Slowly Sipping Coffee

Retirement Quest: Where to live?

Where to retire is a big question that only you and your family can answer. Maybe you plan on staying where you are now because you’ve already built a life and social network there and don’t want to disrupt it. My dad never moved away from his hometown his entire life, so retirement for him meant not working and getting to enjoy the same social network and activities he did while working. My mom, on the other hand, is more of the wandering artist type that has lived all over and doesn’t seem to stay in any one place too long. She is currently back in my hometown, but I doubt she’ll be there too long, because it gets too cold for her to want to stay too long. That led me to think of what people look for in a retirement town, or even more so, a “pre”-tirement town.

Mrs. SSC and I have been researching different towns and cities to relocate to when we pull the plug and switch to stay at home parents, since we have no desire to remain in Houston. For us though, it’s not as easy as Googling, “Where are the best places to retire”? Mainly, because the word ‘retire’ is associated with people decades older than we will be.  We want an active community, trails to hike, and rivers to fish.  A place that is overflowing with families and good public schools for our kids. A good education is essential to us, and one of the reasons we have a longer than ideal commute currently in Houston.  Sure, we could have afforded to live close to work, but those public schools closer to downtown are horrid. Meaning we would need to move or pay almost $15k/yr/kid for private freaking grade school when our kids got to school age. That’s ridiculous! My college tuition wasn’t that much per year!  Also, in our future pre-tirement town, we want topography and four seasons. After spending 6+ years in the Gulf Coast, we both miss snow, Fall, leaves changing, and seeing bumps in the horizon that aren’t overpasses or buildings. I have really appreciated being able to fire up the smoker on Thanksgiving in flip-flops, shorts and a nice Hawaiian shirt, and be perfectly comfortable outside, but I also miss getting to wear sweatshirts, sweaters, and the feeling you actually need a fire to cozy up to, and not just turn on the gas fireplace because it’s sort of cold out (it dipped below 50!! EEEEK!!!).

How have we figured out where we want to move when we depart Houston? Well, we haven’t yet, but we’re down to our short list. We started by taking those things mentioned above (topography, four seasons, education) along with our knowledge of places we lived or visited and started doing research. Combining our wants with stats on cost of living, home prices, taxes, school quality, and weather helped us cross entire geographic regions off of our list.  Take New England for instance. We both love it and think it’s pretty, even with some harsher winters, but we’d rather not incur such a high cost to live there between taxes, housing, and heating. Another region is California; it’s beautiful and the northern part of the state would be nice, however, it’s expensive, has water issues, and doesn’t meet some of our criteria.

After some time, we narrowed our scope down to the Appalachians, the Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest.

North Carolina has some appeal for us and there are some nice towns there we think could work. So we have a town or two still on the list, but we kept looking. We both liked Oregon, but man, so do a lot of other people, and some of our towns that popped out ended up seeming like Boulder,CO in terms of excellent outdoor activity but ridiculous housing cost. So there are a few Oregon towns on the list as well, but we still kept looking.

Same with Colorado; it fits a lot of criteria, but ultimately the towns we looked into got put into the B list category. Some Colorado Front Range towns are nice and fit a lot of our criteria, but if we’re in CO, we would like easier access to the ski resorts, and if we want some type of mountain living or mountain views, we thought we could find some other places that could be a better fit. Again, there is a drought/water issue that persisted for the 9 years I lived in Denver through to the present.

We even came across a town in northern Idaho that seems to have stayed at the top of the short list. Idaho… I still cringe when I look at a map and see that we’re basically looking at Southern Canada. Seriously, talk about one extreme to another. I’ve been monitoring the weather for this area, Denver, and Chicago, IL as these are all points of reference to climates Mrs. SSC and I have lived in that we liked or don’t want to be as harsh as. So far, it’s been trending just like the historical weather data has shown. Which is still pretty, pretty, cold and with a long winter season. So, lately, we are  looking back at the Appalachians with its more moderate winters, and think we may have found a good spot in western Virginia.

