Itching to retire? Friends, you’ve got plenty of company. After a seemingly endless year of COVID-19-fueled fears, layoffs, and lockdowns, older America’s usual “transition to retirement” has become more of a full-on, rush-for-the-exits stampede.
Last year, more people in the U.S. retired than ever before. Roughly 28.6 million baby boomers left their work life behind in the third quarter of 2020 alone—about 3.2 million more than over the same period in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. Some may have lost their jobs as casualties of COVID-19 and don’t want to find another during a public health crisis, others may have retired a little earlier than planned out of fear of contracting the virus. And then there are those who may have simply felt like a pandemic was as good a time as any to live in the moment and begin enjoying their so-called golden years.
“They said [they were] going to retire in a year or two anyway, and now it just seems like the right time,” says Chris Porter, chief demographer at John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
With home prices climbing, selling their homes for a big payout and moving to a more affordable destination also just makes financial sense for many baby boomers.
“Retirees might be able to cash out on pretty significant equity in their homes, and find something more affordable or maybe find something better for the same price in a location that’s generally more affordable,” says Porter.
But exactly where are those multitudes of Americans heading—and why? We looked into the data, and found a few surprises mixed in with the usual suspects. (Spoiler: It’s not just Florida!)
Wherever these large groups of retirees go, they’ll have a big impact on a region’s housing and economy. They’ll influence what kinds of homes are built, and play a large part in real estate prices, and even what kinds of jobs are available. That’s because baby boomers make up a huge generation, larger than the one that came before it and the Generation Xers that followed. So whatever they do has long-lasting ripple effects.
Last year, 313,000 people over age 65 moved to a new state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Places that blend urban and suburban environments are especially attractive to boomers, says Porter. They’re also seeking places with lower taxes and cost of living as well as access to top-notch health care. Walking trails, parks, and plenty of restaurants and cultural attractions are key.
“They’re also relocating to be near their adult children or their grandchildren,” Porter explains. “That’s happening in greater numbers than we’d seen in the past.”
To scope out the fastest-growing retirement destinations, we started with the metro areas (which include a main city plus surrounding burbs and smaller urban areas) where at least a quarter of the population was aged 60 and up, according to U.S. census data. Then we found the ones that saw the largest increase in the number of new residents aged 55-plus moving in from 2014 to 2019, as well as the biggest jump in seasonal and vacation homes over the same period. Finally, we dug into our own real estate listings to find the metros with the most retiree-friendly homes, which say things like “universal design” and “aging in place” in the listing.
We limited our list to just two metros per state. Seeking greener pastures for your third act? Let’s see where the masses are heading.
1. Lakeland, FL
Median home list price: $260,050*
Lakeland may be the most conveniently located city in Central Florida. Since it’s situated along Interstate 4, nearby cities Orlando and Tampa and an assortment of sandy beaches are all just about an hour away. Lakeland offers open spreads of protected state land with walking and biking trails and several lakes for skiing, fishing, and boating.
“I’ve watched Lakeland transform from the woods between Orlando and Tampa to a thriving city without losing a small hometown feel,” says lifelong Lakeland resident Jason Brown, a real estate agent with S&D Real Estate.
While home prices have gone up recently, they’re still much more affordable than the boomtowns Orlando, at a median $320,050, and Tampa, at $302,400.
Lakeland offers a mix of real estate, including communities for people 55 and older with active social schedules and amenities like golf courses, tennis courts, and community pools. Condos, patio homes, and mobile-home communities are available, too.
“If someone doesn’t want to move into a 55-plus community, the same amenities are available in communities without age restrictions,” says Cassandra Vann, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Lakeland.
Plus, property taxes and insurance are low, and the state of Florida doesn’t have an income tax. And yes, it’s warm.
For less than $200,000, boomers can nab a four-bedroom condo in a waterfront community with two swimming pools, tennis courts, a clubhouse, boat dock, and lots of shady sidewalks.
Median home list price: $419,950
Michigan boasts more than 3,200 miles of freshwater shoreline, more than any other state. Located on Lake Michigan and nestled in the beautiful northern part of the state’s Lower Peninsula is Grand Traverse County. It’s a good fit for nature lovers with public beaches, miles of biking and walking trails, state forests, ski resorts, wineries, and lots more.
