There has never been a generation quite as consequential as the baby boomers. They forever transformed music and politics, ushered in the computer era, pioneered fanciful notions like free love, recreational drugs, Amazon and Hot Pockets. So what do they do for an encore? Completely reshape retirement.
Get ready for a graying tsunami: Nearly 50 million of the enormous cluster of 74 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 have yet to hit 65—with around 10,000 a day making that milestone over the next decade.
This massive surge of retirees is already reshaping real estate markets across the county. In fact, nearly 1.2 million people 55 or older relocated out of state last year, the highest number on record. Where are they all going? This generation of Americans, renowned for doing things their way, are eschewing some of the traditional communities favored by their parents in their later years. So Realtor.com set out to find the nation's fastest-growing retirement destinations.
“Baby boomers are so hard to pin down," says Rodney Harrell, director of livability thought leadership at the AARP Public Policy Institute. "There are so many of them, and they're choosing a wider range of options than previous generations. …There's no one size fits all.”
All the places that have made our list are walkable, tourist-friendly destinations—and that's where the similarities end. Many of these retirement havens are in warmer climates in the South and Southwest. A few are in the chilly Northeast and Midwest, and one is about as far north as you can get without going to Alaska. Some have long been popular with seniors, while others were places where new retirees vacationed as children. And those that can't boast ocean, lake, or mountain views often make up for it with their dry heat.
One troubling note: Boomers have less in retirement savings than previous generations, a vexing problem, since they're expected to live longer than their parents, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity. They've only socked away a median $209,000—while one in three have no nest egg at all for their so-called golden years. This explains why some of the more luxurious locations on our list are popular with more affluent boomers, while the appeal of others lies in their affordability.
We came up with our rankings by looking at every metropolitan statistical area* and zeroing in on places where at least a quarter of the population are age 60 or above; we perused our listings for phrases such as "aging in place," "senior-friendly," and "ground-floor master bedrooms." Then we looked at the number of folks ages 55 and up who moved into new metros between 2016 and 2017.**
Since not everyone who lives in a retirement town is there year round, we added in the increase in the percentage of second homes in these metros. And we only included two metros per state, to ensure some geographic diversity.
So where are the places that are booming with boomers?
1. Punta Gorda FL
Median list price: $275,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up***: 47% Population: 182,033
Hurricane Charley and its 145-mile-per-hour winds hit Punta Gorda head on in 2004, devastating the community. The city was rebuilt, but with much stricter building codes, to make sure these new homes could withstand high winds. Those newer abodes have become magnets for retirees who want to make sure their forever homes on the Gulf Coast can withstand future storms.
"They did a great job keeping a small-town feel. We don’t have anything that is too commercial, not even a McDonalds drive-thru," says Patricia McGuire, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Sunstar Realty, describing the area. "Instead, there’s lots of walking tours and bike paths."
Retirees especially like Punta Gorda Isles, a neighborhood of single-family homes offering breathtaking views of the ocean and easy access for boaters. Homes range from $200,000 to over $1M.
But the cherry on the top of Punta Gorda for aging Americans is that there is no state income tax to eat away at their nest eggs. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
2. Cape Coral FL
Median list price: $299,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 35% Population: 739,224
Cape Coral's selling points are its warm weather, its coastal location on the western side of the state, its chill vibe, and much lower prices than Miami ($390,000) or Key West FL ($699,000). And it's become even more appealing in recent years, with home prices falling in Cape Coral, down 3.5% year over year.
The decrease is the result of overbuilding and, like Punta Gorda 30 miles to the north, storm damage. In 2017, Hurricane Irma caused water to flood up from the 400-mile canal system that runs through the backyards of thousands of homes.
But that unique canal system remains this community's centerpiece, treasured for transportation and recreation alike.
The area has seen a surge in retired veterans buying 3 Bed homes with palm trees out front. The reason? In 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened the Lee County VA Healthcare Center, a 220,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art VA hospital in Cape Coral. Others are investing in custom dream homes.
"We're seeing a lot of retirees buy [land] lots for just $5,000 to build homes on," says Mike Lombardo, a local real estate agent at Old Glory Realty.
3. Prescott AZ
Median list price: $399,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 40.1% Population: 228,168
Every evening, locals in Prescott can take in the glorious sunsets behind Thumb Butte, a mountain that towers in the distance. This low-key mountain town is drawing retirees seeking the outdoors, with plenty of hiking and mountain biking opportunities at nearby Prescott National Forest.
And the word is getting out: Where to Retire Magazine ranked Prescott the fourth-best place for retirees to put down roots. But moving here won't be cheap. Last year, Realtor.com named Prescott one of the most expensive retirement towns. . That's because Californians are driving up prices by selling their seven-figure homes and using the proceeds to buy up properties here.
Seniors with cash reserves can find places in upscale 55-plus retirement communities like Touchmark at The Ranch, a 44-acre community known for its lodge-style homes.
4. Santa Fe, NM
Median list price: $580,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 30.4% Population: 148,750
The historic downtown district of Santa FE Plazais packed with unique art galleries, shops, restaurants—and lots of boomers. This neighborhood with its pueblo-style and adobe architecture is the prime stop for retirees who want to soak up Santa Fe's cultural scene.
As real estate prices reach scarily high levels in some West Coast cities, Santa Fe is one of the places reaping the benefits.
"We’ve always been seen as a retirement community, but in the last two years, things have really picked up," says Brett Hultberg, a real estate agent in Santa Fe. "People are getting pushed out of absurdly expensive markets like California, so they come here because it’s more affordable."
Retirees often buy pueblo styled homes, boxy sandy-colored homes with flat roofs that are built to stay cool during those hot summers. They start around $300,000. Or they'll put that 300 grand down for a condo downtown, which is harder to find these days.
