7 Inviting Places To Retire
Kiplinger's Personal Finance|August 2021
These small cities check all the boxes for an affordable, active retirement.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to decline, retirees may no longer feel the need to retreat to the hinterlands. But some seniors may still feel uncomfortable in crowded urban areas, as evidenced by the recent boom in home sales in suburban and rural areas. On the other hand, cities have a lot to offer, especially now that restaurants, museums and concert halls are starting to reopen. With that in mind, we’ve selected seven small cities (only one has a population of more than 100,000) that offer vibrant downtowns, lots of recreational activities and easily accessible health care. Most also offer strong broadband internet connectivity, which is increasingly essential for everything from telehealth to virtual visits with your grandchildren. This year, for the first time, we also looked specifically for diverse communities that include people of color and other minorities. Unlike some other factors we measure, diversity is imprecise, but we have strived to highlight places that are welcoming to all retirees.

Although your own choice of the best place to retire will be based on a variety of personal preferences, including proximity to family, your favorite leisure activities, and whether you’re a hot- or cold-weather person, some factors should be on every retiree’s checklist.

Good health care. Retirees routinely list access to health care as one of their top priorities when choosing a place to live, and COVID-19 has provided a vivid reminder of why even otherwise healthy people need to have a reputable hospital nearby. All of our cities have at least two hospitals within 25 miles. You can use Medicare’s “Hospital Compare” tool, available at Medicare.gov, to research hospitals in any city you’re considering as a retirement destination. The tool also provides general information, such as the names and addresses of all hospitals in a particular area and the types of services they provide.

Moderate home prices. At a time when home prices are soaring in many parts of the country, we searched for cities with a median home price near or below the national average of $347,500. When it comes to home prices, location matters, and retirees have more flexibility than most buyers. Say you wanted to be near family in Seattle. The median home price in Richland, Wash., of $357,900 is above the national average, but it’s considerably less than the cost of homes in the Seattle area, about 200 miles away, where the median is $650,000 (and good luck finding anything at that price). And even in this booming market, some of our cities are downright bargains. The median home price in Roanoke, Va., is just $200,000.

Low cost of living. Inflation is rising at the fastest rate in years, which is particularly worrisome for retirees who are living on fixed incomes. Choosing a city with a low cost of living will help you keep rising prices in check. Most of our cities have lower-thanaverage expenses, based on the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index for the fourth quarter of 2020.

Tax-friendly states. State taxes can take a bite out of your savings, which is why Florida, which has no income tax, is popular with retirees. But high property and sales taxes can eat into your savings, too, and a state with an above-average tax rate could still be tax-friendly if it exempts a large amount of retirement income from state taxes. Most of our cities are located in states that are rated tax-friendly or neutral by the Kiplinger State-by-State Guide to Taxes on Retirees, our annual ranking of all 50 states based on the tax situations they offer retired residents (kiplinger.com/ links/retireetaxmap).

ROANOKE, VA.

Population: 99,100

Cost of living for retirees: 88.4/100

Median home price: $200,000

Number of hospitals within 25 miles: 5 What locals love: Hiking up Mill Mountain to see the Roanoke Star

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke offers southern charm and plenty of outdoor adventures—via car or by foot. Retirees can hike the Appalachian Trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway and take a break at McAfee Knob to enjoy panoramic views of the mountains. Another popular hiking destination is Mill Mountain, home of the Roanoke Star, the largest freestanding man-made star in the world.

The climate is generally mild and not humid, although the city does get a lot of rain in March and September. Residents can spend rainy days exploring the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which is known for its collection of diesel locomotives, and the Taubman Museum of Art, which features more than 2,000 contemporary, folk and regional artworks, along with children’s painting programs. Or you can take a trip two hours north and go underground at Luray Caverns to hear the Great Stalacpipe Organ—the world’s largest musical instrument. Retirees can also expand their minds as an Elderscholar at Roanoke College in neighboring Salem, Va.

Roughly 40% of residents identify as non-white, with the largest minority group being Black Americans. Plus, Roanoke has an established lesbian, gay, transgender, queer community that dates back to the early 1960s.

“It’s a beautiful place to live,” says Joan McGee, a former Arlington, Va., resident who grew up in Roanoke. McGee retired in 2019 in the Washington, D.C., area, but when the pandemic hit, she moved back to her hometown because she felt it was safer there.

McGee purchased a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home for $265,000, which is higher than the median for the area but comparable to what buyers in upscale neighborhoods can expect to pay. At a time when home prices in many parts of the country are soaring, Roanoke remains affordable. On Zillow.com, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house located close to downtown was recently listed for $270,000, a reduction of $10,000 from its original list price.

Despite the rural setting, you won’t have to travel far for health care. Carilion Medical Center, which is part of the Carilion Clinic network headquartered in Roanoke, offers 703 beds and various specialties, from cardiology to joint replacement. In 2019, the clinic kicked off a fund-raising campaign for a new cancer center. And for those who have pets, the city is also home to the new Virginia Tech Animal Cancer Care and Research Center.

Virginia is tax-friendly for retirees. The commonwealth doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, and eligible residents 65 and older can deduct up to $12,000 of other income per person. The combined state and local sales tax rate of 5.73% is the 11th-lowest in the nation. RIVAN STINSON

RICHLAND, WASH.

Population: 58,225

Cost of living for retirees: 100.5/100

Median home price: $357,900

Number of hospitals within 25 miles: 4 What locals love: Biking the 23-mile Sacagawea Heritage Trail

Richland and its bucolic surroundings offer miles of trails for hiking and biking, and marinas and aquatic parks for boating and fishing. Retirees will appreciate access to first-rate health care, an affordable cost of living, a low crime rate and a variety of outdoor entertainment venues.

Richland—together with adjoining cities Kennewick and Pasco, known as the Tri-Cities—is located in the southeastern region of Washington State, where the Columbia and Yakima rivers converge. Just less than a four-hour drive from Seattle, Richland is a world away from Seattle’s big-city hustle and bustle and infamous rainy weather. Richland gets a mere 7.6 inches of rain a year, on average (and average snowfall of 6 inches annually). Average temperatures range from as low as 27 degrees in December to as high as 88 degrees in July. A regional airport has direct flights to major cities, including Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Denver.

This small city is by no means a quiet town. Although Richland’s Hanford nuclear reservation site stopped producing nuclear materials in 1987, plans are in the works to make Hanford the home to the nation’s first commercial advanced nuclear power reactor, which could drive business and industry to Richland and attract a more diverse population (currently, nearly one-fourth of the population is non-white). Two universities— Washington State University TriCities Campus in downtown Richland and Columbia Basin College in Pasco— add youth and diversity to the region (43% of students at Columbia Basin College are Hispanic, and 44% at WSU’s Tri-Cities campus are listed as minority students).

Outdoor recreation is another major economic driver in Richland. Two marinas, Columbia Park Marina and Columbia Marine Center, can be found in the heart of downtown, with two other marinas several miles farther down the Columbia in neighboring Oregon. Several trails surround Richland, including the seven-mile Riverfront Trail, which is part of the 23mile Sacagawea Heritage Trail.

The Richland Parkway shopping area offers bistros, bakeries, chic boutiques and a farmers-and-artisans market in the summer. Nearby is John Dam Plaza, where the 3,000-person capacity HAPO Community Stage, an outdoor performance venue, hosts local performing arts groups, movies and a summer concert series with live music, food vendors, and a beer and wine garden.

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