Many people living in the DC area plan to retire elsewhere in the country.
Most folks weren’t born here (a true native such as myself is as rare a sighting as Bigfoot), and people often relocate here for their careers but don’t have a strong emotional attachment to the area.
Once retirement comes and the job is no longer a consideration, the shortcomings of the area are easy to leave behind.
Expensive housing, relatively high taxes, and maddening traffic frequently motivate people to look elsewhere for their next phase of life.
I’ve talked before about the best and worst states for retirement. For anyone fantasizing about “where next” while stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Beltway, below is some food for thought as you consider finding your paradise.
First, it’s worth noting that the notion of a true paradise may be misleading.
Any decision you make will likely involve certain trade-offs. But it’s important to identify what’s most important to you in your idyllic locale. There is no shortage of articles and lists ranking the best places for retirees, but they all use different criteria, come to very different conclusions, and are too general.
You want to find the best place for you, and your criteria will likely be very different from those used in the articles. So how do you identify the factors most important to you?
Let me start with what not to do.
Don’t rush. I often talk with people who are interested in buying a house or land somewhere they visited once and fell in love with, usually while on vacation. My advice is always the same: Don’t rush into such a big decision. When we’re traveling or on vacation, we’re in a different state of mind and usually pampering ourselves. Vacation life is different from real life, and consequently these short stays in an area are a very idealized version of the life people living there truly lead. I have several clients who purchased homes in areas they thought would be their ideal retirement locale, only to realize later that they had made mistakes.
Don’t be shortsighted. There are a number of factors to consider when creating a list of possible retirement locations. Many people identify climate and taxes as top criteria, but I don’t think they are the most important factors. When creating your list, consider what will make a location ideal in 20 years, as well as what you want today. A location may seem perfect when you’re 65, but how will it feel when you’re 85, less mobile, and perhaps more isolated? Thinking of retirement as a single phase of life can lead you to make less-than-ideal decisions, as it’s possible your “retirement” location isn’t where you’ll spend the rest of your life. Often people find they desire to relocate closer to relatives after a health issue or the passing of a spouse.
Don’t forget to factor in the realities of life. I believe the following factors should be considered while searching for your paradise: access to quality healthcare, cultural activities, political environment, cost of living, cost of housing, taxes (and not just income taxes, but property and local taxes, too), proximity to friends and family, crime rates, transportation — both now and when driving becomes more challenging for you, climate, proximity to an airport with the routes you typically fly, and job opportunities for those over 65, if you plan to get a part-time job.
Don’t be hasty. Once you’ve determined what’s most important to you, do some research and narrow your list of potential locations, and then spend some time in each. I suggest spending at least a month in each spot, but no less than two weeks. At this point you should be able to cross a few locations off the list and maybe even arrive at your ideal spot.
Don’t do anything … yet. Before buying, I recommend renting for a period of time, perhaps a year. Get to know the area and see how you really like it before making a large financial commitment. Get to know the local vibe. Often your environment can change dramatically from one neighborhood to the next; maybe you did find a great area, but just picked the wrong neighborhood. Having intimate knowledge of your new hometown will help you make the best choice.
The bottom line: Everyone’s paradise is different; some will prefer a bustling metropolis while others prefer the solitude of rural life, and still others will gravitate toward palm trees and water. Your paradise awaits, and following these steps will help you find it sooner.