We both spent a lot of time in the Appalachians either growing up in the region (Mrs. SSC) or just hiking in them (Mr. SSC). Roanoke, VA has good school ratings, good home prices, good home layouts (yes, I get bored and house shop on Zillow). I find there are a lot of houses out there that would work great for us. Some of the houses need some updating, which is ideal. We want to do remodeling to make the home reflect more of our personalities, without having to redo the whole house.  Many homes have workshops already built, which is ideal for my woodworking equipment and projects. Also, there are some houses with killer views and a little land, so no suburbia feel to it either. Now, to hope the perfect house pops up on the market in another 3-4 years!

So, here is our current short list – I’m curious to see how it evolves over the next several years:

  • Roanoke, VA
  • Boone, NC
  • Coeur d’Alene, ID
  • Bend, OR

Our “long” list includes satellite towns near these, or other “B” locations in the same state. For instance, most of the smaller areas around Roanoke (Salem, Cave Springs, etc..) have good schools and housing options. The same is said for Boone, NC and Bend, OR. Mrs. SSC’s family likes to play “what town are you guys retiring to this month?” when they visit as the short list gets shuffled occasionally. It’s fun for us to research different areas, and it keeps the reality that soon, we can permanently be in one of these places at the top of our thoughts.

I think Virginia could be a great fit, and can’t wait to check it out from a “we could be living here” perspective. It feels more like home to us, and we love the green landscape of the Appalachians. This is the 6th town in the last year to top out the short list, and so far we haven’t found a deal breaker yet. They have a good tax situation, and pending Mrs. SSC’s “dry-run” for what our tax situation could be like when we retire, it might be a bonus for that state.

What is it you look for in your perfect retirement place? Someplace warm, or cold, or with abundant water, maybe abundant golf, maybe a nearby college that allows for a steady stream of renters if you are going the property investment route? Let me know, I’d love to hear about some things I may not have thought about. Does anyone else house hunt on Zillow to check out what type of houses to expect in their retirement destination, or is that just me?

25 thoughts on “Retirement Quest: Where to live?

  1. Steve Adcock

    It’s nice that you’re considering towns across the entire country. I’ve been to Roanoke plenty when I lived in the Northern Virginia area – cost of living sure is low, which is a nice positive. Close to Blacksburg too if you were interested in a nearby college team (Virginia Tech).

    For us, my wife and I will be retiring in Sedona, AZ – it’s red rock country. The most beautiful and unique scenery that we’ve seen in the entire nation, by far.

    Google Image search:,+AZ&site=imghp&source=lnms&tbm=isch

    We plan to buy a town house up there in early 2016 and immediately start renting it out to pay down the mortgage until my wife and I are ready to actually move up there from Tucson, hopefully by 2018 or 2019 – at the latest.

    Sedona is a vacation spot for many, many people, so we are looking forward to the rental potential up there with property.

    The wheels are definitely in motion to bring this plan into fruition.

    1. Mr. SSC

      Wow, Sedona looks really nice. I love that geology out there. We had thought about Arizona, but mainly Flagstaff for our initial look.
      That looks like a great spot for rental income too.
      Good luck on your plan!

  2. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    I look forward to seeing where you pick. I’ve moved around a lot and love logging onto MLS to take a look at houses around Canada. The Mr. been here all his life, and I think he’s pretty set on staying here. If we decide that he should retire really early though, I think we’ll be looking at some lower cost of living options a little mroe seriously (the plan now is to pay the mortgage, get to FI and see how we feel then, we’ve still got some time).

    1. Mr. SSC

      Me too!

      It’s fun, just investigating different parts of the country, house hunting on Zillow to see the style of houses available, and what there is to do nearby. Even the daydreaming of doing those things is a nice break when I get run down from the grind now. 🙂

  3. Mrs. Maroon

    We will most definitely be moving in FIRE. The biggest reason – primary reason in fact – is that we want land, and a fair bit of it. We intend to have a garden large enough to work with a small tractor. We’d love to have some livestock. Chickens for sure. Cattle very likely. Plus whatever 4H or FFA projects our kids (we expect) will want. We’d like to try our hand at other agricultural pursuits too. We want to escape the big city and settle into a small town.

    All of these ideas are well within view since we already own, free and clear (no mortgage), 155 acres in west Texas. We don’t have any living quarters out there yet. So instead of shopping Zillow, we daydream about the features we’d want to have in a house we would construct!!

    For your list, I have relatives that have lived in Roanoke for 20+ years. They seem to love it. I haven’t been up there in many years, but I remember it being beautiful!

