Top 10 Affordable Retirement Towns 0f 2010
Retirement often starts with a fantasy: Cash out your equity, escape the noise, traffic and crime of a big city, and start fresh. Find an idyllic place where housing costs are low, people are friendly, and you can live at the pace you want.
Such havens beckon from every region of the country--and even from outside U.S. borders.
Which one to choose?
Experts strongly recommend renting or house-swapping to try out a town before gambling on a permanent move. Paradise might be a tiny mountain burg with colorful Victorian homes. Or it might be a bustling golf resort on the coast. In today's economy, the cost of real estate is especially important in considering where to live. With adequate research, you can enjoy beautiful scenery and abundant recreational activities--and still have money in the bank from the sale of your old home.
Here are SecondAct's Top 10 Affordable Retirement Towns of 2010.
1. Asheville, N.C.
Ranked atop a number of "best city" lists, Asheville is a jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains that has retained much of its Art Deco and Beaux Arts architecture from the 1920s and 1930s. With a lively, walkable downtown, the city has an emerging music scene, good restaurants and more than 30 art galleries. Fishing, hiking and golf are popular pastimes. The climate is relatively mild; light snow falls during the winter and summer highs reach the mid-70s. The median home price, about $200,000, is half that of Southern California.
Bonus feature: Nine major waterfalls are within driving distance, as is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Downside: Summer crowds
Helpful link: ExploreAshville.com
2. Myrtle Beach, S.C.
With 60 miles of beaches and more than 100 golf courses, this rambling town, strung along a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, is a classic seaside playground. National Geographic magazine ranks Myrtle Beach's new boardwalk as the nation's third best (behind Atlantic City's in New Jersey and Coney Island's in New York). Fourteen million visitors flock here annually, supporting an abundance of shopping malls, eateries, concert venues and theaters. Despite Myrtle Beach's appeal, the median home price has dipped to a bargain-basement $150,000.
Bonus feature: The 2,200-seat Carolina Opry features music, comedy and dance shows appealing to all ages.
Downside: Hot, muggy summers are punctuated by almost daily thunderstorms.
Helpful link: MyrtleBeachRetirement.com
3. Westminster, Colo.
This neatly manicured swath of suburbia offers exceptional shopping malls, theaters, parks and hiking trails, and also lies midway between two of Colorado's prime destinations--sparkling downtown Denver and the upscale university town of Boulder. Head south on the freeway from Westminster and in 20 minutes you are among the office towers and brick warehouse lofts of Denver's historic LoDo ("Lower Downtown") district, with its popular 16th Street Mall and nearby pro sports stadiums. Go north, instead, and you're suddenly browsing Boulder's many coffeehouses and art galleries. Yet housing prices in Westminster--typically below $200,000--are some of the lowest in the region.
Bonus feature: Rocky Mountain National Park is a day trip away, and legalized gambling is available in the nearby historic mining towns of Black Hawk and Central City.
Downside: Winter temperatures dip well below freezing, bringing snow and hail.
Helpful links: City websites for Westminster, Boulder and Denver
4. Fort Myers, Fla.
While most of coastal Florida qualifies as a retirement mecca, Fort Myers has the advantage of being hugely affordable. The median selling price of homes this summer was $105,000, according to the real estate website trulia.com. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, only 65 miles south of Sarasota, Fort Myers boasts inviting beaches, golf, fishing and a charming downtown district. The winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are tourist attractions here. It's a short drive to Naples and the lush barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva are even closer; Miami is just over two hours away.
Bonus feature: Fort Myers is the spring training home of baseball's Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins.
Downside: Never mind the mosquitoes--Florida cockroaches grow up to two inches long--and they fly.
Helpful link: FortMyers-online.com
5. Charlottesville, Va.
Another breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains town, Charlottesville is home of the University of Virginia, as well as an active art and theater scene. A lovely pedestrian mall runs through the neo-classical downtown. Nearly all of the city is accessible by walking or bicycling. Median home prices are $225,000, higher than in other towns on this list, but Virginia offers some tax breaks to seniors. Because it's near the Atlantic coast, temperatures are fairly mild, rarely dropping below 20 degrees in the winter.
Bonus feature: The town lies within a burgeoning wine region.
Downside: It's wetter than Seattle, with about 44 inches of yearly rainfall.
Helpful link: Charlottesville.org
6. San Antonio, Texas.
Looking to retire in a more urban place? Remember the home of the Alamo. This diverse metropolis has plenty of affordable housing--the median list price is $149,000--plus lots of golf and night life. The city's showcase is the newly expanded River Walk, with its pools, waterfalls, shops and fine restaurants.
Population: 1.4 million
Bonus feature: The Gulf Coast beach town of Corpus Christi is only two hours away.
Downside: Summers here are hot and humid.
Helpful link: VisitSanAntonio.com
7. Panama City, Panama.
Kathleen Peddicord, author of How to Retire Overseas, ranks high-rise Panama City ahead of other Central and South American destinations such as Cuenca, Ecuador, and Punta del Este, Uruguay, mainly because of the large number of American expatriates. Housing is cheap, and the government makes it easy to obtain residency visas. Americans are able to live well on less than $1,200 a month, the typical Social Security check, Peddicord says. Most also find Panama City very safe, despite its shantytowns and dense urban center.
Bonus feature: Nearby Soberania National Park offers excellent hiking and birding.
Downside: Winters are as hot as the summers--and that's hot!
Helpful link: Panama travel info
8. Prescott, Ariz.
This old mining town, bordering the Prescott National Forest, maintains its laid-back feel with warm weather, extremely low crime rates, and period brick storefront rimming a grassy town square. More than 500 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. At 5,400 feet, it gets cooler weather than much of Arizona, with light snow in winter. Median home values have dropped to about $220,000.
Bonus feature: The 83-mile drive from Prescott to Phoenix passes through majestic saguaro forests.
Downside: Whiskey Row, a stretch of saloons dating to the 1800s, may be a temptation for drinkers.
Helpful link: Prescott website
9. Galveston, Texas.
Locals jokingly call it "Galvatraz" because so many people come and never leave. Temperatures typically range from the low 60s to low 80s, and the Gulf waters are warm and calm for swimming. Housing is surprisingly inexpensive; median prices hover around $108,000, and some beachfront condos go for under $100,000. Artists and wealthy Houston oil families flock to enjoy the easy Caribbean lifestyle.
Bonus feature: The city is a showcase of late-19th and early-20th century architecture.
Downside: Can you spell H-U-R-R-I-C-A-N-E-S?
Helpful link: Galveston.com
10. Eugene, Ore.
Its motto, "World's Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors," hints at progressive Eugene's passion for biking, jogging and kayaking. Trails lace the city. Intellectual life is strong, with a symphony, an opera, more than 20 private art galleries and the University of Oregon. Eighty-five percent of Eugene's power comes from renewable sources, making the "Emerald City" the greenest city in the U.S., according to rankings by National Geographic.
Bonus feature: The University of Oregon is an open arboretum, featuring more than 500 species of trees.
Downside: Eugene has one of the highest pollen counts in the U.S. and gets a whopping 50 inches of annual rainfall.
Helpful link: Eugenechamber.com
Green cities: Excerpt from Nextville: Amazing Places to Live Your Life by Barbara Corcoran
Overseas options: Kathleen Peddicord, author of How to Retire Overseas, offers tips and resources here.
Scouting trips: SecondAct columnist Karin Price Mueller offers advice on vacationing with retirement in mind.