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5 Reasons to Retire in South Carolina

The fast-growing Palmetto State is emerging as a retirement alternative to Florida

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Joy and Bob Kraft on the front steps of their home in Habersham, near Beaufort, South Carolina. The couple moved to the coastal community from Cincinnati in 2014.
Gavin McIntyre

When Bob Kraft and his wife, Joy, decided to retire in 2014, the longtime Cincinnati residents knew one thing about where they wanted to be.

“Neither my wife nor I are crazy about snow or cold weather,” says Kraft, a former newspaper reporter and editor who later worked in public relations and marketing.

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The couple considered various locales in the Southeast but gravitated to a familiar destination — Beaufort, a small town in South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands, not far from where Kraft’s father bought a vacation home in the 1970s. “My wife and I honeymooned there,” he recalls.

A decade later, Kraft, now 72, says they’re still happy with the choice. The couple lives in Habersham, a waterfront planned community a few minutes from historic Beaufort with houses built in the graceful Lowcountry style. A community dock on the nearby Broad River gives the avid kayakers a place to store their watercraft.

Many older Americans are following a similar path. South Carolina ranked second to Florida as a destination for retirees making interstate moves in 2023, according to an annual review of U.S. Census data by moving-services marketplace Hire A Helper. United Van Lines’ 2023 National Movers Study found that nearly 27 percent of people moving to the Palmetto State did so for retirement, the third-highest proportion in the country.

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Myrtle Beach State Park on South Carolina's Grand Strand is a popular spot for tourists and locals to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean.
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‘Slow and wonderful’

South Carolina has long been a haven for veterans who stay on after serving at one of the state’s eight military bases, says Pam Harrington, who has been a real estate agent in the Charleston area for more than four decades.  In recent years, she’s seen a surge in retirees moving in from elsewhere, helping drive a nearly 11 percent increase in the state’s population from 2010 to 2020.

What’s the attraction? “Life is slow and wonderful,” Harrington says. “You have the beach and boating and sailing and golf and all the things that people like to do when they retire.”

Those factors have helped position the Palmetto State as an alternative to Florida, perennially the prime destination for retirees seeking sunnier climes, says Philip Gibson, a certified financial planner and vice president of Wealth Enhancement Group in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“It’s smaller, you're dealing with less traffic, it’s easier to get around,” he says. “And I'm not a weather expert, but you’ve got to suspect that summers are not as hot as in Florida.”

Here are five reasons retirees might consider settling in the Palmetto State.

1. Climate

As Gibson notes, South Carolina summers are plenty warm but not quite as sticky as Florida’s. The average daily high during Charleston’s hot season (late May to mid-September) is around 83 degrees, four degrees less than Miami’s average during roughly the same period, according to Weather Spark, a website that amasses climate data. But there’s also some seasonal variety, with Charleston averaging about 65 degrees from December to March, compared to 78 degrees in Miami.

“We get frost now and then, which we jokingly call Southern snow,” says Andrew Lazar, 67, who moved with his wife, Lynn, from their native New Jersey to the Jimmy Buffett-themed retirement community Latitude Margaritaville in Hilton Head in 2020. “But a couple of days later it may be 70 and sunny, and a great day to hang out at the bar or go for a walk.”

Harrington says the mild but varying climate is a big draw. “In the last two weeks, I’ve worked with five or six people who live in Florida, and they want to come to South Carolina when they retire, because they want changes in the seasons,” she says. “We don’t have snow but do have a little bit of cold. In our winter, the leaves change, and the animals and birds change.”

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2. Outdoor recreation

The temperate climate and long coastline, with a lot of inlets, tributaries and islands, gives retirees ample opportunity to enjoy sailing, kayaking, fishing or just hanging out on the beach. And that need not mean fighting summer throngs for a patch of sand in Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach. Kraft, who has crisscrossed the state in his years there, says there are plenty of small, uncrowded beaches favored by locals. He’s partial to one nestled behind Fort Fremont Historical Preserve on St. Helena Island.

And then there’s the golf, for which South Carolina is world-famous. Hilton Head Island alone is home to more than two dozen championship courses, including designs by Jack Nicklaus and famed golf architects Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Pete Dye. With more than 90 courses, most of them public, Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand “has been referred to as the Golf Capital of the World,” says Brandon Hill, a senior adviser at Beckett Financial Group in West Columbia.