    1. Mr. SSC

      You definitely have the land for it. I daydream about possibly having some chickens, and goats, but then realize how much work they would be and how limiting it would be when we want to travel. I’m guessing a few chickens and goats would not make good travel companions, hahahaha

      Maybe a couple of yard birds would work out though. Although Mrs. SSC is not a fan of birds of any kind, so we’ll see about that.

      I find it nice to daydream about all these things and realize they’re coming sooner rather than later. It’s a nice reminder what the hard work is getting us closer towards.

  4. Tawcan

    Look forward to seeing your decision. Haven’t been any of those 4 cities that you listed so can’t provide any feedback. We plan to travel and live in different countries once we reach FI.

    1. Mr. SSC

      We also want to live in different countries, but maybe just for a month or so at a time. I keep trying to convince Mrs. SSC that South America is primo for some great expat living, but so far we’re compromising on a month or two at a time. That too will be down the road a bit though.

      I still expect that list to change a little, as there are still some great towns and regions out there we will probably come across in the future.

  5. Gen Y Finance Guy

    This is a tough one. I love California and its beaches so much. But as you know we have a pretty high cost of living and a huge water problem.

    All I know is that where ever we go it needs to have a lot of restaurants, because me and the Mrs. really like trying new ones.

    I also know that I don’t like extreme heat or extreme cold. So the climate has to be kind of perfect most of the year. I don’t mind a mild winter where temps get into the high 30’s or lows 40’s at night and in the mornings.

    It would be nice to be within an hour of the beach and an hour or two to the mountains to go skiing.

    As I write this I am kind of describing where I live now in Southern California. Its kind of the ideal place to live.

    We will see.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      That would be ideal. I’d love to be near a ski resort, hence looking out West first. CA was in the mix for about 20 minutes. 🙂 Between the cost of living, real estate and water issues, it got knocked off as “great to visit” but let’s not retire there just yet. Maybe post-kids when we might want a smaller place and more moderate climate.

      I’m pretty envious of your situation currently though. I do miss having mountains to look at and for hiking and skiing.

  6. dave

    Did you consider any place in Eastern,WA? Wenatchee or Spokane? Coeur dAlene is definitely gorgeous, but no state income in WA seems pretty appealing…similar climates, but not sure about schools…

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      We haven’t looked there too much. Mrs. SSC has some family friends that have been in Spokane for about 15 years now and love it. We did investigate the WA vs OR tax debate though when we were looking in that area. Schools are good anywhere, you just need to find the right district(s). That whole area of the country is gorgeous.

  7. Hannah

    Have you considered Ames, IA? The midwest is really cheap, but Ames has beautiful nature (not just cornfields), and a decent cultural landscape due to the college and few companies. I would describe it as charming, but I love the midwest.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      We haven’t considered the Midwest really. I know those areas are pretty, but not exactly what we’re looking for. A nearby college is a plus though.

  8. Even Steven

    I have not been to any on your shortlist, but one of my best friends lives in VA Beach and loves it(Midwest guy). If I were you I would pick Bend, OR I have this fascination for Oregon that I can’t explain(I have never been).

    Our early retirement will be in Florida(Happy Wife, Happy Life) and my preference will be a college town to have a mix of young and old with some sporting events, etc. Part of our plan though is to be able to travel and rent a house for long time periods ie 2-3 months or more and experience other destinations not worrying about being location dependent as much. Obviously the housing allowance will have to be at a minimum if we are splitting time so we wouldn’t have a large housing allowance unless we count the 2-3 months as a vacation cost in the budget.

    Do you have plans to visit each location, keep me updated.

    1. Me. SSC

      I definitely love Oregon, and I’ve only been to Portland and Astoria in the NW corner. I wanted to go visit the Goonie’s house, lol. It’s beautiful out there.
      The kids and desire for mountains and related outdoor activities are driving some of the locations sought out and not others, like the mid-west or Florida for instance.

      We are planning on visiting Roanoke and Boone. Coeur d’Alene is possible too, but we might get to Bend first. That was our number 1 if the high cost housing situation could be worked out, so it’s still a strong choice. Maybe their housing bubble will pop in 3-4 yrs and we can take advantage of that. It seems like it is peaking currently.

      We will definitely keep you updated as we visit each place and find more.

