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WHEN A HOME NEAR THE FIFTH HOLE ISN'T ENOUGHFor many, culture, educational offerings, and jobs are as crucial as climate
'My wife says I flunked retirement,'' says E. Lee Bryan, founder of a medical-technology company. That's why the Bryans wound up at Treyburn, a country club community in Durham, N.C., some 20 minutes from thriving Research Triangle Park. The area boasts golf courses, a moderate climate, and excellent hospitals. It also has three major universities and more than 100 high-tech companies. Since moving from Delaplane, Va., in 1992, Bryan, 61, has formed an information-technology company and taken German and computer-science courses at Duke University. He has also settled into a community full of people like himself. ''There are more Type A guys here than in any place I've ever lived,'' Bryan says.
As people challenge the conventional notion of retirement, they're rethinking the types of places where they want to spend their later years. For an increasing number of Americans, that means choosing an area where they can have access to culture, education, entertainment, history, and a shot at a rewarding full- or part-time job. If you're one of those active retirees--or if you're nearing retirement age but still want to stay in the thick of things--the ideal place for you may not be that condo on the fifth hole. Instead, it may be a house near a university or an apartment in a bustling metropolis.
To be sure, most people approaching retirement don't want to leave home. Of folks over age 50 polled in 1996 by the American Association of Retired Persons, 83% indicated that they would rather stay put--near family, friends, and familiar neighborhoods. Yet more than 500,000 retirees a year do move out of state. While many migrate to the classic sunspots of Florida, California, and Arizona, ''I don't think we can take that for granted anymore,'' says Cindy W. LaRue, director of the Arizona Commerce Dept.'s Office of Senior Living. These days, more people are looking at northern New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, and other places whose names aren't synonymous with retirement.
Many of these new hot spots are aggressively recruiting retirees. Instead of South Florida, you may find yourself won over by the marketing efforts of Alabama, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Montana, Pennsylvania, or Utah. Consider Mississippi's drive for seniors. It has certified 20 cities as retirement-friendly for their work and educational opportunities, tax breaks, and housing availability, among other criteria. For example, Hattiesburg, with a population of 48,000, bills itself as ''Hub City'' because it's two hours by car from New Orleans, Mobile, Jackson, and the Gulf Coast. It also has an active theater scene, the Hattiesburg Civic Light Orchestra, two colleges, and a couple of medical centers. Vicksburg, meanwhile, plays up its Civil War roots, while Oxford, home of Nobel prize-winning author William Faulkner and the University of Mississippi, emphasizes its literary connections.
ON A BUDGET. Are you thinking of moving to a new retirement hot spot with everything from high-tech jobs to a university library close at hand? To help you in your search, we polled experts around the country and came up with a roster of cities, college towns, and job meccas that provide a welcoming environment for retirees who want to live the active life (tables).
For many, low taxes and a reasonable cost of living are the first thing to consider when selecting a new home site. Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming have no state income tax. Tennessee and New Hampshire only tax earnings, Social Security benefits, or public and private pensions. But remember that a no-income-tax state must make up its revenue shortfall somewhere, so it may levy higher property or sales taxes. ''Choosing retirement in Alabama over Arizona simply to save a few dollars a year would be foolish unless Alabama has everything you want in the way of retirement and Arizona lacks something,'' says John Howells, author of Where To Retire: America's Best and Most Affordable Places (Globe Pequot Press, $16.95).
Instead of low tax rates, employment opportunities may rank high on your list of requirements. Two-thirds of the baby boomers surveyed by Del Webb Corp., developer of the Sun City retirement communities, indicated they plan to continue working after leaving their primary careers. Owing to the hot U.S. economy, much of the country, from San Diego to Fort Myers-Cape Coral, Fla., is booming with job opportunities for older adults. As a state capital, college town, and headquarters for high-tech companies such as Dell Computer Corp., Austin, Tex., is a prime target for retirees looking for job leads.
The vacation spots you've hit over the years may also have employment prospects. R.Alan Fox, editor and publisher of Where to Retire magazine (713 974-6903), says ''all great retirement towns started as great vacation towns.'' For instance, it's not much of a gamble to land a job in Las Vegas these days, given its bustling tourism and casino industries. Vegas also boasts affordable housing and, most of the year, a decent desert climate. Brooklyn native Bob Samuels, 69, a retired commercial and residential real estate salesman, moved there with his wife, Beverly, three ago after visiting for years. Samuels now sells real estate four days a week and earned around $25,000 last year. ''I always wanted to be an active senior,'' he says. ''When I first retired at age 55, I didn't work for four months, and I thought I was going crazy.''
Many older people would go crazy without intellectual and cultural stimulation. Retired schoolteachers Arthur and Doris Lundahl moved from Southern California to the picturesque town of Ashland in southern Oregon because ''it has all the cultural advantages of a large city.'' The tiny town of 18,560 is famous for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, held eight months of the year. Nearby, in the 1850s gold-rush town of Jacksonville, the outdoor Britt Festivals present dozens of classical, jazz, and country artists each summer. ''I would compare it to the Hollywood Bowl without the hassles,'' says Doris, 70. The Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains are also close by, so sports-minded retirees can ski, hunt, and fish. And Ashland is home to Southern Oregon State College, where Arthur has done some part-time teaching.
