Forbes compared more than 750 locales in America, measuring everything from housing costs and taxes to healthcare and air quality. These are the top 25 cities for retirees.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Timur and Pamela Lacey had flown from their Los Angeles-area home to Austin and Atlanta and were planning trips to Dallas, Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and the Florida Gulf Coast—all in search of a more affordable locale to enjoy an early retirement. “I’m still looking,’’ says Timur, a 57-year-old IT technician. Except instead of heading to the airport, he now pores over real estate listing websites and calls far-flung realtors to chat about their markets.
While he’s still looking, home sales have started to come back, thanks in part to record low mortgage rates and a stock market rebound. Daryl Fairweather, chief economist of Seattle-based Redfin, the big, cut-rate nationwide property brokerage, reports nearly half of its buyers are now making offers on a property without physically visiting it. She attributes that to a combination of coronavirus fear and enhanced online information, including interactive three-dimensional video scans produced for all homes listed by Redfin agents. In some states it’s even possible now to do a no-contact video closing.
What about retirees looking to buy? They “aren’t slowing down,” reports David Masterson, a real estate agent in Green Valley, Ariz., an area 25 miles from Tucson that is one of Forbes’ 25 picks for this year’s Best Places To Retire list.
Such upbeat talk may sound jarring given the millions of laid-off Americans now worrying about paying their rent or mortgage or even putting food on the table. But the reality is the Covid recession hasn’t been felt equally across generations; in a survey released last week, 32% of Millennials (aged 24 to 39), but just 16% of Baby Boomers (56 to 74), said that the current crisis has had an “extreme” or “very negative” impact on their personal finances. In that poll, 22% of still working boomers said they planned to retire later, and 14% sooner, because of the pandemic. But with the spread of work-from-home, even those who are delaying may be able to move now, points out George Rativ, a senior economist at the National Association of Realtors.
The pandemic could influence retirement location decisions in other ways, too, which fortuitously, largely align with how we’ve traditionally approached our list. For example, some Boomers who haven’t financially suffered may need their savings to stretch further as they help out Millennial kids who have taken a hit—three fourths of retired parents and grandparents said they were ready to provide support to family even if it jeopardized their own finances.
Our list has always aimed first and foremost to identify retirement value—places that offer a high quality of life at an affordable price. While the current national median home price is $284,600 according to the Realtors, 13 of this year’s picks, including Savannah, Ga., Lewiston, Maine and Winston-Salem, N.C., have a median sales price below $200,000. Another timely metric we’ve long considered is the availability of medical care, using doctors per capita as a proxy. Plus, we look at whether a city encourages a healthy and active lifestyle with good air quality, convenience for walking and biking and low serious crime.
Then there’s the big issue of proximity to those kids and grandkids. In pre-Covid surveys, the number one reason retirees have given for moving to another state is a desire to be closer to family—a factor that likely looms even larger now. So while our focus on affordability (including low taxes) keeps us from recommending any place in high-cost, high-tax California or New York, we try to spread our picks across the U.S. (a factor that is particularly relevant as Covid-19 hot spots pop up in different locales). This year the best 25 are in 18 states and all the continental time zones. In a nod to retirees’ demonstrated preference for warmer locales, more than half our picks are in temperate climates. But cold weather alone isn’t disqualifying. Indeed. Fargo, N.D., is the only place that has made our Best Places list for all 10 years we’ve compiled it. (You can read more about what makes Fargo special here. )
We did make a few adjustments this year to reflect current concerns. In a nod to the continuing impact of Covid, this year’s list is lighter than its predecessors on smallish college towns. We worry that the educational and cultural opportunities that had made them so appealing, will be slow to return. And for the first time, we considered climate change risk, using data from the University of Notre Dame Urban Adaptation Assessment which assesses the impact of future flood, heat, cold, sea level rise and drought.
Our choices for the 25 best are listed alphabetically below. You can read more about our methodology below the list.
Asheville, North Carolina
Scenic Blue Ridge Mountains town of 92,000 in North Carolina 200 miles northeast of Atlanta. PROS: Abundant doctors, good air quality, excellent climate. CONS: Serious crime rate above national average. Median home price $308,000, 8% above national median. Click here to see full profile.
Verdant Savannah River city of 202,000, 145 miles east of Atlanta. PROS: Median home price just $110,000, 61% below national median. Big tax exemptions for retirement income. CONS: Not very walkable or bikeable. Click here to see full profile.