Choosing the Ideal Retirement Area

Used to be people stayed in one place. Trips to the big city were exciting, but rare. Summer outings to the beach, the lake or the mountains had you planning your next trip before you were home. But a permanent move to the place you loved was beyond imagination for most people. Today, with fast travel, new technologies, and a global economy that has created a vast and diverse workforce, living where you want – in the place you love – is possible.

How do you choose the ideal retirement area?

First, consider your priorities. Reflect on what prompted you to think about moving. Weather? Family? Adventure?

Had enough cold winters?

You’ll want to consider climate. While a move south may mean relief from cold and snow, it may also mean summer temperatures well above 80 degrees. For those who enjoy four seasons, Mid-Atlantic states like Virginia and Maryland may top your list. If your life’s design includes biking, running, gardening or other outdoor activities, consider a region’s annual precipitation. Special healthcare needs may give you pause to think about the kind and quality of nearby medical facilities. Talking with people who have made similar relocations with similar priorities also helps. Visiting a location may give your search momentum.

How you will use your new home is the top priority.

Will it be your primary residence, or a vacation home? Will you build a new home or purchase an existing one? Do you want to be part of a resort club with a range of amenities, or do your own thing? Whether you’re looking to live there year-round, or just make weekend and summer vacation visits is also crucial to your plan.


The term “snowbird” – once used to describe a few people from colder climates who flocked annually to sunny Arizona and Florida – has grown today to include several million people. Many travelers decide to stay permanently because of mild weather. With its variety of temperate climates and wide geographic diversity, the American South has become one of the most popular places to relocate. Coastal regions in the South from the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia to the barrier islands of the Carolina and Georgia are dynamic places. The variety of fish and shell life, people and the foreign culinary influences in places like Charleston, SC make living along the coast a cosmopolitan adventure. Tropical weather holds check over the southern coastal region, while slightly cooler annual temperatures affect coastal living along the North Carolina and Virginia border. Wilmington, NC is the farthest north that palm trees grow naturally.

Family and Friends

Relocation can mean loss, especially when it comes to family and friends. If it is taking you farm from family, people you’ve grown up with, then you might want to consider creating new relationships and how to sustain the old. The most difficult part of transitioning is the emotional toll. Discussing the way you feel and how you believe relocating might affect you assists the process. You may discover that you will provide a getaway for them to come visit you. To build new friendships, look for people with common interests. Look for ways that the new location will allow you to meet other people. If you’re moving into a gated community or a resort that requires membership, check to see what clubs and organizations exist for members. A call to the local chamber of commerce might also reveal opportunities for personal growth and relationship development.

Financial Considerations

With words like “upsize” and “downsize” in the popular lexicon, and with new home construction at an all-time high, being realistic about your housing needs – and living expenses – is important.

Considerations: Is the equity from my primary home the source to buy the new home? How long will it take to sell my old home or access the equity? What are the best options for financing the new property? Is it better to build a new home or purchase an existing one? Will I need to readjust my long-term financial plans? If I’m not prepared to fully move just yet, what are my options?

Home costs in the South are less than they are in California, the Mid Atlantic, Midwest and Northeast. Establish a realistic budget based on what you can afford, not what you think you should spend. You may be able to save some money on your income taxes by accessing equity in you home to purchase a new property. A homesite, that you’ll build on later, or condo that could be a vacation home and rental is a common way many people protect themselves from future appreciation and take advantage of tax saving while they are still in high earning years. Consult a financial planner and mortgage banker (if you plan to finance) before making final decisions.

The infrastructure for a given area may also impact your quality of life. Areas with retirees and higher end real estate often devote more tax dollars to public works that will benefit you, including green space, better roads and progressive government. Wherever you are on life’s journey, revisit the priorities you set for relocations early on. And revisit them again, regularly as conditions warrant.

Originally appeared in Living Southern Style Magazine, Fall 2005

About The Author

Dave Frederiksen is a contributing writer for Living Southern Style and Ideal Destinations magazines, which cover private, gated and retirement communities as well as waterfront and mountain properties. See for more information.

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  • LAAAC is managed by St. Barnabas Senior Services; Funded, in part, by Archstone Foundation.
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