Looking for a Warm, Sunny Retirement Haven?

Do you have realistic plans for your retirement? Think about your lifestyle preferences and check out an area before pulling up stakes and moving. You may save yourself a lot of money and disappointment.

For many readers, the ideal retirement location is in a warm location, preferably with a beautiful view of the water, inexpensive tax rates and a wide range of housing options that will enable a retiree to live comfortably while not spending much money.

For many people who are retired or planning to in the near future, this means heading for Florida. Hawaii would be nice but you can’t drive there and it is generally thought to be very expensive (and it is).

For many baby boomers who are much closer to retiring than they thought possible, retiring to a location in Florida like the one described in the first paragraph may have been lingering in their mind. Many had parents or grandparents who retired to Florida and they may remember idyllic scenes of playing with grandad in the back yard or on the beach.

If this is your idea of retirement, it may still be possible. But, before you sell your house, pack up your RV and tell your accountant not to worry about filing an income state tax return in coming years (Florida has no income tax), think about what you really want to do when you retire.

If your idea of a heavenly retirement is living in a large, luxurious condo right on the beach overlooking a vast expanse of ocean with beautiful sunsets with extra bedrooms for the grandkids and a huge balcony where you and your spouse can sit in the evening, drink wine or margaritas and reminisce about your former federal government career, you may be in for a serious letdown.

It’s not that places like this do not exist. Florida has plenty of them. They are beautiful and, no doubt, the amenities and the view are worth a million dollars. Actually, they may be worth a few million dollars. If you are selling your house in San Francisco, CA or McLean, VA or Potomac, MD or Boston, MA and you bought it for a pittance back in the early 70’s, you can probably sell what is now a very expensive house for a couple of mlllion and roll the money over into the purchase of a new condo. If so, congratulations on accomplishing your dreams!

One caveat: While Florida does not have an income tax, it really likes people retiring there, buying a multi-million dollar condo and then paying property taxes. You may not see it written up in the advertising brochures but Florida loves property taxes. With all those retirees moving into the state, the cost of building an infrastructure has to come from somewhere. And, since there are no state income taxes, property taxes are a tremendous source of revenue for local governments. That property tax will take a big bite out of your yearly income when you own an expensive beachfront property–even if you don’t have a mortage and pay no state income tax.

There is also, by the way, an intangibles tax in Florida. If you have extensive holdings in stocks and bonds, check with your tax advisor before moving.

But, for everyone who is not in a position to sell a very expensive house in a large city just prior to retiring, is retiring to Florida even an option?

Here’s the good news: It is an option. There are numerous communities around the state where housing is relatively inexpensive. In fact, there are some communities where the housing is very inexpensive.

Have you checked out the new double-wide trailers recently?

Anyone watching late-night comedy shows has heard the jokes about people who live in double-wide trailers and shop at Wal-Mart. And, in all seriousness, there are numerous trailer parks in parts of Florida filled with retirees who are enjoying the warm winter weather while their former colleagues in Washington or Philadelphia are freezing in the sleet and snow.

There is nothing at all wrong with this lifestyle. Many of them are very clean, with well-manicured landscaping and the neighbors are friendly and love to stand around and cook hamburgers and play shuffle board (before making the trip to Wal-Mart). It can be a way to interact with friendly people who have similar interests and your spending may be low enough so that your TSP account lasts as long as you do.

Just make sure this lifestyle fits your needs and desires.

If your image of Florida is emerald green water along wide stretches of sandy beaches, this image does exist in reality. But your trailer park won’t be sitting on the beach. In fact, it may be a couple of hours away and to get there you will be driving along narrow country roads before hitting the traffic jams along the sandy shores.

Your trailer park may be in a rural area. The land is cheaper there and the people who build the expensive houses have not found it profitable to go into some of these rural areas. A rural area can be an idyllic setting for retirement. But have realistic expectations. If your idea of a good time is to trek down to the nearest Starbucks, pick up a copy of the New York Times or Washington Post and listen to National Public Radio, you will not be happy. The nearest Starbucks is miles away and if you want to read the New York Times or the Washington Post, make sure you can get a high-speed internet connection to read it on-line because it won’t be available to you at the local gas station down the road. And, if you like NPR, you may want to consider a subscription to satellite radio. One more caveat: If your idea of a political conservative is someone you heard give a talk on National Public Radio, you may be surprised to learn that some parts of Florida don’t have the same political landscape as Miami Beach or New York City.

But Florida is not all high rise expensive condos and trailer parks. You will find that thousands of your baby boomer colleagues are already buying up property in sunny Florida (and locations in Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii). Large developments with very nice houses are springing up in Florida and many readers will find the prices to be easily affordable. The new developments are not on the ocean (unless the house is several million dollars) but they may be on a lake in the interior of Florida.

In fact, if you recall a relative retiring to Florida back in the 50’s, and still have pleasant memories of some of the sights you saw there while visiting, it may still be possible. One entrepreneur apparently anticipates the boomers wanting to still visit and has invested millions of dollars to upgrade Cypress Gardens. It probably looks as good as when it opened 70 years ago and those retirees who liked the music from the 1960’s will feel right at home. If you know who Bobby Vee is or Lou Christie and used to listen to their records, you will like the concerts catering to the preferences of the boomers who have turned in their ID cards and headed south for the rest of their lives.

Here is my advice before you decide how to enjoy your retirement. Think about what you would like to do and where you would like to live. If you decide you will like Florida, you are likely be very happy there. But visit first. There are numerous rentals available. Rent a place for a few days (or months) and find out which lifestyle is best for you.

Like many states, Florida is very different in different locations. In public places in lower Florida, you may feel right at home if you are from the Northeast and are used to clipped accents with people who root for the Yankees. Eating in a restaurant in Tampa or Orlando may remind you of the same social atmosphere and a similar menu to what you are likely to find in Northeastern states.

On the other hand, if you go to the Panhandle of Florida to cities like Panama City, Destin or Pensacola, you are more likely to hear accents from Alabama, Georgia or, depending on the time of year, accents from MIchigan and Wisconsin with people who root for the Chicago Cubs. Sweet tea (with unlimited refills) and Alabama bar-b-que is readily available.

It’s your retirement. Give yourself a chance to enjoy it.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47