"Walkability is a huge deal for retirees, one of the main reasons they migrate to Santa Fe," says Hultberg.
5. Tucson AZ
Median list price: $279,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 25.7% Population: 1,022,769
For those who crave dry heat but can't quite swing the pricier destinations in Arizona and New Mexico, Tucson has become a hot ticket. It's the cheapest big city in Arizona.
Savvy buyers can still find some one-story homes at about half of the metro's median price. Look no further than this 3 bed ranch with a sidewalk leading right up to its front door, priced at just $142,000.
Retirees who see age as just a number have plenty of fun outdoor and cultural options here. Tucson is only an hour's drive to Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski resort in the United States. Or they visit the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Catholic church founded by the Spanish in the 17th century.
6. Morehead City, NC
Median list price: $325,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 32.5% Population: 68,881
This town on the Crystal Coast, a lovely 85-mile long stretch of Atlantic coastline, revolves around fishing, with folks casting reels on many of the city's ocean piers or Sugarloaf Island. Diehards can even charter a boat for some deep-sea excursions.
Unlike other nearby cities on the water, Morehead City doesn't have as many tourists who could disturb the fish. And those who don't engage in the sport can sunbathe on Serenity Bay Beach. Or try some grub at the annual North Carolina Seafood Festival.
Retirees here don't have to break the bank to own something right on the beach. Some two- and 3 bed condos sell for around $200,000, with access to amenities like swimming pools, racquet ball courts, and fitness centers.
7. Asheville, NC
Median list price: $375,000 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 29.1% Population: 456,145
The one-time hippie town of Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains is popular with millennials and boomers alike. Known for its art galleries, music scene, local food restaurants, and craft breweries, it's no surprise that its nickname is the "San Francisco of the East."
Downtown, you'll find the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of North Carolina Asheville, offering classes for retirees looking to learn new skills. Not the classroom type? You can hike through the nearby Pisgah National Forest or visit the 250-room Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt's former home, once the biggest private residence in the United States.
"We have a lot of what we call half-backs," says local broker Molly de Mattos at Keller Williams Realty. "These are people from New York and New Jersey that move down to Florida to retire and hate it. They realize they don’t like the humidity and hurricanes, so they come halfway back up and settle in Asheville."
Many of these older, new residents are purchasing $350,000 to $500,000 suburban homes, Mattos says. The most active retirees are buying in Historic Montford, a neighborhood lined with 100-year-old homes and within walking distance of breweries and art galleries.
8. Barnstable Town, MA
Median list price: $525,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 38.9% Population: 213,444
The white sandy beaches of Cape Cod (part of the Barnstable Town metro) have long been prized vacation refuges for New Yorkers and Bostonians looking for a getaway. But in recent years, there's been an influx of retirees moving in—or, perhaps more accurately, back. Many of these folks spent their working careers vacationing here and now want to live out their golden years here full-time.
“[That familiarity] makes it easier to sell that big house in the suburbs and buy a smaller home in a beach destination like Cape Cod,” says Chuck Tuttle, a broker associate at Kinlin Grover Real Estate.
Barnstable Town tends to attract more affluent retirees who buy summer homes and then head to Florida for the winter. In recent years, when stocks hit record highs, more of these folks cashed in and bought second homes here. Indeed, 40% of all homes here are secondary residences.
9. Traverse City MI
Median list price: $319,100 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 29.7% Population: 148,671
Traverse City brings back a lot of nostalgic memories for Midwestern baby boomers who remember coming here as kids and fishing and swimming in Lake Michigan. Now that they're retiring, many are returning to the city.
“They finally say ... “I’m moving where it's beautiful,’” says Bart Ford, managing broker at Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors. These retirees are often buying up older cottages in the woods or plots of land along the lake to build their dream homes on.
There's no shortage of things to do for those no longer ruled by 9-to-5 schedules. Folks can attend the annual Traverse City Film Festival, co-founded by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, or hit up the National Cherry Festival, which dates back to 1925.
"Some people spend $20,000 to stay here in the summer," Ford says. "Why do that when you could just buy something and snow bird to Palm Springs, Florida, or Arizona?"
10. Ocean city, NJ
Median list price: $424,800 Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 34.8% Population: 93,553
Ocean City, on the Jersey shore, was rocked hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But now that it's been rebuilt and the nearby gambling mecca, Atlantic City (located in the metro), is on the upswing, Northeast retirees are moving here again. It was even named the "happiest seaside town in the U.S.," according to Coastal Living Magazine
"I'm seeing a recent surge in condo high-rise [sales] on the beach," says Todd Gordon, a real estate agent at Hartman Home Team in New Jersey. "People are buying ocean-front, two-bedroom condos that they'll retire in, and maybe snowbird to Florida in the winter." Some condos can be snagged at around $200,000, while some fetch above $1 million.
Last year Realtor.com named Ocean City among the most expensive retirement towns in America. But retirees are willing to pay that high cost to access the area's beaches, nightlife, and evening strolls on the Ocean City Boardwalk. Happy doesn't come cheap.
* A metropolitan statistical area is a designation that includes the urban core of a city and the surrounding smaller towns and cities. We limited our rankings to just one metro per state to ensure some geographic diversity.
** We looked at U.S. Census Bureau migration data to figure out how many people ages 55 and up relocated to new metros. We then divided that number by the population of those metros to find the ones with the highest ratio of new residents ages 55 and up who had moved there in 2016 or 2017.
*** We included the percentage of residents 60 and up, instead of 55 and older, because that is how the U.S. Census Bureau groups the ages of residents in metros.
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