National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association

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So Many Great Retirement Towns, So Hard to Choose
By John Brady
September 2010

In mid-June, NARFE sent a request to members via the Association’s GEMS e-mail messaging system, asking them to provide a 140-character answer (the limit to messages in Twitter, the popular social networking service) to this question: “Why should other federal retirees consider retiring in your town?” Nearly 600 responses came back within a few days. Thank you!

Hundreds of towns were recommended in every state and at least four foreign countries, along with more than 25 active adult and 55+ communities. This much was clear: The responding NARFE members are overwhelmingly happy with their retirement towns and communities! Unfortunately, there were far too many towns named to include them all in this article. In the end, we decided to profile towns from the group of 30 that received multiple mentions. But the other responses were too good not to share. So, we have put them on the NARFE Web site, www.narfe.org, where they are searchable by state, then locality (see sidebar below on how to access this information).

Here is what your fellow NARFE members told us about their best places to retire.

The Exotic

There are some NARFE members who have gone in for unusual choices of retirement locations. Several have taken up the mobile lifestyle – living out of an RV for all or most of the year, traveling from place to place as the mood strikes them. Here’s what two retirees said about their “turtle” (home on your back) lifestyle:

George Gravlee is a believer: “South Carolina is our home, but Texas is our mailing address. We travel in an RV most of the year.” Vernon Funkhouser describes why he chose an RV retirement: “When I get tired of the scenery, I just move on.”

Foreign Countries.
A few respondents chose retirement in a foreign country. William Middlemas was one of them. Speaking of his new home in Vicenza, Italy, he reported: “Nice small city in the heart of the Veneto. Plenty to do if you like culture. No state income taxes; free health care.” Larry Pellegrini retired to Lake Chapala, Mexico, a popular area for American expatriates near Guadalajara. He chose it for its “low cost of living, excellent weather and being close to the United States.” William Wacyck retired to Ecuador because… “it’s very cheap to live here. The weather is great.”

Hawaii. The 50th state is a popular retirement destination, despite its distance from the mainland and high cost of living. At least four members told us why they think federal employees would like to retire to places like Honolulu, Aiea and Waialua. R. Caplett had one good reason for choosing a Hawaiian retirement: “The weather is usually nice, and sometimes it’s as you’d imagine heaven to be.” Kathleen Ebey noted that, in addition to perfect weather, “Federal pay isn’t taxed. Military facilities abound. Beaches galore – swim, fish, surf, picnic, camp.” Gloria Samala likes its “…fruits from trees.”

The Top Spots

The Runaway FavoriteThe Villages, FL. Many of your fellow retired federal employees recommended the active adult communities they live in. The Villages (south of Ocala, FL) was mentioned the most. It also got the most enthusiastic comments – NARFE members who live in The Villages love it there! Their comments pretty much say it all:

“It is the world’s largest retirement community, the world’s largest golf community and the world’s largest golf cart community. Wonderful!”

“Beautifully maintained with friendly population. Over 25 free 9-hole golf courses and 53 pools. Solid real estate investment.”

“This place is Disney World for adults!  So much to do, it is unbelievable! Nice NARFE chapter here.”

“The Villages offers more for your money.” 

“You must see it to believe it.”

“This is the most fun we ever had.”

Although it doesn’t have quite the brand recognition as the Sun City franchise, The Villages is probably the single most popular retirement community in the world. You can eavesdrop on daily life in The Villages by visiting www.TheTalkoftheVillages.
com, a popular forum for residents.  

Some of the other active adult and 55+ communities recommended by members included most of the Sun City locations, Air Force Village, Terra Vista, Bella Vista, Solvita, Robson Ranch, Fairfield Glade, Green Valley and Carolina Shores. Note: If you are interested in exploring what it would be like to live in one of these active adult communities, many of them offer “Discover” or “Stay and Play” programs where you can stay for a few days at discounted rates. Call or check their Web sites to find out more.

Climate Driven – Las Cruces, NM. This small city of 92,000 in extreme southern New Mexico regularly makes most of the “100 Best Retirement Towns” lists, and for good reason. Las Cruces has a rich Anasazi heritage going back 8,000 years. Rick Colwell chose Las Cruces, and he likes that the “climate is dry and rarely gets below freezing. Cost of living is very, very affordable.” John Hills also appreciates the “warm/dry climate, perfect weather, and nearby New Mexico State University.” According to City-Data.com, the median price of a home in Las Cruces has remained at about $160,000 for several quarters running.

The German-American Town of New Braunfels, TX. This town of 54,000 near San Antonio has a rich German heritage, festivals and good medical access. Ronald Walton decided to retire here because “South Central Texas has the best lifestyle for the money for senior citizens.” John Creswell retired to New Braunfels for similar reasons: “We love the people, weather, excellent health care, beautiful hill country and safe living environment.” Loretta Carter loves New Braunfels because there is “lots to do and many good restaurants. People are friendly, and there are garden homes and duplexes for downsizing.” In early 2010, the median price of a home in New Braunfels was about $180,000, near the Texas median price, according to zillow.com.

Perennial #1 Retirement Town – Asheville, NC. In surveys of baby boomers, the #1 choice of retirement towns frequently is Asheville, located in North Carolina’s western mountains.

