Deciding to Move

We’re all aware how strong the Sonoma County housing market is right now. This is happening nationally as well and for a variety of reasons, but the dollar amounts are larger in our area. Zillow lists the typical single family home price at just over $800,000, up about 10% from last year. This is way higher than the national average of about $272,000 and higher (although to a lesser extent) than most popular retirement destinations. This begs a simple question: should you capitalize on home equity and retire in your dream location?

How crazy would you be to consider such a thing? After all, maybe you’re sitting in your dream location right now. Poking around online I found that roughly half of retirees don’t move. They stay in the same home they lived in during their 50’s. Others move later in life for medical reasons, and some are forced to move due to finances. Of the rest, many move somewhere else by choice. Let’s call it one out of every five moving for obvious reasons: lower housing prices and cost of living, maybe a better climate, perhaps to be closer to kids and grandkids. But that was before the pandemic hit. Numerous anecdotes and a variety of surveys from moving-related firms like U-Haul, Hire-A-Helper, and Zillow report a surge in retirees looking to relocate. Considering a move under the current circumstances isn’t crazy at all. In fact, you’re likely in good company.

But where can you move to? What are some options? You may already have locations in mind or maybe you’re looking for a change and don’t know where to begin.

Last week I wrote about questions to ask yourself to see if you’re emotionally ready to retire. One of those questions dealt with where to live. Obviously, it’s a huge and deeply personal question. There are tons of online tools available and lists of best places. These are helpful but with so many it can be tough figuring out where to start. Here are some notes and links from what I found when picking through a few this week.

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The first thing I’ll say is that these sites use different methodologies that sometimes lead to curious and confusing results. For example, I wouldn’t think Seattle is an optimal retirement destination because of its high cost of living, but some lists say it’s #1 because of culture and beauty. So a lot of the output is highly subjective. Some of the data is also a bit stale because not all of it is updated annually. Still, I think there’s value in reviewing a few of these sites if you’re looking for location ideas or want to see how your favorite would-be hometown shapes up.

Here are some of the sites and tools I found value in. None will answer all your questions, but they’re good jumping off points.

Bankrate lists Nebraska as the top state for living in retirement. The state scored well in affordability, low crime rates, culture, weather, and overall wellness. The rest of the top five are Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, and Florida. Affordability is great but weather drags down all except Florida, which is #2 in the weather category (Hawaii is 1st in weather and 10th overall). All-in, California is #43 out of 50. Ouch. The Golden State was dragged down by you guessed it, affordability.

Zillow lets you search locations by the importance of pleasant weather, low crime, and a few other criteria, and then by real estate prices. It’s interesting to see what combinations point to which cities or states. For example, if you list all criteria as “very important” and are willing to spend up to $500,000 on a home, your best options appear to be in Florida. You can play around with different criteria to see what else pops up.

Zillow also has a robust research section where you can read up on the housing market and get a broader perspective on prices for different cities and regions. You can see data for Sonoma County and compare up to four other areas. You can then drill down into actual home listings in your target city. Pretty slick if you ask me.

MarketWatch has an interactive tool that asks questions and then gives you several potential location matches. To start, you can choose to “live anywhere” or a region. Then you pick five must-haves and five nice-to-haves from a list covering a variety of demographic criteria and things like average seasonal temps, sports teams, and above-average numbers of breweries. You’ll get ten location suggestions and some basic information for each. You’ll also see how each city’s cost of living stacks up against the national average.

Again, these tools are best thought of as a place to begin your search. Once you narrow down a few cities I suggest looking them up online, reading articles, watching videos, and basically soaking up as much information as you can. Is the location still on your list after all that? If so, it’s time to plan a road trip or buy some plane tickets for some boots-on-the-ground investigating. At the end of it all you might choose to pull up stakes and move, or maybe you’ll just feel that much better about staying put. Either way, lots of information is available to see if relocating for retirement is right for you.

Have questions? Ask me. I can help.

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