Early Bird Specials! America’s 10 Most—and Least—Expensive Retirement Towns



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After decades of hard work, real estate agent Sharon Clift, 62, decided to retire along with her husband, a former machinist at Caterpillar. So in April, the couple uprooted their lives and moved from Peoria, IL, to Sebring, FL, where they had purchased a 2,500-square-foot ranch on an acre of land for $340,000. The home came with maple cabinets, charming crown molding, and two garages—one of them just perfect for a fully appointed man cave.

“If we bought that same home in Orlando, it would have cost an extra $100,000,” Clift says. The couple chose Sebring because it had an active retirement community, a low cost of living, and reasonable real estate prices. “And we’re paying in a year [in property taxes] what we’d pay in a month back in Peoria.”

These are some of the reasons realtor.com® ranked Sebring as the top affordable retirement town in America. And, as it turns out, the Clifts have plenty of company in their quest for the best. As tens of millions of baby boomers retire over the next two decades, with nest eggs of various sizes, many are obsessing over where to live out their golden years. So the data team at realtor.com crunched the numbers to find today’s most—and least—expensive retirement towns.

Welcome to the new face of American retirement! Boomers are by far the largest generation ever to retire: 74 million strong. Every day between 2010 to 2029, 10,000 additional Americans will hit age 65, according to the Pew Research Center. If even just a fraction of this ginormous generation moves into a new retirement destination or a different type of home, it’ll have a huge impact on the nation’s housing market.

So where are they going? Like previous generations, many are flocking to warmer climes. But unlike their parents, this me-me-me generation is quite active and plans to stay that way for as long as possible. They crave walkable communities with lots of social and recreational opportunities close to restaurants, shopping, and medical care providers. They dig modern amenities like smart home tech, and they’re on the prowl for places with the flexibility to accommodate them as they age.

“It’s going to be a tsunami when [all] the baby boomers retire,” says demographer Ken Gronbach of KGC Direct in Bonita Springs, FL. “The Southern states are going to get hit so hard. Florida’s population is going to explode.

“They’re going to change retirement housing in ways we don’t even know yet,” says Gronbach.

We looked at the 500 largest metropolitan statistical areas,* focusing on those where at least a quarter of the population is aged 60 and up and where the most folks in this age group moved to between 2011 and 2015. We included only markets that had a high share of realtor.com listings with mentions of “retirement,” “aging in place,” “ground-floor master bedrooms,” and similar phrases.


Finally, we ranked each of these metros by the total cost to pay down a 15-year mortgage on a median-priced home within them. We assumed buyers would have a 20% down payment and a 5% mortgage interest rate.

So where are boomers with flush retirement accounts looking to live the good life?


Most Expensive Retirement Towns

Claire Widman


1. San Luis Obispo, CA

Median home list price: $729,600 Share of residents aged 60 and up: 26.2%

San Luis Obispo

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About midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the great Pacific Coast Highway, lovely San Luis Obispo stands out. The eye-catching, colorful abodes here dot the foothills and coastline, and have made this one of the nation’s hottest spots for aging, affluent boomers who want to live near the ocean—and can afford to do so.

“Historically, they’ve relocated from Southern California and San Diego, but in more recent years we’ve seen a lot from the [San Francisco] Bay Area,” says Cheryl Burcheri, a broker and owner of Cheryl Burcheri Real Estate in the San Luis Obispo market.

Burcheri is seeing more of homeowners in their 50s sell in pricier places like San Jose, CA, and use the proceeds to retire early and purchase single-family homes in the $700,000 to $1.1 million range with views of the hills in San Luis Obispo.

“They’ll have the extra money to make this place their own,” Burcheri says. “They can add those amenities they want to turn it into their forever home.”

Those who played the market right can splurge on this $5.8 million five-bedroom home on almost 5 acres that boasts spectacular views of the local vineyards.

Generally, they’re forgoing sleepy retirement communities in favor of homes scattered throughout town.

“People here want the outdoor living, beaches, clean air, and hiking,” Burcheri says.

2. Santa Rosa, CA

Median home list price: $695,100 Share of residents aged 60 and up: 26.2%

Picturesque downtown Santa Rose

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Roughly an hour north of San Francisco, Santa Rosa is becoming a haven for those looking to trade the bustle of the Bay Area for the earthier delights of local art galleries and vineyards.

“There’s entertainment, wine, and fabulous food,” says Daphne Peterson, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Santa Rosa. And “it never gets too warm or too cold.”

Around 15% to 20% of her clients are looking for move-in ready, single-level homes with three bedrooms and a nicely landscaped yard. They go for between $500,000 to $1.3 million. Younger retirees pine for locations near Santa Rosa’s walkable downtown or Montgomery Village, an outdoor shopping mall with lots of restaurants and events.

But retirees face fierce competition in their search for homes these days, exacerbated by shortages caused by the devastating wildfires that hit the area last year and burned down entire blocks.

3. Santa Fe, NM

Median home list price: $568,900 Share of residents aged 60 and up: 30.4%

Santa Fe

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The dry heat brings retirees from across the country to the Southwest. But Santa Fe’s artsy vibe attracts a different sort of boomer. They come from all over the world—and they come with cash. That’s why Santa Fe’s median home prices are so much higher than other parts of New Mexico, including Albuquerque ($250,000) .

“I tend to describe our market as active semiretired. These are folks who are retiring a little early and may be looking at reinventing themselves,” says Nancy Lewis, a real estate broker at Santa Fe Properties in Santa Fe. She gets clients from as far as Croatia and Ireland, who move here to pursue their interests by buying art galleries or becoming active volunteers.

Among the most popular communities for retirees is Las Campanas, a gated master-planned community with two golf courses, a spa, and an equestrian center. Homes here start at $800,000, but can go well above $4 million.

“They want to age in place,” Lewis says of the newcomers. Translation: These buyers prefer single-story residences without many steps.

4. Barnstable Town, MA

Median home list price: $542,100 Share of residents aged 60 and up: 38.9%

A home in Barnstable

realtor.com


For decades Barnstable Town and the rest of Cape Cod have been top spots for vacationers looking to stash their briefcases and enjoy cool, ocean breezes.


“A lot of the folks retiring here built business or worked in Boston and New York. They would come to Cape Cod in the summer, loved it, so they come back and retire here,” says Chuck Tuttle, a broker associate at Kinlin Grover Real Estate. And state-of-the-art retirement centers have only increased the region’s appeal to seniors.

Barnstable Town is dotted with sprawling mansions that overlook the ocean. The prices can easily exceed $2 million, but deals can still be found. For example, some one-story ranch homes are in the $250,000 to $450,000 range.

“It’s a little bit more expensive than other spots around Massachusetts or Connecticut,” Tuttle says. “But it’s a completely different lifestyle. Like, right now I’m sitting on the beach about to go for a swim.”

5. Naples, FL

Median home list price: $458,600 Share of residents aged 60 and up: 38.3%