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As Retirement Looms, So Does Questions of Moving

Each of the places in our cover story has attributes that are high on retirees’ wish lists.

I’m at least five years from retirement (assuming all goes according to plan). But my wife, Allyson, and I have already thought a lot about where we want to live when we retire—or at least when I retire. It’s doubtful we will stop working at the same time, because Allyson is a decade younger than me. But we figure that in five years, she could do her job from anywhere in the U.S. that’s close to an airport, and I could pursue my dream of teaching and writing anywhere that has a community college nearby.

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I’m originally from Wisconsin, and Allyson is from Michigan, so the idea of retiring to northwestern Michigan appealed to us. A couple of years ago we decided to check out Petoskey—a picturesque town of 5,720 people built on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan. We stayed in a rambling bed and breakfast with views of the lake—and the regional health care complex—and explored the town and surrounding area. We rode bikes, stopped at a microbrewery along the bike trail and visited a couple of the town’s independent bookstores, which featured shelves full of Hemingway novels and biographies (his family summered in the area when he was a kid). When we imagined what our lives would look like there, we got good vibes.

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Then we ran into someone my wife had grown up with who now lives in Petoskey. She invited us to her house—a Victorian gem at the top of the hill. She pointed out that the big home with a carriage house across the street was selling for less than $300,000. But she cautioned us that the town had a far different vibe when the summer crowds left and the snow came. When we got home to Washington, D.C., we talked about what it would be like to move to a place where we didn’t have family or a network of friends. We wondered if our love of cross-country skiing would be enough to get us through cold, gray winters that stretch into April—and we put the brakes on.

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Food for thought. At Kiplinger’s, we’re aware that only a small minority of retirees actually move to another city. Estimates vary, but according to the latest Census data, it’s less than 5%. However, research shows that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to move (or buy a second home). Sandy Block, who edited the cover story, says she’s heard from a lot of near-retirees who live on the East Coast who say that with the jump in home prices, they may sell and move to a less expensive city. “You can buy a lot of house in Johnson City, Tenn.,” she adds. In our own reader poll, more than half of you said you plan to move (or already have) and that the main draws are lower taxes and affordable living costs.

Each of the places we spotlight in the cover story (including Johnson City) has attributes that are high on retirees’ wish lists: high-quality health care, low (or at least moderate) taxes, affordable homes and a thriving arts scene, as well as outdoor recreational areas. All are small or medium-size cities because most retirees don’t want to deal with big-city traffic, congestion and living costs. And our choices are sprinkled across the U.S. because Sunbelt living isn’t for everyone.

The cities on our list are meant as suggestions to serve as food for thought as you contemplate what your life will look like in the decade or two after you retire. We include the cost of renting as well as buying a home, because it’s a good idea to spend a couple of months in a place before you make a permanent move.

As for Allyson and me, our current plan is to build an addition to our home, settle in for at least another 10 years, and spend as much time with family and friends as we can.

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