“No matter what age someone is considering retiring, Northern Lower Michigan is definitely worth some investigation,” says Loren Gardner, a real estate agent at Keller Williams Northern Michigan. “The housing market is very strong here, and also architecturally diverse.”
Retirees have their pick when it comes to real estate—single-family Victorian homes, modern architecture, beachfront houses, cabins, and more, he says. Stand-alone and duplex condos are especially popular with retirees, and there are several options available for $200,000 or less.
Check out this countryside condo with a wood-burning fireplace and woodsy views that’s available for $137,500.
Median home list price: $300,050
Over the past several years, Springfield has struggled. The city saw a rise in crime and urban decay after some of its heavy-equipment manufacturers moved away. But Springfield has been working on a comeback, and these days, it has a lot to offer retirees.
For one, it’s affordable. Springfield’s cost of living is lower than that of other metros in the Northeast, like Boston or New York City. The state of Massachusetts also doesn’t tax Social Security benefits or government pension income. Its location on the banks of the Connecticut River offers scenic spots and plenty of hiking trails.
Home prices are a little below the national median of $346,000, but they’ve been on the rise recently. House hunters have many choices in a new home, including single-family homes and condos. This ranch home with an open floor plan and three bedrooms is listed for $214,999.
Median home list price: $850,050
Coeur d’Alene is by far the most expensive spot on our list, with a median home price that isn’t for the faint of heart. That’s because it’s situated on the Coeur d’Alene Lake, which the Spokane River flows into, and is surrounded by mountains. Summertime allows for hiking, biking, or water activities. In the winter, residents enjoy downhill or cross-country skiing and the snowshoe trails.
Buyers might even spot a few celebrities, who can afford those high prices and often visit the area looking for some peace and quiet.
Coeur d’Alene is a bedroom community to Spokane, WA, and the Spokane International Airport is just an hour away.
“This makes easy airline access for visiting family or retirees wanting to take their next adventure,” says Matt Side, director of broker development and owner at Realty ONE Group Eclipse in Coeur d’Alene.
The real estate market has thrived recently. Side says northern Idaho has drawn new residents who are leaving populous metros, attracted to Coeur d’Alene’s low taxes and low-key lifestyle.
The city has a robust condo community on the lake or river, but there are all kinds of homes that would be a great fit for retirees. Near downtown Coeur d’Alene, buyers can find a farmhouse-style bungalow for $359,250.
Median home list price: $382,550
Wilmington is a historic port city that has many characteristics that traditionally appeal to retirees. The weather is near perfect year-round, so you can enjoy rounds of golf at one of the many courses or visiting the pristine beaches at any time. The only downside is Wilmington is at risk during hurricane season.
The North Carolina city has a suburban feel, with many shopping, dining, and cultural attractions. Wilmington is also known as “Hollywood East” for the large production studio located there and the many movies and TV shows that have been filmed locally.
To keep their minds active, residents can enroll in art history, philosophy, science, or technology class at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s lifelong learning institute for people over 55.
Affordability is another draw. Cost of living and housing are both lower than the national average. A spacious townhouse overlooking the Cape Fear River (yep, just like the movie) is an option at $251,900. It’s located in a community with a swimming pool and access to beaches.
Median home list price: $339,050
It’s easy to see why retirees are drawn to this Shenandoah Valley metro. Several communities for people 55 and older have been built recently, and new ones are cropping up all the time. Winchester has gorgeous weather year-round, and Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia and its hiking trails and parks are only an hour away.
Winchester’s cost of living is much lower than other parts of the state, too. And retirees have many options when looking for a new home, including townhouses, duplexes, and ranches with a mix of modern, traditional, farmhouse, and Colonial styles.
“We have communities here that are specifically for retirees, and their services extend to an on-site restaurant and on-site health care, all while giving you the option to live in condos, apartments, or single-family homes,” says Stephanie Feltner, a real estate agent with The Feltner Group at ERA OakCrest Realty.
She says retirees are attracted to Winchester for its sense of community, and often look for functionality in new homes, including single levels, open floor plans, and extra gathering space for when friends and family visit. This two-bedroom townhouse located in an over-55 community is available for $274,900.
