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March 16, 2005


12 Great Places to Retire

by Pat Mertz Esswein
Mary Beth Franklin
Magali Rheault
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%
  • www.stgeorgechamber.com

Bellingham, Wash.
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 value
  • Sales tax: 8.2%
  • www.bellingham.com

Beaufort, S.C.
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)
  • www.beaufort.com

Sarasota, Fla.
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 residents).
  • Sales tax: 7% (food and prescription drugs are exempt)
  • www.sarasotachamber.org


Great college towns

Oxford, Miss.
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 Miss students)
  • 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 over 65).
  • Sales tax: 7% (prescription drugs are exempt)
  • www.retire.oxfordms.com

Austin, Tex.
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 students)
  • Income tax: None
  • Property tax: $2,680 per $100,000 of assessed value
  • Sales tax: 8.25%
  • www.austinchamber.org

Ithaca, N.Y.
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 value
  • Sales tax: 8.25% (food and prescription drugs are exempt)
  • www.visitithaca.com

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 18,300 students)
  • Income tax: Top rate of 9.3%; social security benefits are tax-free.
  • Property tax: $1,002 per $100,000 of assessed value
  • Sales tax: 7.25% (food and prescription drugs are exempt)
  • www.slochamber.org; www.visitslo.com


Retiring to the city

Baltimore, Md.
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 value
  • Sales tax: 5% (groceries and prescription drugs are exempt)
  • www.livebaltimore.com

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%).
  • www.chicago.il.org

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 County)
  • Income tax: Flat rate of 4.63%
  • Property tax: $511 per $100,000 of assessed value
  • Sales tax: 7.2% (groceries and prescription drugs are exempt)
  • www.downtowndenver.com

Portland, Ore.
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
  • www.travelportland.com


This page printed from: http://www.kiplinger.com/features/archives/2005/03/12places.html

All contents 2007 The Kiplinger Washington Editors



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