To move or not to move, when you retire — that's a big question. If moving seems sensible, then where? And what will it cost?
The vast majority of new retirees plan to stay in their own homes. But circumstances change. You might be widowed, your spouse might get sick or you simply might get tired of having to find someone to clean the gutters and make repairs. Over 12 years (1992-2004), 30 percent of the home-owning cohort born between 1931 and 1941 pulled up stakes at least once, according to a 2009 study for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
They didn't go far. The vast majority found a new home within 20 miles of where they lived before. These kinds of moves are a form of aging in place because you don't leave your community and friends.
One surprising finding — to me, at least — is that moving tends to improve your psychological well-being. That seems right for people who planned a move to new housing or a new part of the country. But even those who are shocked into moving — say, by widowhood or divorce — do better than people in similar situations who stay put, the study found. There's something about a change of scene that helps pick up your spirits.
Older people who move do it primarily for family reasons rather than reasons of health or finances, according to U.S. Census data. Downsizing occurs less often than you might think. About the same number of retirees want a larger house as want a smaller one, the Census reports. There's a slight preference for moving from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt, but not much.
For services and opportunities, the Frost Belt actually looks like a better choice. I learned this from the Milken Institute, an economic think tank in Santa Monica, Calif. Every other year, it puts out a study called "Best Cities for Successful Aging." Its researchers rank the 100 largest metro areas and 252 smaller ones based on a wide variety of criteria, such as types of housing available, access to transportation, employment opportunities for older people, opportunities for active lifestyles, and educational and cultural activities. It also considers the abundance of health services, as well as the basics, such as taxes and cost of living. The top big cities in its 2014 report? Madison, Wis., and the Omaha, Neb.-Council Bluffs, Iowa area — not exactly towns for year-round golf. The top smaller metros: Iowa City, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D. You can look up the report and check the relative livability of your own city, at milkeninstitute.org.
If you are weighing a move, make careful comparisons. If you stay put, your current house might need major repairs. You might have to add a first-floor bedroom or widen the halls to allow for a wheelchair. By contrast, if you move there will be fix-up costs on your old house and moving expenses. If the move takes you from a house to an apartment, your rent payments will gradually go up. But remember: Had you kept your old house or bought a new one, taxes, insurance and upkeep costs would have risen, too.
Downsizing or renting should leave you more money in the bank. In any town, make housing decisions that you think you can afford for life.
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