7. Portland, ME
Median home list price: $451,450
Maine’s popularity has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s largest, historic city, surrounded by water with cobblestone streets downtown, has become quite a hot spot. Locals call downtown and the urban and commercial neighborhoods nearby “the peninsula,” since it’s situated on an area that extends into the Casco Bay.
Portland’s walkable downtown and access to high-quality health care centers have made it appealing for retirees. Maine Medical Center was ranked the No. 1 hospital in Maine by U.S. News & World Report.
Outdoor activities make Portland a fun place to call home and to inspire family and friends to visit. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular during the winter, while fishing, sailing, and munching on lobster rolls top the bill in summer.
Portland can be a costly place to live, though. Housing prices have been steadily increasing and are now higher than the national average. For a new-construction condo, buyers can pay nearly $470,000. But they’ll get a view of the Casco Bay, and it’s walking distance to nearby parks.
Median home list price: $360,050
Known as “The Crossroads of Delmarva”—which stands for Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia—this metro in southeastern Maryland has a diverse population of students, families, and retirees. Salisbury’s low home prices and real estate taxes especially attract baby boomers from more expensive and populated cities in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Washington, DC. Retirees can live much more affordably here, while just being a few hours away from friends and family.
Salisbury features lots of green spaces, waterways, and woods.
“We are growing and blossoming into a bike- and walking-friendly city,” says real estate agent Loudell Insley, of Long & Foster Real Estate.
Retirees are showing interest in all types of properties, but especially single-family homes and new construction, which is booming in the region, says Brandon Brittingham, CEO at the Maryland & Delaware Group of Long & Foster Real Estate. He adds that people are accelerating their retirement home purchase in Salisbury lately because of the low mortgage interest rates.
“They’re still working, but they know they’re going to retire down here in a few years, so they’re buying that house ahead of time,” says Brittingham.
Just like elsewhere in the country, buyers have to act fast to snap up their dream homes, since they’re in short supply. Listed for $152,000, this three-bedroom townhome is located in a community with several amenities for retirees, including a private pool, dog park, playground, and lots of green space.
9. Albany, NY
Median home list price: $360,050
New York’s state capital is an especially attractive destination for retirees moving out of New York City, thanks to its idyllic mountain views, lakes, and significantly cheaper just about everything. Buyers can get a home for about a quarter of what they would pay in Manhattan, where home prices are a median $1,375,050 and usually are a fraction of the size.
“The cost of living is lower, giving retired residents more of their income to enjoy their lifestyle,” says Faye Rispoli of Re/Max Solutions in nearby Clifton Park, NY. “In addition, property taxes are less than they are in downstate New York.”
Retirees have a long list of choices when it comes to real estate.
“Albany has a variety of townhouse, condominium, apartment, and assisted-living communities throughout the region that would be a wonderful choice for any retiree currently looking to buy,” says Colin McDonald of McDonald Real Estate in Albany.
The Capital Region, which offers affordable single-family, ranch-style homes, is an area both Rispoli and McDonald recommend. Retirees tend to look for spacious homes with a single level in walkable neighborhoods that are close to shopping, parks, and other activities. This ranch-style two-bedroom is newly renovated, has a large outdoor deck, and comes with a $179,500 price tag.
10. Hartford, CT
Median home list price: $302,850
As one of the oldest metros in the U.S., Hartford is full of history and cultural attractions that appeal to retirees. They include the Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities and the Mark Twain House and Museum, where the author wrote his most iconic novels.
The city is buzzing with restaurants, shops, and cultural activities, too. Plus, big cities like Boston and New York City are an easy drive or train ride away.
The cost of living, including groceries and other expenses, are a little higher than average in metro, but home prices are below the national average. And there are several cozy suburbs to choose, including Avon, CT, which has become a favorite for forever homes.
“Avon is considered by a number of criteria one of the best towns in Connecticut for retirees,” says Alison Malkin, head broker/owner of Re/Max Essentia in Avon. “There are lots of restaurants, coffee shops, parks, shopping, movie theaters—and all in a town with a population of only about 18,000.”
Retired home buyers tend to look for one-story homes with garages in walkable neighborhoods, she says. In the South West neighborhood of Hartford, this raised ranch-style home features a finished lower level, patio, and hot tub for the price of $255,000.
* Median home list price for the metropolitan area as of Jan. 1 from the most recently available realtor.com data