March 16, 2005
12 Great Places to Retire
by Pat Mertz Esswein
Mary Beth Franklin
Whether you prefer a permanent outdoor vacation, the
culture of a college town or the excitement of city living,
we have a dozen tantalizing suggestions.
For most of our lives, where we live is firmly tied to
where we work. But once there's no job to commute to, we
have the liberating -- and exhilarating -- opportunity to
pull up stakes. Your options are limited only by your
imagination and your financial wherewithal.
Studies by the Del Webb Co., designer of the original Sun
City retirement communities, suggest that baby boomers are
more likely than their predecessors to move in retirement.
Once boomers start to retire, they will do so at a rate of
more than 10,000 a day for the better part of two decades,
says E. Thomas Wetzel, president of
Retirement Living Information Center, a Web site that
helps consumers find their ideal retirement spot.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan for this
76-million-strong generation, however. Retirees who relocate
generally prefer a safe, uncrowded destination with good
medical facilities and a low cost of living. But there is
also a nascent trend among retirees to flee the suburbs for
downtown to take advantage of all the excitement and
conveniences that revitalized cities have to offer.
So if you're thinking about relocating, we've scouted the
U.S. for great places to retire. Even if you're years from
packing it in, this guided tour of 12 terrific destinations
will give you a taste of the wide range of choices for your
next phase of life. You'll find some surprises here,
including a few places with wintry weather that usually (and
unfairly) knocks them off most retirement lists.
The active life
St. George, Utah
With its high-desert climate, mild winters and an average of
300 sunny days a year, St. George, located in the
southwestern corner of Utah, is a popular retirement
destination, with an emphasis on year-round outdoor
activities, including golf, hiking and biking. Set in a
valley surrounded by red-rock cliffs, St. George shows off
some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Housing
prices climbed nearly 14% last year, but a typical
single-family house with three bedrooms and two baths still
sells for about $200,000.
- Population: 62,000
- Income tax: Maximum 7%; $4,800
retirement-income exclusion for taxpayers under 65; $7,500
for those over 65.
- Property tax: $622 per $100,000
- Sales tax: 6.25%
With Bellingham Bay to its west and snow-capped Mount Baker
to the east, Bellingham is a city designed for nature
lovers. Hiking and biking trails snake throughout the city,
and ski slopes are only an hour away. Housing prices in this
city, known for historic Victorian neighborhoods and a
thriving arts community, run the gamut, with a typical
three-bedroom, two-bath house selling for about $250,000.
- Population: 71,000
- Income tax: None
- Property tax: $1,200 per $100,000 of assessed
- Sales tax: 8.2%
About 35 miles north of Hilton Head Island, Beaufort is
emerging as a new destination for retirees. Its
palm-tree-lined historic downtown, filled with funky
restaurants, upscale shops and turn-of-the-century houses,
offers the charm of Savannah but on a smaller scale.
Overlooking Beaufort Bay, this town is a paradise for
boaters, kayakers and fishermen, and its mild climate is
ideal for year-round golf. A typical three-bedroom, two-bath
house sells for about $200,000. Entertainment is plentiful,
and includes performances by the Lowcountry Shakespeare Co.
and the Beaufort Orchestra.
- Population: 13,000
- Income tax: Top rate of 7%; no tax on social
security benefits or on the first $3,000 of retirement
income for those under age 65, or on the first $10,000 for
those over 65.
- Property tax: $794 per $100,000 of assessed
value ($50,000 is exempt for homeowners 65 and older)
- Sales tax: 5% (prescription drugs are exempt)
To some people, the words Florida and retirement are
synonymous. Sarasota, on the state's gulf coast, enjoys a
year-round mild climate and an active arts community as
well. It has its own symphony, ballet, opera company,
museums and several professional theaters. The city and
surrounding county are home to more than 60 golf courses and
150 parks and recreation sites. It has a minor-league
baseball team and is the spring-training headquarters for
the Cincinnati Reds. A three-bedroom, two-bath house sells
for a median price of $282,000.
- Population: 53,000
- Income Tax: None. "Intangibles" tax of $1 per
$1,000 of investments not inside of retirement plans.
- Property tax: $1,767 per $100,000 of assessed
value (homestead exemption on first $25,000, and
assessment hikes are limited to 3% a year for permanent
- Sales tax: 7% (food and prescription drugs are
Great college towns
Home to the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, Oxford
is a cosmopolitan Mayberry. An hour south of Memphis and set
amid gently rolling countryside, Oxford enjoys four seasons
and, unlike towns farther south along the coast, summer
evenings that cool off. Ole Miss offers continuing-education
classes in a quintessential campus setting. Students age 65
and older can take four credits per semester free. Despite
rising land and housing prices attributable to Oxford's
growth, retirees from higher-priced cities will find
Oxford's cost of living surprisingly reasonable. The average
price for a three-bedroom, two-bath house is $135,000.
- Population: 11,756 (not counting 16,500 Ole
- Income tax: Maximum 5%; all income from private
and public pensions, IRAs and social security is exempt.
- Property tax: $802 per $100,000 of assessed
value (first $75,000 of assessed value is exempt if you're
- Sales tax: 7% (prescription drugs are exempt)
Capital of the Lone Star State and home to one of the
largest universities in the U.S., Austin provides vast
cultural opportunities and a vibrant music scene. Retirees
enthusiastically take part in classes at the University of
Texas's "Third Age University" and attend the outreach
programs and lectures sponsored by the LBJ presidential
library and museum. Straddling the Colorado River, Austin
experiences a moderate climate October through May. The
summers are darn hot. There are more than 30 golf courses
and 32 miles of hiking and biking trails. The median home
price is about $150,000.