Indeed, few retirement areas provide as much cultural enrichment as a college town. ''Retirement communities that can be part of campus life allow people to continue to grow,'' says Leon A. Pastalan, author of University-Linked Retirement Communities (Haworth Press, $49.95). And from Charlottesville, Va., to Hanover, N.H., you can always count on having plenty to do in a college town. If it's not university-sponsored concerts and lectures, your choice may be volunteer programs and sporting events. Says retirement expert Mark Fagan, a professor of social work at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala.: ''Retirees and college students are always looking for the same thing: a good time.''
You may even want to go back to class (page 106). Many state-run institutions will waive tuition for seniors who want to monitor classes or earn degrees. College towns also tend to offer abundant health-care facilities, especially at universities with teaching hospitals. And housing is usually affordable. ''The best rental market in the U.S. is in a college town,'' says David Savageau, author of Retirement Places Rated ($19.95, Macmillan). In Jacksonville, Ala., a retiree can rent a two-bedroom apartment for about $400 a month or a three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot house for around $600 a month, says Fagan.
CITY SLICKERS. Some universities are recognizing that they're a magnet for retirees. The board of trustees of Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa., has approved the development of a 160-acre planned community on university and privately owned land for people over 55. A portion of the land will be used for a continuous-care facility. Although Penn State will not own or operate the community, residents will have access to campus programs and facilities. In Bloomington, Ind., meanwhile, the 30-acre Meadowood Retirement Community is across the street from the University of Indiana campus. Originally developed by IU for retired faculty and students, Meadowood is now open to anyone 55 or older who is willing to pay the $1,100 to $2,600 monthly rental. There's a six-month waiting list.
While a college town should offer a friendly environment for retirees, if you're a lifelong city slicker, nothing can match the kind of cosmopolitan lifestyle found in urban America. Sure, retirees may want to escape the crime, congestion, and high living costs of many cities. But to take advantage of urban life, you don't have to live downtown.
For example, the scenic town of Bellingham, Wash., is about 80 miles from Seattle and 50 miles from Vancouver, B.C. Sequim, Wash., another Pacific Northwest retirement haven, is some 70 miles from Seattle. Del Webb is developing its first northern-climate Sun City in Huntley, Ill., about an hour's drive from downtown Chicago. The company says 13,000 people have expressed interest in it; there's room for just 5,000 homes. Other areas that many retirees have retreated to include New Jersey's Monmouth and Ocean Counties, which are within easy reach of New York and Philadelphia by car or mass transit.
Still, many retirees choose to remain inside city limits, living in what Michael Hunt, director of the Institute on Aging & Adult Life at the University of Wisconsin, terms ''NORCs,'' or naturally occurring retirement communities. A NORC is likely to be an urban apartment complex that wasn't necessarily designed for seniors but seems to attract them through word of mouth. Such buildings can be hard to spot, since they don't typically advertise. Hunt says the best way to find them may be by contacting local nursing associations and cab companies. NORCs' chief benefit: Seniors, especially those who are widowed, can enjoy each other's company, walk to shops, and remain city dwellers. NORCs can be found in the Cleveland Park section of Washington, Capitol Hill in Denver, and Squirrel Hill and Shadyside in Pittsburgh.
New York City has NORCs, too--though the Empire State did lose more people over age 60 to migration than any other state in the 1990 census. From job opportunities and public transportation to restaurants and cultural attractions--many of them free--''the advantages to retiring in New York City are virtually endless,'' says Ken Stern, author of Lee & Saralee Rosenberg's 50 Fabulous Places to Retire in America (Career Press, $18.99).
What happens if the retirement spot you pick doesn't work out for you? That's what happened to Larry and Gail Buckley, who retired from jobs at Bell Atlantic Corp. They left their Annapolis (Md.) home in 1991 for a new house in Manatee County on Florida's west coast. ''The heat was the thing I couldn't deal with,'' says Gail. So last October, the Buckleys moved to Ford's Colony, a retirement community in Williamsburg, Va., which they'd visited several times on vacation.
REVERSE MIGRATION. In moving to Virginia, the Buckleys joined a new demographic group: the ''halfbacks''--those who retire to Florida, grow disenchanted, and move roughly halfway back up the East Coast to the Carolinas or Virginia. Florida attracted nearly 452,000 out-of-staters above age 60 from 1985 to 1990, according to census data culled by social gerontologist Charles F. Longino, author of Retirement Migration In America (Vacation Publications, $39.95). But during the same period, 129,000 migrants over age 60 fled the Sunshine State, many to points north.
How do you bolster your odds that the retirement spot you pick will
suit you? Obviously, you must draw your own set of priorities, whether it's sticking close to your grandkids, mixing job opportunities with culture, or escaping into the wilderness. Then, consider renting a place before you make a downpayment on a retirement home. That will make it easier to leave if the place doesn't measure up. And do check out a prospective retirement area numerous times during the year. An inviting climate in winter may be unbearable during July and August, and a spot that seems secluded part of the year may be teeming with tourists during other seasons. Only after you've satisfied yourself should you set up shop in a new community. But on the other hand, as an active retiree, your menu of residential choices is ever-expanding. It's comforting to know there are so many good places where you never run out of ways to stay young.
By Edward C. Baig, with Tammy Reiss, in New York
Updated July 9, 1998 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1998, Bloomberg L.P.