  9. Anne - Money Propeller

    I can see that having your pick of anywhere would be rather overwhelming! I have never faced such a decision before, there’s always been a motivation to go one particular place.

    Best of luck with your continuing analysis. Don’t forget, you can always move again if you don’t care for it!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      You’re not kidding. I’ve been in the same boat with most of my relocation driven by school, work, or something. It’s been fun though, and it does keep the drive towards FIRE ever present in my head. Plus, it’s a nice outlet when I need to daydream for a little bit.
      We’re hoping to not have to move again for a while due to related expenses, but we haven’t ruled it out after the kids are gone and the 401k’s are accessible. 🙂

  10. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    We had to move to Arizona for my husband’s health. I nearly wept when I saw the apartment prices.

    We were paying $700 for a single bedroom apartment with only water/sewer/garbage covered. Down here, we got a two-bedroom apartment with all utilities included for $710.

    Before the market started rebounding, we got a foreclosure for $60,000. It was $85,000 after a bunch of renovations (new HVAC unit, tile and some FHA-required things). Our mortgage is $565. Granted, we use a lot more electricity for heating and cooling, but there’s no way you could get a three-bedroom home with guest house for less than $1,500 a month.

    I’ve heard some okay things about Coeur d’Alene. But frankly based on your choices, I’d choose Virginia. I’m not a huge fan of the south, but the East Coast provides so many more affordable travel opportunities.

    My mom took the Megabus from NYC to Washington DC for $20 or less. There’s so much more history on the East Coast, too. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Northwest. But there’s so much more opportunity to show kids the history of this country in the east.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      That’s a great score on the foreclosure/rehab property. In the mode of “Property Brothers”, we’re hoping to do something similar, and get a house that needs some updating and finishing in the basement and stuff like that, that is reflected in the price. We can do that work ourselves and save some coin in the process! Especially, since we’ll have time to do those projects now.
      Having so much history and nearby driving vacation spots is another factor with VA or even NC. There’s so much to see within fairly easy drives on that side of the country I think it would be great to show it all to the kids, and save out west for long summer road trip vacations.

  11. Wade

    We’ve been all over. Summer, winter, sprint and fall. I think the only place that meets my criteria is Anthem, AZ which is on the northwest corner of Phoenix.

    The hot weather is the desert dry heat which for me is very tolerable compared to the 95% humidity heat of the deep south. We are not “ocean” people. A near year round pool and hot tub would be perfect. Anthem is about 20,000 people. Very affordable housing. Small town feel within a short drive of downtown Phoenix. Spring training baseball, all the major sports, a reasonable drive to the Grand Canyon and Southern California.

    I’d move there tomorrow. But I’d have to do it without my wife and kids. 🙂 🙁

    We might visit someplace that supplants that area, but it will be hard. But I do like the desert temps and even the summers are tolerable.

    1. Mrs SSC

      You’ve almost got me convinced…I’m going to check it out! I love the dry heat! Do you ever worry about water issues there in the future?

      1. Wade

        I think water could be an issue. But I compare it to living in North Dakota where you might have water but you freeze to death due to the arctic temps. 🙂 Give and take I guess.

        Check out the Anthem city web page. They have an awesome community center/water park/swimming area that residents get to enjoy.

        I also like that it is on the way up to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Yet it took us about 25 minutes to get downtown to a Diamondbacks game.

        Like I mentioned, it is our current front runner. I love Orange County, CA but it is too expensive. San Diego is nice but expensive and I like it warmer.

        Certainly lots of options to choose from.

  12. Robert

    Born and raised in Roanoke! It’s a great little town. If you’re seriously considering retiring there, let me know and I’ll tell you which areas to target.

    My wife did a couple rotations in Boone, so we’re also quite familiar with that area (we lived in Winston Salem NC for 3 years and I think it’s very similar to Roanoke – just no green-ways).

    Virginia and North Carolina are great states with several excellent state schools. Between low cost of living, nice topography (we’re currently in Arkansas so I miss the Blue Ridge), and multiple cheap in state schools to choose from; there are a lot of reasons why we intend on early retiring around there, too.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Thanks for letting us know and we will definitely contact you about which areas could suit us better. I like the look and feel on that area, and miss the Appalachians as well. It has a lot going for it that’s for sure!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *