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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| February 28, 2019
As retirement approaches and the punch of the polar vortex is conjuring dreams of warmer temperatures and a lost shaker of salt, you have Florida on your mind. After all, it’s the quintessential post-working world existence. But is it right for you?
Before you take the Florida plunge, let us offer some earnest advice: Try before you buy. Spend some serious leisure time in the Sunshine State. Just be sure to skip the hotel and instead rent an Airbnb in a residential area you’re interested in. Introduce yourself to the neighbors, shop and dine locally, and observe the rhythms of life. Stay a few days – or, better, a few weeks – and you might not like what you see as the realities of Florida living sink in.
To that end, we took a serious look at the downsides of retiring in Florida. Here’s some of what we found.
Do you really want to join the graying crowd that made Woodstock a thing? Face it, your riff to retire in Florida isn’t solely yours. Look at the numbers and consider what you’ll be facing in the coming years.
Florida’s estimated population of nearly 21 million includes some 4.2 million residents 65 and older. That’s up from 3.3 million seniors in the 2010 U.S. Census. And the upcoming 2020 census is expected to count 4.5 million Floridians who are 65-plus. By 2030, the number of seniors in the Sunshine State is expected to crack 6 million. That’s a lot of tricked-out golf carts. Other popular retirement states in the Southeast – Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas – all skew much younger than Florida.
It’s common knowledge that Florida has a lot of alligators. There are also invasive Burmese pythons, green iguanas and herpes-carrying wild monkeys. Then there are the rats: Rats on the beach, rats in palm trees and rats on your roof. Molly Elliott, who lives in Fort Myers Beach, said beach rats were a big adjustment for her, as was the expense of keeping them out of her house. She pays $300 a year for rodent control.
Other transplanted northerners agree the pests and exotic creatures are an acquired taste. “Critters!” says Trisha Torrey, a transplant who now lives in central Florida. “It’s not unusual to see snakes and alligators, especially on golf courses. Neighbors have found poisonous snakes on their lanais and patios three times in the two years we’ve lived here.”
Perhaps Florida gets a bad rap, but come on: It sure has more than its fair share of weird stories that waft in and out of the news cycle. In fact, there’s an entire Twitter feed (@_FloridaMan) devoted to documenting the strangeness emanating from the state. Among the recent headlines: “Security Camera Catches Florida Man Licking Doorbell,” “Florida Man Says Jesus Told Him to Drive Ferrari Off Pier,” and “Florida Man Steals Christmas Wreath Off Neighbor’s Door, Hangs It on His Own.” Florida Man has nearly 425,000 Twitter followers.
Craig Pittman, a native Floridian and journalist at the Tampa Bay Times, literally wrote the book on Florida weirdness: “Oh Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.” Here’s a telling snippet from a 2016 New York Times review of Pittman’s book: “The deal with Florida is the charlatans and lunatics and Snapchat-famous plastic surgeons. It is the Ponzi schemes, the byzantine corruption, the evangelical fervor and the consenting-adult depravity. It is the seasonless climate. The lack of historical consciousness. The way in which this nation’s unctuous elements tend to trickle down as if Florida were the grease trap under America’s George Foreman grill.”
A big whoop to many Florida transplants is there’s no state income tax, including no income tax on Social Security benefits, pensions and other retirement income. Score one for the Sunshine State.
But don’t confuse no state income tax with no state taxes at all. The combined state and local sales tax averages 7.05% in Florida, according to the Tax Foundation. That’s higher than the combined rates retirees from states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey are accustomed to paying. Buying a new ride for your retirement? The 6% state sales tax applies to the entire purchase price, plus counties can tack on their own vehicle sales tax. Fees can add up, too. Florida charges a steep $225 fee to register an out-of-state vehicle, for example, and a drivers license costs $48 for eight years (versus $25 for 12 years in Arizona, a competing retirement hotspot).
Let’s put this right up front: Florida earned two spots on the list of the top 10 sweatiest cities in the U.S. Both Tampa and Miami made the cut. If you think it’s just those cities in Florida that are sweaty, you’re kidding yourself.
However, your actual retirement location goes hand in hand with your degree of perspiration. You’re at risk of breaking a sweat year round in South Florida, where even in the dead of winter temperatures can crack 80 degrees. But the farther north you travel, the more temperate the climate becomes. Yes, summers are hot, but expect winter temps to fall below freezing in parts of northern Florida. And in places like Pensacola, Tallahassee and Jacksonville, it even snows.
After years of being cooped up in an office, you’re looking forward to being outdoors for hours on end to soak up Florida’s eternal sunshine. Hold that thought. Remember those sweaty temperatures we warned you about? Many savvy retirees confine outdoor activities, from rounds of golf to leisurely walks, to early mornings when the mercury and humidity levels are still tolerable.
“The summer is so very hot, hot, hot!” says Torrey, the Florida transplant who lived in Central New York for many years. “Now, as I tell my friends, at least we don’t have to shovel 90 degrees.”
On top of the heat and humidity, there are also biting flies, mosquito swarms and columns of fire ants to ward off.
Naturally, you’ll want a swimming pool to beat the Florida heat. Plus, imagine the joy of watching your grandkids splash around under the lanai. And while you’re at it, you’ll want an attached spa to soak those aging muscles.
Just be prepared to pay a pretty penny to keep your pool up and running year round. It costs $177 a week, on average, to maintain a standard 14-by-28-foot pool. You’ll also spend hundreds – even thousands – of dollars on routine repairs to torn liners and leaky plumbing. And if you want your water heated, expect to shell out anywhere from $100 to $600 a month to run a pool heater.
Many boomers who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s grooved at the beach, slathering on baby oil to enhance the tan. SPF? Who knew? And those same boomers, now aging, are eager for the tropical Florida sunshine. But consider the dark side: Too much sun causes premature wrinkling, uneven skin coloring and worse.
"The skin can become tough and leathery," according to the Florida Institute of Neuroscience. "You may also notice more wrinkles. The sun can also cause brown, red, yellow, or gray spots in the skin called sun spots."
Prolonged sun exposure and frequent sunburns can also increase your risk of skin cancer. Sun worshippers are urged to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (when the rays are most damaging) and use broad-spectrum sunscreens. And when you are on the beach or poolside, sit under an umbrella.
The Atlantic hurricane season is a long one. It runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 – fully half the year – peaking in August through October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Florida is in the crosshairs of many of those deadly and destructive Atlantic hurricanes. In October, Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S. in 50 years, killed at least 20 people and devastated towns in Florida's Panhandle. Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida in September 2017, caused $50 billion in losses, with most of the damage caused by wind. State lawmakers recently said they expect Michael’s losses will exceed those of Irma's.
Retirees who move to Florida are often shocked to discover that deductibles for hurricane insurance often range from 2% to 5% of the policy coverage, rather than the fixed dollar amount, say $500, they were accustom to up north. And that’s if you can line up any insurance at all.
“Homeowners insurance in general can be tough to get when you live on a barrier island,” says Elliott, the northern transplant who now lives in Fort Myers Beach on the Gulf Coast. “No one wanted to insure us, so we had to use the default state insurer.”
If you want to spend less on insurance, you’ll have to dish out for a wind mitigation test for the house you plan to buy to see how well it would stand up to severe winds. Why? “The cost to insure a home without wind mitigation features could be four times higher than a home with wind mitigation,” says Chris Heidrick, an independent insurance agent in Sanibel, Fla.
Oh, and if you buy a home in a designated flood zone, your mortgage company will insist you buy flood insurance. Typical homeowners insurance covers wind and rain, but not flooding.
Florida newcomers tend to brace themselves for a lot of visitors from the north. After all, there’s the irresistible lure of sunshine, beaches, theme parks and a free place to stay, am I right? But, some transplants say, that wears off after initial visits to Florida by your siblings or your adult kids.
“Loved ones are often far away (ours are in New York and Pennsylvania),” says Torrey, the central Florida transplant. “Phone calls and video calls help out, but we don’t spend as much time together as we would if we were still up north.”