The question on the mind of many a midlifer is: Where can I afford to retire? The recession took a toll on our stock portfolios and a major bite into the equity of our family homes. Many of us know we need to downsize and live more affordably. With that in mind, Huff/Post50 went looking for homes in some of the most attractive retirement communities in the U.S., ranging from $89,000 to $309,000, courtesy of Realtor.com. First, a few considerations:
What's the climate like year-round?
Hot weather climates are delightful in January, but not always comfortable come August. If you are going to want to escape the summer's blistering heat, you may need to budget for a rental in a cooler climate. Not having to shovel snow in the winter is terrific, but just make sure you visit your new retirement community in the summer. Not everyone likes to live inside with the air conditioning blasting for three months a year.
What's the median age of the other residents?
There are retirement villages that open their doors to residents who are just 50. That's great, but if everyone else is in their 80s, you won't be happy there. Some retirement communities bill themselves as providing an "active lifestyle." One small pool doesn't make for an active lifestyle. There should be golfing, tennis courts, a gym, a community meeting hall with classes. And every marketing office knows what the median age of its residents is. Just ask.
Is it stuck in the middle of nowhere?
Back in the 1990s when land was relatively cheap, retirement communities sprung up along desert corridors like weeds. In many places, shopping and medical services sprouted to fill in the land gaps. But not always. We've visited places where the nearest store was a 15-minute drive and there was no bus service.
Buying near family or friends is always preferable.
You may be spry and healthy now, but old age always wins in the end. You will want to be close enough to people who love you to know you can get some help. Some people divide their retirement into two phases: The first phase where you are super-active, travel and take the golf bag out every day and the second phase where you move to a rental unit near your most responsible adult child. Nowhere is it written that this will be your final home.
Rent first if you can.
Living in a retirement community is a lifestyle change. There will be no neighborhood kids knocking on the door come Halloween or selling Girl Scout cookies. There will be neighbors who are generally home all day. Renting gives you a chance to test the waters and see if this is the right community for you. And just because you don't like the scene at the first place, doesn't mean you won't like it somewhere else. Every retirement village has a different ambience. Find the one that's right for you.
Is the complex primarily owner-occupied?
We know we seem to be giving conflicting advice here having just told you to try to rent first, but hear us out. Owners living on site tend to take better care of their unit and hold the home owners association and management company to a higher standard. While many people pay cash for their retirement unit, if you need a mortgage, being in a building with a high percentage of renters might be a problem. Some lenders have a policy where they won't lend to someone unless the building is primarily owner-occupied.
Check out the slideshow below for our top 12 picks!
We found two hot-weather hotties in Palm Desert, California, which offers activities such as golf and tennis; performances at the McCallum Theater; and more than 150 works of art in its <a href="http://www.palm-desert.org/arts-culture/public-art" target="_hplink">Art In Public Places Program</a>, along with shopping and dining. Both of these homes have pools (a necessity in the desert), were built in the mid-1990s and have two bedrooms. The first, <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/78614-Blooming-Ct_Palm-Desert_CA_92211_M23439-49113" target="_hplink">on Blooming Court</a>, is located at the end of a cul de sac, around the corner from the community clubhouse.
The Blooming Court home has a gated front courtyard, double door entry and architectural foyer. It offers 1,800 square feet of living space. The pebble tech pool seen here has a cascading waterfall.
The patio is trimmed in flagstone and surrounded by desert landscaping.
Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the living room with light, and ten-foot ceilings enhance the spacious feel.
The second home, <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/78723-Platinum-Dr_Palm-Desert_CA_92211_M14822-70399" target="_hplink">on Platinum Drive</a>, offers 1,600 square feet of living space including an office/den area.
We like the private spa of this slightly smaller unit.
Bright and open kitchen in the Platinum Drive home.
South Carolina has been the "in" place to retire for a number of years. You can't beat the pretty, wide beaches there -- although friends tell us the summers can be steamy and there are those pesky hurricanes. But homes are more affordable and the complexes newer. Two for your consideration: First, this one-level charmer with three bedrooms and two baths <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/8-Fudora-Cir_Simpsonville_SC_29681_M58256-86605?source=web" target="_hplink">on Fudora Circle,</a> located in a 55+ community. Built in 2008, the home was recently reduced by $30,000. The development offers a heated pool, fitness facility, and clubhouse with pool table and fireplace -- even a small putting green to entertain friends and family.
Open floor plans and high ceilings offer a spacious feel.
We love the palladian window and fireplace.
While it has a little less curb appeal, this brick home <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/204-Sandpiper-Way_Greenville_SC_29605_M59378-70758" target="_hplink">on Sandpiper Way in nearby Greenville</a> features a large entrance foyer, open living/dining room with fireplace and sunroom with lots of windows. The listing makes note of the proximity to the general hospital. (P.S. to marketing department: Maybe emphasize the pool instead?)
