks my heart it’s so pretty. So yes…..amenities are important but so is that feeling in your heart when it feels like you are home!??

    by jean breed — July 3, 2017

  13. Actually only.lived there for 15 yrs….?? Still it’s home?

    by jean breed — July 3, 2017

  14. Well let’s see …for me Buffalo NY for 25 yrs, Clearwater FL for 10 years, Portland Oregon for 7 yrs and now Sandie go CA for 20….I don’t know if I’ve felt completely at home anywhere really. ..bUT that’s just me I guess because I have traveled all over the world and just happy where I’m living at the time. Actually I do like moving to new places. …Not having children makes it easier to move but also won’t have anyone to help me and my hubs in our old age either….

    by mary11 — July 4, 2017

  15. Something else that I’ve found to be useful is checking the store locators at chains that I like to use frequently – for ex., Barnes & Noble, Lowes, Penneys, etc. (even fast food chains that I like). It’s funny how realizing that there isn’t a Boston Market or a Dairy Queen within 40 miles can be a wake up call! Check out church locations if that is something you will want in retirement. I’ve discovered that my religion (which has ethnic roots, and is easy to find in urban or northeast areas) has significantly fewer parishes in areas of the South.

    I’m down to my final 3-1/2 retirement destination choices, and am going to visit one of them for the 3rd time next month. This time, I’m bringing a family member (who is a health care professional, and who is tasked with researching local medical care and hospitals for me) as another set of eyes. I’ll check out the local grocery stores, and will talking to as many people as I can. I’ll pick up the local newspaper, go into the community centers, and find the library. I’ll be meeting with a realtor to look at resales, and with the developer to get pricing for new construction. I’ll do the same thing for the second location in the Fall. I am determined to make a decision before the end of the year, expecting to retire by 65 at the beginning of next year. I haven’t fallen in love with a location, so I’m trying to figure out which location is going to be the best fit for me rationally. I am determined to finally make a decision by the end of the year.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve also talked this month with my bank and a mortgage company about the possiblity of getting a small mortgage for my retirement home. My intent is not to touch my 401K until age 66, and to live on cash savings and possibly widow’s SS benefits from 65-66. I was planning on using approx. 2/3 cash to buy a retirement home, to keep a liquid cash position for living and other expenses while I took my time selling my current home. (When I sold my current home, I’d then be able to pay off the retirement home mortgage, purchase a new retirement car, etc.). I was told that a new mortgage would require a salary. They won’t consider the value of my cash accounts or 401K or take a security interest in them, no matter how large those accounts are. I haven’t pushed this further, but it was a surprise to me.

    by Kate — July 4, 2017

  16. Kate, look into HECM for purchase mortgages.

    One thing that concerns me with moving is crime. I live in a pretty nice town in CT. CT is expensive but when I look into other places in the country that are cheaper to live, I see lots more crime. Crime has been around since the beginning of time. No end to it.

    by louise — July 4, 2017

  17. Kate, I had no trouble getting a mortgage to buy what was, at the time, a second home in Florida (I’ve since relocated here full time and sold my other home). I was well into retirement at the time and had no source of income other than my 401(k), my retirement plan, and Social Security. Try a different bank.

    by Linda — July 4, 2017

  18. Kate – I have been on social security for a number of years. As soon as you get your statement of benefits (how much money you will receive monthly), your bank has to consider that as income. You could list an interest/dividend flow from investments you are not reinvesting interest.

    by Lynne — July 4, 2017

  19. Kate – I had a recent conversation with the mortgage rep at our credit union. We want to purchase a new home before we sell our current home, then move. I mentioned that, IF we had to get a mortgage, I assumed it would be easier to do while DH is still working. The Rep. said it would be easier but we wouldn’t have much trouble once retired – just a little more paperwork. Not impossible. I agree with Linda – try a different bank or credit union.

    by HEF — July 4, 2017

  20. Thanks for the encouragement! The info from the mortgage teams at Wells Fargo and Citizens really didn’t make any sense to me, based on home equity, 2/3 down for the new home, cash that would remain in accessible accounts (and a 401k with 10x the size of the possible mortgage). Did you ever get the impression sometimes that you are talking to teenagers at these places lol?

    by Kate — July 5, 2017

  21. (Oh — and perfect credit.). I thought I might let a developer fight with whatever bank they use on my behalf, if I did new construction. I’m not done yet!!!

    by Kate — July 5, 2017

  22. As a NH native, I would like to put in a good word for retiring to my great state!

    While the southern tier more closely resembles northern Massachusetts, central, northern and coastal communities offer a more laid back, gentle, scenic way of life.

    We are often ranked #1 for quality of life, low crime rate, high level of education, access to superior health care, and outstanding recreational, cultural, and volunteer opportunities.

    Is it perfect? No, our property taxes are high and the opioid problem has received nationwide publicity. However, there are neither income nor sales taxes, groceries are reasonably priced, libraries are beautifully stocked and centers of community pride, the people (both natives and transplants!) are friendly, welcoming and inclusive.

    Within an hour, you can be hiking in our lovely mountains, kayaking on numerous scenic rivers and lakes, shopping tax free at any of the many, varied shopping centers, galleries, antique or unique craft shops. Outstanding medical care is available statewide, and the various cities and towns offer a rich Colonial history, honoring our past, yet are progressive in thinking and acceptance of all.

