Thursday, October 6, 2011

Deciding Where to Settle Down for Retirement

A treasured friend of mine recently sent me an email looking for my opinions about his list of possible retirement locales. He is a successful surgeon who is having trouble imagining his life after retirement. The request he sent, punctuated by, “C’mon Runaway Boomer, don’t let me down!” not only made me laugh, but got me thinking about how to approach the big decision about where to retire in a systematic fashion.

It’s very important to try to visualize how you want life to unfold once you are free from a career that absorbs most of your time and energy. What are the things you would do more of, if you only had time? Many look forward to having the freedom to spend more time socializing with friends and family. Others dream of travel and exploration. For some, it will be a time for more physical action and creativity. You may have thoughts about pursuing a second career, or volunteering in your community. This visualization step requires some pleasant introspection over a period of time.

Picking a geographic location can be complicated. First, consider that you may not need or want to move at all! If you already have a great social situation and the support of friends and family nearby, do you really want to start over in a new place? Or does your soul yearn for the beauty of the mountains or beach and a new beginning? Here are some practical suggestions for going about narrowing down your list of possible locations:

• Start taking short vacations (even 3-4 days) to check out places that you think you might be interested in. Make an appointment with a realtor to take you around, so you can get a feel for housing and neighborhoods available.
• Pick up magazines like "Where to Retire" or “Money”. They do nice profiles of towns and highlight different aspects for consideration, like cost of living, healthcare, taxes, etc.
• You can think about your post-working life in phases. If you decide to buy somewhere, it doesn't have to be forever – it may merely be your next chapter.
• See if you can narrow your options a bit... Mountains, desert, coastal, urban? All have their own beauty, but are all very different.
• Make a list of what you definitely want in a home... Single family or condo, # of bedrooms/baths, view, fireplace, garage, porch or patio, single level or 2-story, etc. This will help you when you work with a realtor, and also help you visualize how you want to live.
• Browse home sales websites for different locales so you can get an idea of what is available and see what places look like.
• Go visit friends in different areas so they can introduce you to what it's like to really live somewhere.
• Look at official websites of cities and town. Email requests for visitor and/or relocation guides. Most places offer them for free.

One more important thought… Be open to surprises changing your plan. My husband and I visited Prescott, Arizona a year and a half ago because it kept popping up on lists of good places to retire. It was love at first sight, and we bought a home in Talking Rock Ranch (SURPRISE: two years earlier than planned), on a golf course (SURPRISE: we had never discussed this before), and making scores of lovely friends (SURPRISE: an amazing bonus to buying into a community). We are having the time of our lives.

Enjoy your decision-making process. It’s a luxury to have the freedom to create your own grand plan.

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