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?