Forever Homes: The 10 Best Cities in America to Age in PlaceBy Carlyle Place
by: Realtor.com Team | Aug 7, 2017
The math is inescapable: There are about 75 million baby boomers growing a little older every day. They’re the largest generation ever to retire, whenever they get around to it. And following right behind are 65 million Gen-Xers, the oldest of whom are already well into their 50s. (Yikes!) They’re all going to need places to live as they age. But where?
Their children may not have the space, because their grandkids refuse to move out. (Damn millennials!) Housing prices are continuing to rise in desirable areas, making it difficult to downsize on a fixed income. And sending the boomers out on ice floes might seem like an attractive solution—until little Humbert asks where grandpa is going. The ice caps are melting anyway, so room may be limited.
But boomers changed the world—and now they’re changing the concept of getting older, too. They’re popularizing the idea of “aging in place”: buying homes for the long haul, and modifying them as time goes on, so they can continue to live independently for as long as possible. So-called “universal designs” allow such flexibility, and owners are adding bathroom rails, hands-free faucets, and downstairs den-into-bedroom conversions when they need them. And everyone, it seems, is on the prowl for places to live that can fit the bill from middle age all the way to the bitter end. Or darn close to it.
That’s where realtor.com®’s data team comes in. We figured out the best metros for middle-agers who may just be starting to slow down—or, now that the kids are gone, just starting to rev up. “Our current generation of boomers don’t want to do those for-old people things,” says Jana Lynott, senior policy adviser on livable communities for AARP. “We encourage [people to consider] neighborhoods where you can walk to a variety of services you access on a daily basis, like banks, public transportation, shopping, restaurants.”
To determine the best places to age in place, we took the 300 largest metros and evaluated them for affordability and health services, and then made sure these were locations people would really want to spend their golden years. To ensure geographic diversity, we limited the list to one per state. Here are our final criteria:
- Number of homes already adapted for seniors, looking at realtor.com listings with keywords like “universal design,” “ground-floor master suite,” “senior-friendly,” and “no-step entry”
- Percentage of residents older than 65*
- Low cost of living*
- Number of home health aides per senior*
- Number of hospitals per capita*
- Number of senior centers per capita*
- Number of singles 55 and up*
- Number of sunny days*
- Number of golf courses per capita*
One shocker: Florida did not come out on top. Miami—once known as “God’s Waiting Room,” for its preponderance of elderly residents—ranked only as the 113th best U.S. city to age in place. The very worst to age in place is Burlington, VT. But we didn’t make access to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream one of our criteria. Our bad.
Want to know more? Put on the designer spectacles and keep reading.
1. Florence, SC
Median home list price: $165,200
Michael Miller, head of Florence’s Chamber of Commerce, concedes that this city was once known as the “Denture Capital of the World.” But don’t be put off: This has become a lively and diverse place. Since 2010, the city has been hard at work on redeveloping its downtown area, which now boasts an $18 million library and a new art, science, and history museum—just the thing for folks with increasing amounts of time on their hands.
The area is also a regional medical hub, with one of the nation’s highest concentrations of hospitals and home health aides. And more than 22,000 of its housing units have been designed or modified to accommodate older residents. This may be why several of local Realtor® Laraine Stevens‘ clients in their 50s have relocated to the area from the oh-so-much-more-expensive Northeast. More of her buyers are seeking single-story homes or residences with ground-floor master suites.
“The cost of living is very affordable, and our taxes are lower compared to bigger cities,” says Stevens, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. “You have a more temperate climate. You’re not fighting the snow and the blizzards.”
2. Macon, GA
Median home list price: $156,600
Maybe it’s the Southern hospitality that lands Macon—and other metros below the Mason-Dixon Line—on our list. But the lower expenses and steamier weather probably play an even larger part. Macon is experiencing an economic upswing that has filled once-empty storefronts with restaurants, shops, and even a few upscale markets.
Proximity to Mercer University gives the region a nice cultural boost, and there’s even a thriving museum district that includes the new Tubman Museum, devoted to African-American history.
But most importantly for lonely divorcées and widowers, Macon is one of the best places in the United States for single seniors. Almost half of its residents older than 50 are unattached. Let the hijinks begin!
Median home list price: $254,900
The metro near the junction of the California, Nevada, and Arizona borders is a tourist-friendly spot known as the home of the original London Bridge—yep, the one in the song, moved from the United Kingdom to Lake Havasu in 1968. But the real attraction here is the 290 days of sun a year, making the place a magnet for spring breakers and older Americans alike. In fact, Lake Havasu City boasts one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the nation.