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Falls Park on the Reedy River is the scenic centerpiece of downtown Greenville, a town in the Blue Ridge foothills of western South Carolina.
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3. Diverse landscapes

South Carolina has a couple of medium-size cities in Charleston and Columbia, the state capital, but it’s also got a lot of charming small towns and a variety of landscapes.

“South Carolina offers retirees options of having a home in mountainside towns, near lakes and rivers, or situated on oceanfront stretches,” says Stephanie Gordon, a real estate agent in Mount Pleasant. Age 55-plus communities are sprouting up, particularly around Charleston and in the growing nearby town of Summerville, she says.

A popular choice for retirees less enamored of the coast is Greenville, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwest corner of the state.

“A lot of large corporations have gone to Greenville, but there are a lot of retirees, too,” says Harrington. “You’re close to the mountains and a little bit cooler weather. It’s easy to get to other places from Greenville, and people tend to gravitate to the new golf developments up that area.” A booming restaurant scene built on local and regional specialties earned Greenville Southern Living’s designation as the South’s top destination for food lovers.

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Joy and Robert Kraft walk through a park area in Habersham, past houses built in the Lowcountry style with large, stacked porches.
Gavin McIntyre

4. Lowcountry living (at a relatively low cost)

While home prices in both states have increased sharply over the last several years, the median home value in South Carolina — about $283,000 at the end of 2023, according to Zillow — is still a lot less than in Florida ($389,000). 

South Carolina has some of the lowest property tax rates in the U.S., with an effective rate of 0.52 percent, about half the national average, Hill says. It’s also one of a dozen states with a property tax exemption for homeowners ages 65 and over; they can deduct $50,000 from their home’s taxable value.

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Cost gap aside, “it’s just a different product,” Harrington says, drawing retirees whose vision of home life runs more to a plantation-style house with stacked front porches than to a high-rise condo (“which they can also get here,” she’s quick to add).

In addition to the property tax break, South Carolina residents ages 65 and older can deduct up to $10,000 in retirement income, such as 401(k) distributions or pensions, from their state income tax (Social Security benefits are not taxed at all), and those 60 and up can take tuition-free classes at state colleges and universities.

5. History and culture

South Carolina is, of course, where the Civil War started, with the rebel attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, but there are plenty of other things that make it singularly suited for retiree history buffs.

One of the last of the original 13 colonies to be settled (English settlers arrived in 1670 at what is now Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site), the state saw more than 200 Revolutionary War battles and skirmishes, including the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, where American forces won their first major victory over loyalist troops in the South. An interpretive trail at Kings Mountain National Military Park tells the story.

An estimated 40 percent of all enslaved Africans entered the country at Charleston Harbor. Their experience and legacy is illuminated at the International African American Museum, which opened in June 2023 at Gadsden’s Wharf, the disembarkation point for hundreds of thousands of captives.  One of its dozen permanent exhibitions is devoted to the Gullah Geechee peoples of the Sea Islands, whose unique language and culture can be more deeply explored along a heritage corridor stretching from the edge of North Carolina down the length of the South Carolina coast and south into Georgia and Florida.

The Krafts annually trek to Charleston for the Spoleto Festival USA, founded by famed composer Gian Carlo Menotti in 1977 as an American counterpart to the music festival he launched in Spoleto, Italy, 19 years earlier. “It has opera, theater, chamber and orchestral music, all held at venues all over Charleston,” Kraft says.

After a decade in Beaufort, Kraft has also become steeped in local lore, from how The Big Chill was filmed there to the story of Robert Smalls, an enslaved mariner who stole a Confederate cargo ship to sail his family to freedom and later returned to the town to take over his former master’s house and serve in Congress. “There’s a lot of history here,” he says.

One reason to think twice

Like Florida, South Carolina is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. Six eastern counties span more than 200 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, and their low elevation and high population density increase the potential for devastating storm damage.

With the high risk of major storms, “the average cost of home insurance in South Carolina runs approximately 10 to 20 percent higher than the U.S. average premium,” says Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications for the Insurance Information Institute. “Rates have increased 50 percent or more on average in coastal counties of South Carolina over the past year as homes in these areas are at the highest risk of property damage.”

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