The home has an open living/dining room and wood flooring throughout.
Sunny sitting area
Of course if you are moving to South Carolina, the place to be is Sun City Hilton Head, described by one resident as "a playground for people in their 60s." Yes, still affordable -- if you don't insist on being on the golf course. This <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/146-Argent-Way_Bluffton_SC_29909_M65279-93220?mlslid=313169" target="_hplink">two-bed, two-bath home</a>, on a private wooded lot, was built in 1998.
This expanded 2,042-square-foot home has a windowed Carolina room.
The home offers an unusually large, 220-square-foot den.
Dining room has high ceilings and charming wainscoting.
The kitchen includes a breakfast nook surrounded by large windows.
Split bedrooms and baths provide added privacy for guests.
The outdoor patio in rear looks out onto woods.
Florida invented retirement, didn't it? Snowbirds from the northeast, especially New York, long ago began migrating there in the winter. Eventually, they bought condos which tumbled in the housing market crash. Today, it's a bargain-hunter's paradise, although sales volume and prices are ticking up, so you might want to hustle on down there if Florida is in your future plans. The mother lode is of course Boca Raton (pronounced "tone" for those of you living west of the Hudson), where the median home price is now $409,000. We did find this unit <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/17031-Boca-Club-Blvd-Apt-81b_Boca-Raton_FL_33487_M54620-26034?mlslid=R3216507" target="_hplink">on Boca Club Boulevard</a> for sale at $309,000 </a>and regardless of whether the complex is exclusively for retirees, you can't walk down a Boca street without hitting one.
Lobby of the six-story condominium; the property is on a golf course and has water views.
This 2,047-square-foot condominium has two bedrooms and three baths; the kitchen measures 18 x 9.
The living room is an ample 25 x 15 and the dining room is 15 x 13.
Sitting area off the living room
The community recreation facility
If you prefer something a little less glamorous than Boca, there's Port Charlotte, located along Florida's Southwest Gulf Coast, between Sarasota and Naples, in an area known as Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. Here retirees can explore one of the world's largest protected marine estuaries; stroll miles of beaches; visit more than 70 parks and preserves; and enjoy fishing, paddling and sailing. The area is home to 16 golf courses and numerous annual sporting events and recreational facilities, as well as theater, dance, music and spas, according to charlotteharbortravel.com. This home <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/13308-Golf-Pointe-Dr_Port-Charlotte_FL_33953_M61785-53047" target="_hplink">on Golf Pointe Drive</a> is nearly 2,100 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths.
The kitchen and breakfast nook include wood cabinets, stone counter tops, tile back splash and built-in desk.
The home has a private heated pool and spa.
This gated community has a golf course, club house, tennis courts and fitness area.
The funny thing about Arizona politics is that they make you either want to move there tomorrow or forever stay away. Little middle ground when it comes to Arizona. But regardless of your view on the state's attitude toward gays, immigrants or guns, for retirees, there is great bang to be had in the retirement dollar buck. A <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/13746-W-Summerstar-Dr_Sun-City-West_AZ_85375_M10993-81274" target="_hplink">2,500-square-foot home on a golf course</a> location with an asking price of $260,000? The Phoenix area may be Boca Raton West.
The home, built in 1985, has tile floors throughout and vaulted ceilings in the great room.
The kitchen measures 11 x 11.
The unit overlooks one of the seven golf courses in the Sun City West, a master-planned community designed for people 55+.
Relax in the evening on the exterior back patio.
Upon getting their first whiff of aloha spirit, many people have to be dragged to their returning flights home. It's not pretty, trust me. And the reality is, for many, Hawaii is a great vacation spot but a harder retirement location. You are a plane ride away from friends and family and the medical care on some smaller islands isn't what you would find near a major medical teaching hospital. That said, there's <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/951050-Makaikai-St-Unit-16e_Mililani_HI_96789_M80658-53743" target="_hplink">this charming little condo in our price range</a> and we're feeling the tropical breezes already.
This two-bed, 1.5 bath condo is a compact 872 square feet.
The common space includes a community garden.
The condo includes a small patio/deck and space for an outdoor grill.
The grand poobah of retirement communities is of course LeisureWorld. There are LeisureWorlds in many locations, but we are partial to the one in Seal Beach, California, where the rules are reportedly iron-fisted, but the property highly regarded. There's a <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/13220-Nassau-Dr-209a_Seal-Beach_CA_90740_M14235-39578?mlslid=P779729" target="_hplink">tidy corner home with greenbelt views</a> and 1,100 square feet for $259,000.
Walls are freshly painted in neutral tones with white trim.
One of two bedrooms