- Population: 680,899 (not counting 52,261 UT
- Income tax: None
- Property tax: $2,680 per $100,000 of assessed
- Sales tax: 8.25%
Ithaca attracts people who view its cold winters and
isolation -- five hours from New York City -- as virtues,
not obstacles. Located at the foot of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca's
intense natural beauty is matched by its cultural life.
People are also attracted by Ithaca College and Cornell
University. Among Cornell's diverse offerings are its Adult
University, a summer session open to alumni and their
friends and families. Although New York State is known for
high taxes, Ithaca's low cost of living helps even things
out. The median price of a house in Ithaca and surrounding
Tompkins County is $142,930.
- Population: 29,541 (not counting 40,446 Cornell
and Ithaca College students)
- Income tax: Top rate of 6.86%; social security,
military, civil-service, New York State and
local-government pensions are tax-free, and up to $20,000
of private and out-of-state public pensions are tax-free.
- Property tax: $2,026 per $100,000 of assessed
- Sales tax: 8.25% (food and prescription drugs
San Luis Obispo, Cal.
Combine hilly country with a mellow, coastal lifestyle, add
California Polytechnic State University and a bustling town
center, and what do you get? A recipe for a great college
town. San Luis Obispo's moderate climate means increasingly
notable wines and a lot of outdoor recreation. The median
price of a house is high, about $500,000, but still
attractive to retirees from Southern California and other
major metro areas.
- Population: 44,359 (not counting Cal Poly's
- Income tax: Top rate of 9.3%; social security
benefits are tax-free.
- Property tax: $1,002 per $100,000 of assessed
- Sales tax: 7.25% (food and prescription drugs
Retiring to the city
Baltimore's revitalization efforts have transformed the once
delapidated Inner Harbor into a vibrant waterfront promenade
with shops, restaurants, the National Aquarium and Camden
Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. With its wide
selection of real estate, Baltimore is drawing many empty
nesters from surrounding counties. New condominiums near the
water, averaging 1,600 square feet, range from $400,000 to
$865,000 (condo fees run $400 to $450 a month). Prices for a
restored three-bedroom, two-bath row house, the
architectural signature of the city, in historic Federal
Hill start at $400,000 and can soar to $825,000 or more.
Property taxes are steep -- $7,380 per year on a $300,000
home -- but the city offers several incentives to mitigate
the bite. Excellent health-care facilities are available,
including the respected Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health
System. Baltimore/Washington International airport, serviced
by 27 airlines, is about ten miles from downtown.
- Population: 643,304
- Income tax: Top state rate of 4.75%, plus
Baltimore City rate of 3.05%.
- Property tax: $2,460 per $100,000 of assessed
- Sales tax: 5% (groceries and prescription drugs
Stretching along the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan's
shore, downtown Chicago provides its 83,000 residents with
the cultural amenities of a world-class city. You can admire
the Art Institute's collection of Old Master drawings, cheer
the Cubs at Wrigley Field and shop the luxury retailers on
Michigan Avenue. Winters are formidable, but residents are
prepared to handle the blustery cold. In the artsy River
North neighborhood, just north of the Loop, two-bedroom
lofts start at $350,000. Near Michigan Avenue, luxury
condominiums with a doorman, an indoor garage and fabulous
lake views start at $750,000.
- Population: 2.9 million
- Income tax: Flat rate of 3%
- Property tax: $2,084 per $100,000 of assessed
value (includes a $2,500 senior-citizen exemption).
- Sales tax: 8.75% (groceries and prescription
drugs are taxed at 2%).
With the breathtaking backdrop of the Rockies, it's easy to
understand why 8,000 people live downtown in the Mile High
City. A lot of sunshine (about 245 days per year) and great
amenities, including five grocery stores within a two-mile
radius of the urban core, make Denver's downtown a
compelling residential choice. LoDo, the 25-block historic
center, provides a good selection of housing choices -- from
old warehouses converted into lofts to new, low-rise
buildings. Prices for two-bedroom condominiums range from
$300,000 to more than $1 million. Five-bedroom Victorian
single-family homes, located about a mile from downtown,
range from $565,000 to $1.5 million.
- Population: 567,450 (includes Denver City and
- Income tax: Flat rate of 4.63%
- Property tax: $511 per $100,000 of assessed
- Sales tax: 7.2% (groceries and prescription
drugs are exempt)
Downtown Portland, home to 15,000 residents, is tucked
snugly into a bend of the Willamette River. Wet winters and
cloud cover are drawbacks for some, but the high humidity
turns the city into a lush urban forest of evergreens. In
the summer, when the sun finally breaks through the clouds,
Mount Hood towers over the skyline. The Pearl District, a
former warehouse area, has been redeveloped into an
attractive mixed-use neighborhood of renovated lofts, new
buildings, artist studios, restaurants and stores.
One-bedroom condominiums start from $200,000, and penthouses
sell for about $1 million.
- Population: 538,180
- Income tax: Top rate of 9%
- Property tax: From $1,998 to $2,226 per
$100,000 of assessed value
- Sales tax: None
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