Three Must Ask Questions Before Moving In Retirement

We often make choices in a vacuum. What are seemingly distinct decisions often have a ripple effect of changes that go well beyond the sphere of what we thought was a single choice at a single moment. These types of choices are ripple decisions. The college we choose, for example, may set us on a trajectory of a particular career. Our choice of a first job can affect future work for years to come. Or, whom we choose to live with can influence nearly all things thereafter.

Just when you think you have made all the big choices there are to make over five to six decades of living you may be surprised to find that there are far more ripple decisions in retirement than anticipated. In fact, retirement might have more of these sorts of unanticipated decisions than any other phase of life.

As one financial advisor defined retirement for me it is a time to have what you want, where you want, when you want. Downsizing or simply seeking to live a new lifestyle in retirement is often seen as a personal reward. Yet, deciding to move to a new home is a retirement ripple decision.

 

The where to live in retirement is an important question not just in the short term, but may be critical to your future wellbeing. Many of us have a vision in our head of what moving in retirement is about. Most often it is captured by the popular stereotype of the snowbird fleeing her Northeastern icebox suburb for a sunny condo on the coast of Florida or to the desert southwest in search of that perfect fairway. For others it may be a simple cottage on the lake near a favorite fishing spot.

There is at least some truth to the imagery. But the narrative of retiree flight to sun, sea and sand is incomplete and limiting – both for those of us figuring out the best way to live in retirement, and for businesses trying to anticipate the emerging lifestyles of the fast-growing longevity economy.

 

To begin with, it’s important to realize that the ideal retirement location will change as we get older. Shortly after we retire, we might be drawn by years of fond memories to a beloved family vacation spot. Some may choose to resettle to locations that have favorite amenities, to friends, to sun, and to fun. Unfortunately, as noted in my previous article, retirement is not a vacation. With advancing years it often becomes more important to take into account factors such as health, mobility, and social support in choosing where to live.

For most people retirement is likely to span nearly 8,000 days – a full quarter of life – or put another way, one-third of your entire adult life. In that time, it is reasonable to expect that we might relocate not only once, but multiple times in retirement. If anything, we must develop a mindset of anticipating a changing set of desires, needs and resources that shift with age.

Here are three must-ask questions before making your move in retirement.

 

Will I have access to what I want and need throughout my retirement?  

This is a question of basic accessibility and mobility – can you get to wherever you want to go? Will I need to drive forever or are there a variety of transportation options available to me? You may love that rural ski house, but public transportation and ride services may be in short supply. Is it easy and comfortable to enjoy everyday pleasures, such as going out to eat – not as a special occasion, but as a way to quench a spur of the moment desire? Am I surrounded by the amenities I want and need on a regular basis? And will I continue to have easy access to the things I like and need even if my health and my mobility decline?

Does my new hometown include an ample number of friends and family?

I interviewed a woman that was in her 80s. When asked about how often she visited friends, she remarked that she does that less than she used to. I asked if this was due to her capacity to get out. At first she was offended at the suggestion that she might be unable to do what she wants given her pride in being a very active independent woman. After pausing for a moment she declared (her words) there is just a natural attrition to friends at my age.

Home costs, taxes and amenities are certainly major considerations in choosing a new retirement hometown; but it might be wise to conduct an inventory of friends in your future community. Will I be near people who care about me, whose company I enjoy, and who can give support when I need it? Moreover, to prepare for that natural attrition of friends in older age it is a good idea to determine if there are ample opportunities for chance collisions and novel social experiences that make life richer and provide a constant flow of new people into your life.

When I need healthcare, will it be within reach?

None of us like to think about being ill or having to manage a serious condition. Ironically, most of us can see ourselves dead; therefore we buy life insurance, yet few of us can see ourselves with a debilitating health problem and therefore think any doctor or any hospital will do.

Retiring to a favorite vacation spot or to a location to give you that well-earned quiet may also place you far from a physician. For those that love the countryside they may find that the local veterinarian is the closest healthcare provider. For others the local hospital may be great for ski injuries or sunburns but not so great at managing two or three chronic conditions in 70-plus year old aged patients. Or, suddenly a one-hour drive to the specialist can be the difference between getting checked out or deciding that the trip just falls into the too hard category.

 

When choosing your new home will your doctor be within reach or will you need to choose a new provider? Is there a robust network of health providers nearby? For some people, it may be even more important to ask if there are health specialists available for the chronic conditions you or your loved one may be managing?

These questions might not be the stuff of retirement dreams or retirement planning brochures. However, carefully choosing where to live in life after work is a ripple event decision that will be critical to determining and supporting your overall quality of life in retirement.