Who doesn’t love reading real estate listings? It’s fun to dream, and lists of the “best places to retire” are fodder for the imagination.
However, you wouldn’t want to rely on such lists for making a decision about where to retire. Your own best-of list has to take your own life and particular needs into account. That is something no one but you can do.
Moving in retirement requires a different kind of planning. Changes — in finances, health and mobility — can happen quickly after age 60. An idyllic spot in the mountains or by the seashore may become too remote, or your home too hard to maintain after you’ve had a heart attack or diabetes, or simply have slowed down.
Best-of lists often oversimplify the attractions of an area. I live in the Pacific Northwest, in a town recently discovered by retirees from seemingly everywhere. Many find this place through online research. Some even move here pretty much sight-unseen.
But while everyone knows that the coastal Northwest is rainy, a quick internet search can make you think you’ve found Shangri-La. In reality, winter days are short, damp and dark, with endlessly overcast skies.
“It’s raining,” a new neighbor complained to me. He seemed surprised. Maybe he’d moved here after reading best-of lists.
Enjoy those lists, but keep digging before you go. These four questions can help you decide if a new place will really work for your retirement, now and in the future:
1. Who will help care for me?
Most older people require help eventually, and many need a lot of assistance. The Family Caregiver Alliance says someone who is 65 today stands a 68 percent chance of eventually becoming cognitively impaired or unable to manage two or more activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing or bathing.
Of course, no one wants to burden children or friends. But in reality, loved ones usually must step up when elders need care. Just 9 percent of people who get care in their homes use only paid help, the alliance says.
So make things easier for your kids and be realistic when you make a move. Adult children who are holding down jobs and rearing children will be severely burdened if they must travel long distances to help elderly loved ones.
2. Is good medical care nearby?
Living longer usually means living with a chronic disease — or two or three. Ninety-two percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, according to the National Council on Aging.
In fact, 77 percent of older Americans have two or more chronic diseases. Four of these diseases — heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes — cause almost two-thirds of deaths annually.
With age, medical tests become more common and more frequent, as do visits to specialists like oncologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists and orthopedists. Managing a chronic condition well — avoiding hospital stays and emergency room visits — means having easy access to care you trust.
The joys of living in a scenic but remote retirement mecca are diminished if you have to drive hundreds of miles — frequently — for expert care. So again, consider not only what you need today but what you’ll need in the future.
3. How safe is this place?
It’s smart to research crime rates in an area before deciding to relocate there. You’ll find plenty of free tools online. When viewing crime statistics, city-level averages aren’t very helpful because averages obscure what’s going on in any one neighborhood.
Even the best online sites, though, may have outdated information or fail to offer a complete look at a place. So check data from a city’s police department. Fortunately, that’s usually easy. Many departments post their crime data online for citizens. Find it with a search like: “Denver police department crime statistics.”
Look also for maps showing the prevalence of crime by area, and watch local news reports about crime in the city.
With smaller cities, you might strike out searching online for police department data. After all, small towns might not have the latest resources. Instead, call the police department and ask how to learn about crime in specific neighborhoods.
And don’t stop there. Visit neighborhoods you’ve got your eye on numerous times, during the day and at night. Talk with many people — in coffee shops, hardware stores, parks and shops — until you feel you’ve got a good sense of the place.
4. How will I get around if I can’t drive?
At some point in their elder years, drivers have to face a hard truth: It may be time to hang up the car keys.
Moving in your later years means thinking ahead about the availability of public transportation, something that might not have mattered to you as a driver. Smart Asset crunched numbers for its report “The Best Cities for Public Transportation.” Here are the top towns for ease of getting around:
- Washington, D.C.
- San Francisco
- New York
- Jersey City, New Jersey
- Oakland, California
You might not want to retire in a metropolis. But bear in mind that wherever you are, you’ll probably need help with driving and shopping. So look into senior services and transportation options. Steer clear of remote areas, however beautiful, unless you’ve got a sure means of transportation if you can’t drive.
If this is to be your last, best move, take time learning where you want to land. Here’s help researching neighborhoods:
- “20 Tips for Buying a Home in the Best Location, Location, Location“
- “How ‘Livable’ Is Your City (Or Neighborhood)?“
What’s your plan for retirement living? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.