Two years ago, Lavena Chapman retired and moved with her husband from Snohomish County to a home near Castle Rock, a rural burg about 10 miles north of Longview. They sought more space and a slower pace, and settled on two acres with a beautiful view of Mount St. Helens and the Toutle River Valley.
But today they ponder whether to move again. Their property doesn’t have adequate access to the internet, there are no convenient or away-from-traffic walking paths, no gym or medical center nearby, and the rifle shots that ring out in the area, especially during hunting season, can be unsettling. They also have an off-kilter neighbor who flouts land regulations and neighborly etiquette.
Chapman, a positive person by nature, considers another move just fine-tuning, part of the retirement journey. They likely wouldn’t move far and it helps, she says, that they pared their collection of stuff when they left Snohomish County. They travel light now.
And she stresses that the current situation is hardly dire: “We have wonderful neighbors, a great house, a great view, nice property.”
So how do we come as close as possible to the right move when we retire? Most of us stay put until moving is necessary, but others seek, even crave change.
Change could be trading clogged urban traffic and nest egg-eating property taxes for the rural life in, say, Sequim or Port Townsend, or toward Portland. Or it could take the middle route, be it suburbia or a mid-sized college town like Bellingham or Pullman or Wenatchee that offers at least a dose of culture. Or you could go small and move to a planned community or into a downtown condo.
The better you pinpoint what makes you happy the more likely you will be able to find the right spot. Consider a range of factors, from finances to medical care access to social structure to what you want your life to feel like. You also need to keep an open mind because things will change.
Maryanne Vandervelde, a Mercer Island psychologist and author of the book Retirement for Two, suggests taking a holistic view.
“Consider both people and things before you relocate in retirement,” she says. “What people are most important to me, and how will this move change these relationships? How do I plan to make new relationships? What things are most important to me; size and type of housing, my environment, costs? What things have brought me happiness in the past, and what things are likely to help meet my goals in the future?”
Below are some ideas to consider. (And if you have a mate, be prepared to compromise.)
What matters to you? Need to be around people or looking for privacy? Crave a network? Yearn for the excitement and challenge of making new friends or do you want to stay with your established circle?
Partners can be at odds when it comes to social life and it can strain the relationship so have a frank talk with your mate before moving. And whatever happens, give your loved one some space.
“Find ways to compromise so that each of you gets most of what you want, and get professional help if you cannot resolve issues on your own,” Vandervelde says.
Can you afford the move? Think about not just the cost of the house or condo, but upkeep, taxes, fees, and the everyday prices in the community. If you move away from family and friends, factor in traveling and lodging costs. Mid-sized college towns often offer cheaper real estate and reasonable entertainment options.
A financial planner can help determine if the move pencils out.
Some people prefer to surround themselves with a mix of young and old as well as racial and income diversity while others feel more comfortable around like minds, people who share their outlook or stage of life. Sense of belonging is critical to happiness and health and a big reason why retirees can be reluctant to move, some experts say.
Is your new neighborhood walkable or friendly to bicycles? Or do you have to drive every time you seek company, food or supplies? How about public transportation?
Some people rent an apartment or house or stay in a hotel during different seasons to sample the humdrum of a Tuesday afternoon and the buzz of a Saturday night. Is the summer too hot or touristy? Is the winter too wet and dreary? If you can pull it off financially, maybe keeping two abodes in different communities will solve the issue or buy time to decide.
When looking at a retirement community, ask yourself if it promotes an active lifestyle.
How important is your residence? It makes sense to get a smaller residence when the kids leave, but some people report missing the space. They also want to keep a house big enough to accommodate visiting grandkids or friends. A view is nice, but is it worth the added price?
Does your property have a big yard that needs tending? You up for that? Are you going to be healthy enough for a multi-level home? Old houses are cool, but costly repairs often loom. You might want a traditional retirement community where repairs, maintenance and other life tasks are tended.
Are you OK with the noise of close-quarters living? A Seattle couple recently downsized from their house to an Edmonds condo only to find out the neighbor above seems to dance in clogs every night.
These are supposed to be your carefree years so picture yourself having fun. What are you doing? Hiking, playing golf, working out at a gym, volunteering, attending classes, going to the theater? Is what you want convenient?
Do you want (or need) to continue to be engaged in the work world with a phased retirement, in which you work part-time after giving up the career? Does your landing spot have industry or can you do your work online?
Are there good medical facilities nearby? You don’t like to think about it, but you likely will need more care as you age, especially if you have a chronic condition. Find a place you can age into or easily transition from.
If you do make a mistake, or the spot isn’t exactly as you imagined, try again or adjust.
“Usually, another move will rectify the mistake,” says Vandervelde, “and you will have learned some important lessons.”
Richard Seven has lived and worked as a journalist in Seattle for more than three decades. He spent most of that time as a feature writer and editor for The Seattle Times.