Do Your Research Before Buying
In the past, a traditional retirement often meant making a beeline to a condo community in Florida or Arizona. But a conventional retirement spot full of gray hairs just doesn't apply to baby boomers, who love to make their own rules, even during the golden years. Yet some proven planning techniques will help boomers find a great place to grow old-or act like a kid again. Five key things to consider when winnowing your list:
COST OF LIVING. If you're on a fixed income, you have to make sure that the town fits your budget. Armchair explorers can take quizzes and check out living costs and other important factors at www.neighborhoodscout.com, www.findyourspot.com, or www.bestplaces.net. You'll also want to scope out the availability and cost of different types of housing such as condos, apartments, and houses. And don't forget about taxes; check state rates at www.taxadmin.org.
THE LOCAL ECONOMY. Many baby boomers intend to work in retirement, surveys show. If you plan to hold a job, choose a spot with a strong economy and job prospects. This might rule out resort and military towns that are dependent on a single industry. Instead, you should look for a diversified economy and chances to work in your field of choice. The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) keeps tabs on unemployment rates both for states and major metropolitan areas. And the State New Economy Index from the Kauffman Foundation (www.kauffman.org) tracks which states have the most innovative and entrepreneurial economies. This year, Massachusetts tops the list.
PROXIMITY TO HOME. Consider how close you want to live to your children and grandchildren. Most people who move at retirement are more likely to stay close to home than move farther away, says Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. If you plan to travel on a regular basis, try to live near an airport or train station.
AMENITIES. Read up on basics like crime rates and access to healthcare. But don't forget the things that make life special. Andrew Schiller, president and founder of NeighborhoodScout, suggests making a list of what you love about your current home and adding other things you long for. Use that list to research retirement towns. One way to tell if you might like an area: Try it out. "Take vacations in those places that appear to be doing very well in the things that are important to you," Schiller advises.
WEATHER. You'll probably still complain about the weather. But now you have the opportunity to pick the climate that suits your lifestyle. Of course, there's one time-tested strategy if you can afford it: Live in the North for the summer, and head south for the winter.
This story appears in the June 11, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.