Transitioning to Retirement: Where Will I Live?


March 7, 2013 by Jean

Because where people live is often constrained by where they work, retirement can open up the possibility of relocating.

U.S. Trends

One survey of baby boomers by Del Webb found that about one-third planned to move to a new home in retirement, and that number was higher (42%) among younger baby boomers. Of those who planned to move, about half imagined moving to another state and about one-fourth to another community in the state where they currently live.

Why move? There are many reasons. Some people dream of moving to a beautiful place that they associate with relaxation and the good life. Others want a milder climate or more cultural amenities. Still others want to move closer to children and grandchildren. Some who don’t plan to move across national, state, or municipal lines do plan to relocate from a child-friendly neighborhood to a retirement community or to downsize to less expensive or lower maintenance housing. Retirement planning seminars often focus on cost of living and on the tax advantages and disadvantages of various locations. An AARP list of 9 Questions to Ask Before You Relocate focuses on cost of living, taxes, climate, availability of part-time jobs, access to health care, and closeness to family. A US News and World Report webpage on Best Places to Retire divides its listings into categories like “Best Places to Retire for Under $40,000,” “The 10 Sunniest Places to Retire,” and “10 Best Places for Single Seniors to Retire.”

My Plans

house in winterI am one of those people who plans to relocate when I retire – but with a twist. I am planning to move to a house that I bought more than 20 years ago and that I have been living in part-time in the years since.

In my early thirties, I moved to Maine for a new job and immediately fell in love with the place. The job didn’t work out for the long run, and seven years later I moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a dream job. But by the end of one year in Gettysburg, I realized that I needed to keep my connection to friends in Maine and to the Maine landscape; so I decided to buy a house there. In the spring of 1990, I made a quick trip up to Maine, looked at eleven houses in three days, and made a successful offer on one of them before the week was over. In the years since, I have shuttled back and forth between Pennsylvania and Maine (a distance of about 600 miles), living in a rented townhouse in Gettysburg when school is in session and “going home” to Maine whenever school is out. In the early years, I made the round-trip drive four times a year (sometimes just for a long weekend!). As I got older, however, I budgeted money for plane fares and rental cars, allowing me to get up to Maine more often while only making the round-trip drive twice a year (for summer and our month-long Christmas break).

When I bought my little 4-room, 900-square-foot house, I didn’t intend it to be a “forever home.” I saw it as a good choice for a part-time home – a well-built, low-maintenance house in a quiet wooded location at the end of a dirt road that I could use as a home base in summer and where I could relax and write. But, over the years, as I added a deck onto the house and created a garden (for more about this, see my garden blog, Jean’s Garden), I became more and more attached to the property and it became my “forever home.” Thus my retirement plan to move home to live full-time in a house that I have already been living in for more than twenty years.

But there are complications. During the past 20 years, my little house in the woods has gotten quite filled up with my belongings. But I also have half a lifetime of “stuff” in another house in Pennsylvania and in my office there (including many, many bookcases full of books). How much of this will I shed when I retire and how much should I take with me? How much of the inexpensive furniture that I bought for my Maine house in 1990 will I keep and what will I replace with the often-better furniture from my Gettysburg life?

Even if I get rid of quite a lot, however, my Maine house is not large enough to accommodate the rest. So I have been saving money to build an addition, a new master bedroom and bath. This will allow me to add storage space, to turn the current bedroom into a study (with lots of floor-to-ceiling book shelves!), and to turn my current study into a combination guest room and sewing room.

I have been thinking about all these changes to my living circumstances for more than five years; the challenge now is to bring them all to fruition in the year to come.

9 thoughts on “Transitioning to Retirement: Where Will I Live?

  1. Jean says:

    I really love your idea on where and how you’ll live in retirement. You’ve done well with your long range planning. I want to down size to a baby boomer condo, if I can find one. In the meantime I’ve been e-Baying like crazy this past year and even rented space in an antique store to thin my stuff. Both are working out well. I, too, have lots of books to downsize—not as many as you. Many are too valuable to just donate, so I’m going to test selling them at the antique store and eBay this summer.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, Long-range planning is my strong suit. I used to joke that if I washed out of academia, I could go to work for the Kremlin making 5-year plans — but then the USSR went bust and my alternate career went with it :-). I have friends who have downsized to a condo and been very happy with the decision; I can definitely see the appeal of having someone else responsible for a lot of the maintenance.
      I have never used E-Bay and so hadn’t thought of it as a place to sell items I no longer need; thanks for the tip. (I have a friend who is the E-Bay queen, so she should be able to help me with this.) I’m afraid none of my belongings would make the status of antique. (I’m pretty sure “antique Ikea” is an oxymoron.)

  2. Jean says:

    I love your sense of humor.

  3. Diana Studer says:

    We are a step closer. Took transfer on our False Bay home today!

    • Jean says:

      Diana, This is an exciting moment — although, I’m guessing, also bittersweet. I know you are leaving Porterville sooner than you might have liked, but I imagine there is also the excitement of turning the page onto a new chapter of your life (and a new garden!). My next post here will be on the timing of retirement, including the negotiating of two often different sets of needs and preferences for married couples.

  4. I had hoped to live in NM as I have a dear friend there…but I will have to pay state income tax on my retirement income so I will be staying in NY and traveling often I hope.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I have to admit that I haven’t actually checked to see what the difference in tax burdens will be in Pennsylvania (my current legal residence) and Maine. It is true that Pennsylvania doesn’t tax pension income, while Maine does. For the first few years, I’ll be living mostly on post-tax savings, and I’m trying to keep the amount of pre-tax income in the mix at about the level where I’ll have little or no tax liability. Once I start collecting social security and taking distributions from my 403b, I will have to pay taxes and will need to plan for that in my budgeting.

  5. Emily says:

    Jean, Sorry to be so many months behind, but I’m so excited to find this “new” blog of yours! I retired from university life six years ago. The day of actual separation, we moved from Los Angeles (where I was born and had spent my entire life) to Bellingham, WA. We knew one person (aside from our real estate agent). We found Bellingham in one of those “Best Places to Retire” books you mentioned, visited it along with some other places, and then jumped in. I feel I am finally home. Although Maine has been a second home to you all these years, I’ll be it will be new and exciting as a year-round residence minus the academic responsibilities. Congratulations!

    • Jean says:

      Emily, I know several people who have retired to the Pacific Northwest (mostly Portland, Oregon). I have visited Bellingham and remember it as lovely. Actually, that part of Washington reminds me a bit of Maine. On the ferry trip from Anacortes out to the San Juan islands, it’s easy to feel as though you are off the coast of Maine. As soon as I moved to Maine in my early thirties, I had that feeling of “coming home,” so I know how important that is. I’ll be interested in hearing more about your retirement experiences.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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