In last week’s Retirement Your Way blog, “where to live” was listed as #3 in Mark Cussen’s list of eight difficult retirement decisions. Let’s think about that one a bit.
For a lot of people, this is not a difficult decision at all – at least it doesn’t appear to be. They like where they live, they might have even chosen it with the intention of living out their lives there, and so when they retire there is nothing to think about. They’re staying put!
Well, best of luck with that.
There are at least two threats to such a plan, for most of us.
The first is financial: we might not be able to afford to live in the same place for the rest of our lives. All kinds of things can happen over the twenty or thirty years or more that many people spend in retirement these days, and not all of them can be anticipated. If you do smart planning well ahead of time, you might be able to foresee a probable financial squeeze down the road, and you can prevent a future financial crisis by moving to a less expensive place sooner. But without some moderately difficult analysis, you probably can’t tell whether you are vulnerable ot not.
The other threat is health-related. Anything ranging from a sudden illness to the mere process of gradual aging can make it difficult or even impossible for us to continue living where we are. Retirement experts speak about “Aging in Place” as a desired goal, but it does not happen automatically. There are lots of things that can be done to make a house aging-friendly, so that physical or mental challenges will not necessarily put us out of our homes as we age. But without attention to these details – and even with such attention, if the house has an aging-adverse design or is too isolated from others – the odds of being able to die someday in the house we live in now are not as great as we might like. And even with the best of preparations, someday we still might need a level of care that would be impractical to receive at home, absent considerable wealth to pay for in-home services.
So we need to give some thought to where we should live when we retire, even if the answer seems obvious.
But apart from the threat of our preferred plans being disrupted by financial or health issues – or from other changing circumstances, like the death of a spouse, or a child and/or grandchildren needing to move in with us – there are lots of reasons why people prefer to move when they retire.
Some want to be nearer to children or grandchildren, or perhaps other relatives or good friends. Some are drawn to a certain climate, or a certain style of living – maybe a college town where there are opportunities for education and culture and spectator sports, maybe a remote area where there are mountains or oceans or deserts or some other favored landscape, or maybe a big city where there is nightlife and ready access to airports and top-notch medical facilities, maybe a state where taxes are lower or the cost of living is less, or maybe just a house and yard that is smaller and requires less care.
Or perhaps they prefer to be on the go. Some people sell their houses or move out of their apartments, buy a recreational vehicle, and move from place to place, following the weather that suits them or the events or people that they want to see, staying at each location until they are ready to move on. Some are snowbirds, heading south for the winter, and back to their original home the rest of the year. Some don’t want to travel that far, but have vacation homes that they have always dreamed of being able to inhabit for months at a time – or even to move into permanently once they retire. Some people buy house-boats or ocean-going craft where they live for as long as they can. Some even relocate permanently to other countries that they feel an affinity for, and perhaps that enable them to live in relative luxury on their American dollars.
All relocation options, though, require a great deal of forethought. They entail not only major financial changes, but changes in personal relationships, in commitments to jobs or volunteer work or churches or other organizations and activities, disconnecting from (or supplementing) doctors and other medical care relationships, and in general abandoning a whole set of details of daily life that are familiar in favor of a whole new set full of unknowns.
There is so much to consider before relocating in retirement that entire books have been written on the subject. An organized approach is highly desirable, because with all the expense and nuisance of relocating, discovering a few months or a few years down the road that a big mistake has been made can be disastrous to one’s solvency and equanimity (and marriage). There is no shortage of real-life horror stories along these lines, and there’s a good chance you know one or two individuals or couples who have lived through it – and maybe never totally recovered.
Any radical change in housing during retirement should, if possible, be done deliberately, and only after some experimentation. The experimenting should start a year or two or more before retirement, if you think you will want to move very soon after retiring. Start spending vacations in the new place or lifestyle you have in mind. Try it at different times of year, not just your favorite times. And talk with the locals who do live in that place or in that fashion all year long, including other retired people who have blazed the trail ahead of you – find out what they love about it, what they don’t, and what they would do differently if they were starting over. Don’t just dream, and don’t just look. Engage.
And plan. But of course, dream first. After all, the idea is to retire your way!
Chuck Yanikoski is a retirement adviser who lives and works in Harvard. For more about him, visit http://www.ChuckYRetirement.com.