It offers mild summers, beautiful mountains and a vibrant town with a university (UNC-Asheville). Although Asheville doesn’t appear to be the runaway favorite among NARFE members, it did get at least five recommendations. Federal retirees like its “great climate and recreation in the mountains” as well as no taxes on federal retirement. The town’s active arts community (symphony, opera, crafts), diversity, thriving downtown and good health care system were all praised. On the down side, some people thought housing was a bit costly.

All-Around City on the Gulf – Sarasota, FL. Several NARFE retirees believe that Sarasota, FL, is the best place to retire. They like that it has a long list of attractions and “so many things to do.” Beaches, golf, fishing, theater, ballet, opera, restaurants, parks, museums and a successful NARFE chapter are some of those attractions. Robert Sousa likes many of those things, but he was clear about what he likes best: “Did I mention good fishing?”

Honorable Mentions

Vancouver, WA. “Beautiful – no income tax. Moderate climate, close to Portland.” “Green most of the year.”

Chatham, MA. Ronald Kangas likes this beautiful town on Cape Cod’s elbow because of its “low property taxes and active senior community with travel, theater and dining.” 

Prescott, AZ.  Here’s why Neil Sampson is crazy about retiring in Prescott: “After a long federal career, it’s nice to go to a place that values public service, has great weather, nice people and lots to do.”

Georgetown, TX. This town north of Austin is home to Sun City Texas. As David Morton says, “Plenty to do for everyone – if it’s not here in Sun City Texas, they will start it for you.”

Notable Quotes and Wise Words

The collective wisdom and humor that came back in the responses was so good, we just had to share a few intriguing quotes:

John Chester likes Washington, DC, because he … “can walk to the Hill, carrying tar, feathers and a rail, if a reduction in retirement benefits is ever seriously considered.”
Felicia Cochran of Sun City, AZ, has a retort for anyone who points out the hot summers Arizona is famous for: “Yes, hot summers, but we don’t have to shovel sunshine!”

Consider these wise words from Merl Miller on what you should consider when choosing a place to retire: “Family and friends are … essential to enjoying years of retirement. Consider what is important now and what will be important 20 or more years down the line.”

How to Find Your Best Place to Retire

Planning, evaluating your options and ranking your priorities will greatly increase your likelihood of success in retirement. Topretirements.com offers a free eBook, The Baby Boomers Guide to Selecting a Retirement Community, to help with that process (www.Topretirements.com/Ebookdownloadguest.html).

Once you’ve done your initial fact-finding, finding places to retire that match your needs can be fun. “Best places to retire” lists are readily available on the Internet – just type that phrase into your favorite search engine and start exploring. Or, better yet, go to www.narfe.org and check out what your fellow NARFE members have to say about where they live!

John Brady started www.Topretirements.com in 2007 as the place for baby boomers to find their best places to retire. The site offers objective reviews of more than 500 towns and almost 1,000 active adult communities, in addition to news stories, feature articles and forums on all aspects of retirement. Topretirements offers a free newsletter that profiles retirement communities and offers helpful advice. The site’s Retirement Ranger is a free, 10-question quiz that provides a personalized retirement scouting report.

NARFE Members’ Picks

Nearly 600 NARFE members recommended their communities as good places for federal employees to choose for retirement. To see what your NARFE colleagues said, go to www.narfe.org, click on NARFE magazine, and then  “Where to Retire, NARFE Members Tell Us  Their  Top Spots.” Click on a state on the map, and then select a city/town to see NARFE members’ comments.

What NARFE Members Want in a Place to Retire

Respondents to our member survey gave at least 49 different reasons for choosing a community. Here are the top reasons cited by NARFE retirees:

• Pension not taxed. This was by far the most common theme. NARFE retirees are tickled pink about not being taxed on their federal annuities and/or Social Security.

• Plentiful activities. Your fellow members enjoy a multitude of different activities – golf, fishing, hiking and skiing are just some of those mentioned.

• Access to good medical care. Respondents have clearly considered the quality and availability of medical care in their retirement deliberations.

• Climate. Most people like the climate where they retired, no matter where that is. (As an example, one person from Anchorage thought it was mild enough there!) A number of people said they enjoy the four seasons, or the fact that they can do what they want throughout four seasons.

• Friendly people. They like their neighbors and find it easy to make friends.

• Good value for the money. Not just having a lower cost of living, but getting good value for it was important.

• Beaches/close to beach. Sometimes, being close to a beach is measured in hours rather than minutes, but that is still viewed as a benefit.

• Food/restaurants. Having access to good restaurants is a plus for many.

• University or adult education. Many, many NARFE members cited living in a college town or being able to take classes as a real advantage.

Other reasons cited included: “I went to college here,” “grandkids,” “good programs for seniors,” “transportation,” “mountains,” “good library” and “like my 55+ community.” Not to be overlooked is the attraction of friends, family and familiar places. As Larry Hull, one of several NARFE members who advocate staying where you live now, says, “I strongly suggest retirees consider the benefits of retiring in their own community if they have family, friends and strong ties.”

National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association
NARFE (National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association)
606 N. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314, Phone: (703) 838-7760, Fax: (703) 838-7785.

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