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6 Great Reasons to Retire in Michigan

Affordable housing, mild summers and friendly small towns draw retirees to the Great Lakes State


spinner image steve and jackie huffstutler standon the beach of lake michigan with their dog dressed in coats during the fall
Steve and Jackie Huffstutler on the beach near their home in Frankfort, Michigan
Nick Hagen

Florida is famously a destination for northern snowbirds, but when Steve Huffstutler retired in 2020, he went the other way.

“I loved Florida, it was great, but it’s so hot in the summertime,” says Huffstutler, 70, a former resident of Naples, on the Gulf Coast. He’d also grown weary of the threat of hurricanes, growing environmental problems and real estate developers filling the local landscape with high-rise apartment towers.

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He and his wife, Jackie, knew just the place for them: Frankfort, Michigan, a beach community of about 1,300 on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. He had been stationed in Frankfort while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard decades before and the couple owned a cottage there.

“Frankfort is a real nice little town,” Huffstutler says. “And we live a block from Lake Michigan, which really moderates the weather so that it doesn’t get too hot in the summer.”

With Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and its miles of sandy beaches, lush forests and spectacular vantage points close by, and more urban Traverse City just an hour’s drive away, he says, “I think we really have the best of both worlds.”

spinner image view of frankfort michigan with colorful fall foliage behind the town as seen from across betsie lake
Frankfort, Michigan
Nick Hagen

Sun Belt? Pass.

Huffstutler is one of many retirees passing on traditional Sun Belt havens and instead relocating to a northern state that’s quietly become an attractive option for older Americans. Michigan is the third most popular destination for retirees making interstate moves, according to a December 2022 report by moving services clearinghouse HireAHelper, topped only by Florida and North Carolina.

Some are seeking cooler summer temperatures and the change of seasons; others are attracted by Michigan’s many small towns, with their slower pace, year-round access to outdoor activity, and fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers. Relatively low housing prices and reasonable living expenses are other draws.

“There is lots to do and love about Michigan,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and owner of Azoury Financial in Troy, near Detroit. “The four seasons bring a new feel to each of them. With the Great Lakes surrounding the state, there are beautiful beaches to visit during the summer months. If ice fishing is your hobby, the lakes will be your friend during the winter months.”

“When most people think of Michigan, they think of Detroit and the car industry,” says Rick Rasmussen, 81, who lives in a retirement community in the lakeshore city of St. Joseph and has written books about southwest Michigan history. “That’s all over on the east side of the state.” Western Michigan, he says, is “the classic kind of small-town America.”

Michigan also has good health care, another key concern for retirees. U.S. News & World Report ranks the state 11th in health care quality and sixth in Medicare quality (meaning a large number of Michigan’s Medicare Advantage enrollees are on plans with four-star federal ratings).

“Our health care improved exponentially when we moved back here to rural Michigan,” Huffstutler says.

Here are six reasons for retirees to consider settling in the Great Lakes State.

1. Affordable housing

The median home listing price in Michigan — $267,000 in March 2023 — is among the lowest in the nation, according to Realtor.com.

Homes may list in the upper six figures in the tonier Detroit suburbs, but sale prices average under $300,000 in lakeside Berrien County in southwest Michigan, says Jackie Forrester, a local real estate agent. That corner of the state is so affordable that many people from nearby Illinois buy weekend homes there and renovate them to retire in, she says.

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2. Reasonable cost of living

Michigan had the 15th lowest cost of living in the nation in the second quarter of 2023, according to data compiled by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. That’s considerably better than popular retirement destinations such as North Carolina (24th), Florida (31th) and Arizona (37th).

“The overall cost of living in Michigan is moderate, which includes expenses such as groceries, transportation and health care,” says Cameron Burskey, managing director of retirement security at Cornerstone Financial Services in Southfield, Michigan. “This can be attractive to retirees on a fixed income.”

While Michigan isn’t among the no-income-tax states beloved of many retirees, it did recently lower its tax rate to a flat 4.05 percent. As in most states, Social Security benefits and military retirement pay are tax-exempt, and Michigan retirees can deduct a portion of private retirement and pension benefits, though you may need a tax professional to sort out the complex regulations.

spinner image lake michigan sunset as seen from the empire bluff
Sunset over Lake Michigan
Alamy Stock Photo

3. Pleasant summers

Unlike Sun Belt destinations, Michigan has spring, summer, fall and winter. Climate change has had an impact, causing warmer winters and springs and more frequent instances of extreme precipitation, but summers haven’t warmed substantially, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Average temperatures in July range from the mid-70s in the northern reaches of the state to the mid-80s around Detroit.

“It’s tough to beat Michigan summers,” says native son Doug Oosterhart, a certified financial planner and founder of LifePoint Planning, a firm with offices in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and Chicago.

4. Plenty of outdoors

Bordered by four of the Great Lakes, Michigan has the nation’s longest freshwater coastline (3,288 miles) and a plethora of smaller inland lakes as well, making it a mecca for boating and fishing.

It also has 13,400 miles of state-designated trails for hiking, cycling, horseback riding and other activities and more than 1,000 campgrounds. In the wintertime, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing are pastimes outdoorsy retirees can enjoy.

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5. Great small towns

Ann Arbor, a midsize college town packed with cultural and educational opportunities, often makes “best places to retire” lists, but the small towns scattered across southwest and northwest Michigan draw retirees who want to enjoy a slower-paced, lower-cost lifestyle and lots of neighborliness.

Illinois native Cindy Miller and her husband, Paul, bought a second home in the Lake Michigan shore town of Glenn in 1995 and moved there permanently when he retired a few years ago. They enjoy walks on the beach and watching the area’s abundant wildlife, including turkeys, possum and deer.

Miller, 69, lived much of her life in the Chicago area but came to love small-town lakeside life when her family bought a summer home in Glenn in the mid-1960s. “There is no traffic, no traffic lights, no congestion, and looking at the lake is just wonderful,” she says. “You can’t beat it.” 

spinner image shoppers under a metal shed structure at the ann arbor farmers market
Ann Arbor Farmers Market
Alamy Stock Photo

6. Lots of fresh fruit

Michigan is a big agricultural state, particularly noted for its bumper crop of tree fruit such as peaches, apples and cherries. The state produces 70 percent of the nation’s supply of tart cherries, known for their high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants and other nutrients, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.

“In the little town where I live, there are two farmers’ markets,” Huffstutler says. “There’s a lot of farm stands, and a lot of access to fresh food.”

One reason to think twice

Moving to Michigan does have one major drawback: the winters. If you don’t like snow, this might not be your best choice for a retirement destination.

In the late fall and winter, cold air flowing over the warm waters of the Great Lakes causes a meteorological phenomenon called the lake effect, which leads to a lot of snowfall downwind of the lakes, particularly along the southern and eastern shores (inland areas get less inundated).

“The cold winters in Michigan can lead to higher utility bills for heating,” Burskey says. “You should consider the cost of winterization, snow removal and potential health-related expenses associated with cold weather.”

Still, for Huffstutler, Michigan’s pluses more than compensate for having to own a snowblower.

“People on the West Coast and East Coast might tend to think of us as flyover country,” he says. “The truth is that it’s a really attractive place to live.”

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