    Within an easy hour’s drive, you can be exploring a historic site such as Strawberry Banke in lovely Portsmouth, riding the Cog RR up the side of Mount Washington, zip lining through a beautiful forest, attending a great local baseball game, a concert, a play at a local theatre, taking classes at Dartmouth, UNH, or our numerous community colleges…

    And if desirous of a larger metropolitan area, thebeautiful, historical cities of Boston, Burlington, VT, and Portland, ME, are an easy drive away …

    Oh, yes, our winters can be long, cold and snowy … but our highways are beautifully maintained, and if you want to escape to a warm and sunny locale, Manchester and Portsmouth Airports are easily accessible. Last year, I drove to Florida, intent on buying a place on the Gulf Coast. While I loved the beaches and climate in March, the endless commercial sprawl and traffic made me ever so glad to return to my lil piece of heaven in NH.

    Please do come, and check out New Hampshire … many people come for a day, and return for a lifetime! As a real estate professional, it always brought me such joy to see how easily newcomers fell in love with those very things which make the state so truly unique.

    by Diane D — July 5, 2017

  23. Diane D – I love New Hampshire and have looked into costs of housing in southern New Hampshire. I have need for medical services within 20-30 minutes. I’m game for other places in the state, but the combination of lower home prices (about $275-300k) and our desire to not be in a development with homes that are close together (need 1/2-1/3 acre minimum), is difficult in a 55+ in New Hampshire and almost impossible when you look further south, such as in Delaware (a possible choice). I could live in the mid-Atlantic, but I’d much rather move north from CT to New Hampshire. Others who love the beauty of the state, access to skiing, the ocean, etc., want to move there and experience how laid back it is. Some days we go up to Hampton Beach (about 2+ hours away) just for lunch, walking the boardwalk and smelling the ocean.and experience the awesome sound and look of the waves.

    Like others from CT, we think that New Hampshire is the ideal place to retire.

    by Lynne — July 5, 2017

  24. Lynne, what county do you live in CT? I am from Litchfield County!

    I have been to New Hampshire but never to Hampton Beach. I looked it up and am going to do more research on it. Here is a list of restaurants from a Hampton Beach website. Can you recommend some you have eaten at? This seems like a great adventure.

    Oh and have you visited on week days or just weekends? Does everything shut down after Labor day?

    by louise — July 5, 2017

  25. Kate, that mortgage I got was from Wells Fargo. I have a long history with them (been with them since before the mortgage banker was born) and a FICO score over 800. Unfortunately, they were not quite up to speed on the Florida market. They didn’t get the concept of selling a condo turn key. They wanted us to value all the furniture and other included items separately! We just took the that stuff out of the contract and I paid the seller separately for that. If I were to get a mortgage again, I would work with a local lender here in Florida. I had worked with my local bank in Minneapolis to make sure I was pre qualified before coming down to look at property. Anyway, I’d look at other banks. Obviously your Wells Fargo branch is not up on how things work.

    by Linda — July 5, 2017

  26. I mostly lived in NH as a kid – then on to the University of NH. Loved almost everything about living there! Moved to Maine for work and retired there in 2012, I am a true New Englander! Yes – NH is lovely and the tax incentive to retire there is very strong, but the houses are only affordable in remote areas of the state – check out Zillow to confirm this. There is a lack of good 55+ communities but more are slowly being built – the market is not as active for that choice compared to the sunny, warm south. I grew up in Portsmouth when it was not as chic as it has become – real estate prices there now are out of sight! Hampton Beach – Atlantic City – Mrytle Beach – Daytona Beach – been to all three and they are very similar: crowded, overbuilt, increasing crime, and on the tacky side, in my opinion. If you are considering NH, look upstate for real estate deals but be prepared for long cold winters!!!

    by SandyZ — July 6, 2017

  27. Curious, a while back I saw someone had posted / recommended a real estate agent near Tellico Village, Tennessee. The post stated that the recommended agent not only showed properties in Tellico Village, but else where too. I have tried, but could not locate the posting. My husband and I are thinking of retiring to Tennessee within the next couple of years. We currently live in the suburbs of Washington, DC. We had been looking at Asheville, NC, but after our last visit, housing has gotten very expensive. We are now setting our sights on the Knoxville suburbs, as well as Loudon County. Any recommendations, suggestions, etc. not only for an agent to contact, but communities too, is greatly appreciated..

    by Sherri — July 9, 2017

  28. Kate,
    Re mortgage: Ask for asset dissipation guidelines. Wells Fargo does offer loans based on assets. I got a document from a Wells Fargo loan officer. Google asset dissipation mortgages. You will find info.

    by Vickie — July 10, 2017

  29. Sherri, I lived in tellico village for a bit. Agent Linda Lou. You can tell her Gary morgan from the United States forest service sent you.

    by Vickie — July 10, 2017

  30. Vicki,
    Why did you leave Tellico?

    by Ron F — July 10, 2017

  31. Alice, you are 100% correct. Not always a totally logical decision.

    by Jim D — July 11, 2017

  32. Ron,
    At the time, we weren’t that fond of the area. It is rather remote. So we moved back to the midwest to be near my ailing mother. We hadn’t looked at many communities at the time, but having done so, the area does have it’s appeal. The facilities are very nice.

    by VIckie — July 12, 2017

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