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.com, 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?
Median list price: $275,100
Percentage of residents age 60 and up***: 47%
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.”
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.
Median list price: $299,100
Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 35%
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 three-bedroom 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.
Median list price: $399,100
Percentage of residents age 60 and up: 40.1%
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…