“It’s an active community,” says local real estate broker Liz Miller of Keller Williams Arizona Living Realty. She’s seeing more and more California refugees move in due to the year-round recreational activities. “Anything you want to do with water, you can do it here. And right now is an exciting time here.”
Median home list price: $299,500
Finally, Florida shows up on our list.
The Sunshine State has long been a destination for seasonal refugees who trade high taxes and snow (a four-letter word for many older Americans) for no income tax and plenty of rounds at the golf course (which frequently involve more four-letter words). And indeed, Vero Beach’s impressive number of golf courses is what earned it a spot here. The city, located about halfway down the state’s Atlantic coast, has at least 16 golf courses, or one for every 9,500 residents. Plus, about half of its residents are older than 50. Put it all together, and you’ve got one heck of a lot of seniors hitting the links. Better reserve those tee times early. Fore!
Median home list price: $159,500
The affordably priced metro, which straddles the border of Texas and Arkansas, has one of the highest percentages of residences adapted for those seeking to age in place. But that doesn’t mean folks here are housebound. Far from it! The city is home to Spring Lake Park, which offers disc golfing, fishing, and a primo walking and biking trail. And the local schools, Texarkana College and Texas A&M-Texarkana, offer a slew of free lectures and programs.
Oh, and there’s a ton of interesting/weird stuff to check out here, too. The Draughon-Moore Ace of Clubs House is a popular museum featuring furnishings going back to the early 1700s. The State Line Post Office is the only federal building in the U.S. that sits between two states. And the Texarkana Municipal Auditorium, site of some of Elvis’ best-known early concerts, is still going strong. Keep it real, Texarkana!
6. Saginaw, MI
Median home list price: $114,400
Looking for a bargain? Move to Saginaw. Those on a fixed income love this area’s low, low home prices. The metro, which was heavily dependent upon the automobile industry, fell on hard times when the American manufacturing economy began its slow collapse in the early 1980s. But it’s been aggressively coming back in recent years.
It now has a thriving downtown arts scene that includes a Japanese cultural center, tea house, and garden. Those seeking a bit more of an escape can explore the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and participate in the many 5,000-meter runs held there.
The area is also a regional center for health care, boasting one of the highest ratios of home health aides in the U.S.
7. Redding, CA
Median home list price: $317,500
The largest metro in northern California is also the highest-priced on our list. But the cost may be worth it for the most adventurous of boomers. The area is known for its abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. Whether it’s rafting down the Sacramento River, touring the 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park, or admiring the Sundial Bridge, which stretches across the Sacramento River, Redding has remade itself, from a sleepy logging town to a genuine destination.
Did we mention nearly nine out of 10 days in the California city are sunny? That may be why the region has a reputation as a cyclist’s haven. The League of American Wheelmen began weekly rides in the city way back in 1896.
8. Dothan, AL
Median home list price: $156,400
The Dothan area has emerged as the “Peanut Capital of the World” and is the home of a peanut festival that draws 120,000 visitors annually. Good luck beating those bragging rights.
On a slightly more pertinent note, Dothan has also emerged as a regional hub for health care and a way station for snowbirds traveling between the upper Midwest and Florida. It ranks high for its senior-friendly housing stock: More than 5% of its homes, or roughly 20,000 housing units, have been modified or built with aging-in-place features. These include perks like ground-floor master suites, wide hallways and doorways, and wheelchair ramps.
Median home list price: $186,700
You don’t have to be a riverboat gambler to enjoy the Shreveport area. But it might just help pass the time. There are no fewer than a half-dozen casinos in the area, as well as Louisiana Downs, one of only three horse-racing tracks in the state.
Although Shreveport’s biggest employer is Barksdale Air Force Base, the city on the banks of the Red River has emerged as a regional center for health care. Shreveport also boasts the sixth-highest percentage of single people older than 50, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Local Realtor Jessica McGee wanted to give those singles something to do. She helped start up a singles group for locals in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. The group does movie nights, Mardi Gras cruises, and wine tastings. And McGee plans to organize a trip to a local escape room, where participants must find clues to unlock the door to a room and “escape.”
“There are a lot of activities here,” she says. “And you can get way more for your money here than you can in most states.”
10. Hickory, NC
Median home list price: $217,500
This furniture manufacturing hub may not spring immediately to mind when folks are thinking about places to retire. But hey, why not?
The city is a three-time winner of the National Civic League’s “All-American City Award,” an honor bestowed on places that attempt to solve the most important issues in their communities. There’s plenty to do here, including the requisite golf outings, the cool and inviting bars and restaurants, the Zumba classes. But we’ll focus on the awesome Furniture Mart, a sprawling year-round showcase where local artisans show off their craft. And you can buy the stuff! Can 500,000 visitors a year be wrong?
* Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, GolfNow Course Directory, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.