Skip to content

Former Northerners Find a Quieter, Simpler and Cheaper Retirement in the Mountains

‘Halfback’ retirees leave congested hot spots for communities in Appalachia

Reitrees in North Carolina

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Retirees from the North migrate halfway back, from the crowded Sunbelt to the mountain communities of Appalachia.

En español | A long-standing migration from the North to the Sunbelt to the mountain communities of Appalachia has resumed since the Great Recession interrupted this trend a decade ago.

Some mountain areas are filling up with “halfbacks” — Northerners who went to hot spots like Florida before turning partway back to calmer and cheaper retirement communities in western North Carolina, northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee.

The net migration to retirement-destination counties in these Appalachian regions increased by 169 percent from 2010 to 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing Census data tracked by Hamilton Lombard, a University of Virginia demographer.

The trend began toward the end of the 20th century, when Northern retirees followed the customary path to the Sunbelt but were discouraged by crowding, traffic, rising home prices and insurance costs, and by major hurricanes that pounded coastal areas. They found a pleasant alternative in the less costly rural retreats of Appalachia, where the weather is relatively mild most of the year.

The recession interrupted the trend by battering home prices in the Sunbelt, making it hard for retirees to sell their newfound homes. But the improved economy has lifted home values and freed owners to move elsewhere.

“I need to find time to wind down, and Blue Ridge (Georgia) forces you to wind down,” Marty Stefanelli, 57, told the Journal. The former New Yorker and his wife moved there from West Palm Beach, Fla.

“I bought a pickup to fit in,” he said.