Journalist and author Martin J. Smith spent decades living and working in cities or nearby suburbs. But when it came time a few years ago for him to retire from full-time employment as a magazine editor in Southern California, he and his wife, Judy, a retired municipal manager, opted for something different.
The couple relocated to Granby, Colorado, a town of about 2,200 in the Rocky Mountains northwest of Denver. Granby is known as a destination for skiing, hiking and fishing, but Smith says it’s also a place where a retiree can shed the stress of congested urban life and reconnect with nature. Where the day’s biggest complication might be a pregnant moose cow deciding to bed down in your pasture.
For Smith, 66, Granby’s neighborliness and slower pace have equally strong appeal.
“It’s easy to feel in a big city that you really don’t matter, and you’re just struggling along,” he explains. “But in a small town, you do matter. Your actions affect people directly all the time, and their actions affect you.” He’s made numerous friends through volunteer work with the local historical association and Habitat for Humanity and says he’s enjoying the transition so much that he’s considering writing a book about his experience.
Smith’s story is not unique. Across the country, many older Americans are seeking a change of scene as they leave working life, or most of it, behind.
In a 2022 survey of U.S. adults with at least $10,000 in investable assets, commissioned by insurance and financial services firm Nationwide, 40 percent of those who hadn’t yet retired said they planned to move to a different city or region when they do.
And one in five United Van Lines customers name retirement as their reason for moving, according to the company’s 2022 National Movers Study. In nine states — Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Maine, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming — at least a third of new arrivals last year were retirees.
“A majority of my clients who are retired or considering retirement are looking to relocate,” says Christie M. Russell, a Dallas-based financial adviser with Northwestern Mutual.
Top states for retiree moves
These 10 states had the highest net migration of people 60 and older — the number moving into the state minus the number moving out — in 2021, according to the latest “Where Retirees Are Moving” report from consumer finance website SmartAsset.
1. Florida (net 60-plus migration: 78,174)
2. Arizona (25,090)
3. South Carolina (19,004)
4. North Carolina (18,996)
5. Tennessee (14,767)
6. Idaho (8,566)
7. Nevada (6,814)
8. Arkansas (5,774)
9. Maine (5,718)
10. Texas (5,542)
Russell and other advisers say a variety of factors influence retirees’ decisions to relocate, from seeking the sun to being closer to loved ones. Personal finances play a role, too: In the Nationwide survey, 43 percent of those who plan to move in retirement cite reducing their cost of living as one of their top three reasons, and 34 percent included going to a lower-tax state.
Often, “it comes down to money, family and weather, either one or a combination,” says Barbara O’Neill, a retired Rutgers University professor and author of Flipping a Switch: Your Guide to Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life.
Here are five of the most common reasons retirees decide to make a major move.
1. Lower housing costs
According to a February 2023 study by Vanguard, 60 percent of retirees who move sell a home in a high-priced market and move to a cheaper locale. In the process, they typically pocket around $100,000 in home equity, which they can use to augment Social Security and retirement savings or pensions.