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Outside the Box: Does it make sense to move for retirement?

I’m not thinking of moving, honestly, but my husband and I have reached an age where many of our friends are grappling with relocating.

The pandemic pause certainly started that exploration. Many of them can work remotely moving forward if they choose to, or they are, in fact, looking to downsize and live in a different part of the country — or world — for the next chapter of their lives.

I wrote about this a few months ago in this column: “Considering a move for retirement? How to know if you’re ready or not”

I’m returning to this subject because Ryan Frederick, the CEO of SmartLiving 360, a consulting and real-estate development firm that specializes in housing and healthy aging has a smart new book, “Right Place, Right Time: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Home for the Second Half of Life” that brought it top of mind once again.

Frederick’s book could not be arriving at a more critical time. Many of the themes he discusses had already been on the minds of boomers and Generation X as we began thinking of our own living situations with children launched perhaps, or eyeing second acts, as well as finding the right living situations for our aging parents, but the pandemic accelerated it.

Frederick and I have known each other for a number of years as we have kibitzed at various conferences centered on retirement and aging, and to me this topic is more important than ever.

Read: Try MarketWatch’s Where Should I Retire? tool

As Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, writes in his foreword to the book: After “the COVID-19 pandemic struck, across America and the world, people distanced and sheltered in place. Older adults and those with chronic conditions were even more restricted, often dependent on technologies to connect to the outside world. Dwellings became more important than ever, safe harbors in a frightening infectious storm. And in the midst of it all, more of us questioned whether our homes were right, whether they suited our needs, whether and how we should change our place.”

Read: I’ll retire with a military pension and want to move to a bicycle-friendly, beer-loving place — where should I go?

I spoke with Frederick to hear more about his insights and advice. Highlights of our conversation:

Kerry Hannon: Why did you write this book now?

Ryan Frederick: People don’t necessarily understand how significant place is in the context of living longer and healthy aging. You’ve got the seismic shift of the pandemic which has made everyone re-evaluate. It put this forced reset on our society. It naturally created that element of reflection. Aging baby boomers are saying ‘hold on. I can do this differently than what my parents did and what do I want my life to look like?’ I wanted to use my expertise and passion to help people better process place, why it’s important, and what to do about it.

Read: ‘I’m no hedonist’ but I want to build our next home for retirement, my wife says no. We’ve saved $3 million — what can I do?

The nonretirement movement does impact where we live, doesn’t it?

The definition of retiring in the dictionary is to withdraw. The baseball playoffs are happening right now. I was watching the game a few days ago and a guy hit a ball to the outfield, and it was caught. He was out, and the announcer didn’t say he was out, he said, ‘the batter’s retired.’ What that meant in that context: the batter disappeared. He’s gone.

People are re-envisioning what retirement is now and how we do work has shifted since the pandemic. The idea of living longer lives has allowed people, particularly knowledge workers, to work remotely either full-time or part-time that they previously couldn’t do.

It is all happening simultaneously and impacts where we live, the place.

What do you mean by place?

People think about place, their physical environment, their single-family home, their apartment, their cottage, their RV, and a bunch of different contexts. I see place as being much broader than that. You have a physical dwelling, but then you have a neighborhood, a street, a metropolitan area.

So, when we choose place, we almost must play macro economist. Am I living in, or do I want to live, in an urban, suburban, rural area? What region of the country? What country? What’s the economic trajectory of the region, the city, even the neighborhood, because all of those things matter in your well-being.

You might love your house, but the neighborhood is going in the wrong direction, or the metropolitan area has an aging infrastructure, or tough tax policies. I nudge people to understand that there are these different layers of place, and you must look out over a longer horizon to make sure that you’re in the right place.

What are the various options in housing as we age?  

For consumers and families, we tend to think that it’s either a single-family home, or it’s senior living skilled nursing. The reality is there’s all sorts of options in between, and there’s more coming.

There might be a way to re-envision your current place, or move into an apartment or a condo, or age restricted housing, or senior living or accessible dwelling units (a smaller, independent living space located on the same lot as a stand-alone single-family home) which I think really is a trend now.

Read: Couples dream of moving to a great spot when they retire. But what if they each want to move to a different place?

You might find a cohousing arrangement with family or your friends that can help your financial well-being and at the same time add some social connection. The pandemic has put a spotlight on this issue of social disconnection and loneliness, and how important social connection is at any stage in life.

What is spurring the new kinds of senior living options?

Technology. Telehealth is an example. More health services and lifestyle services come to you, so you don’t need to be in an institutional senior housing facility. That’s generally a good thing because it means that then we can choose with a greater ability where we want to be, not necessarily have to go to where the care setting is. And it’ll get better and better over time and allow for better places to be created.

What are the key questions for someone who is starting to think about where do I want to live next?

Start with self-evaluation: What do I want my life to look like? Do I have purpose? Am I socially connected? Am I physically active? Is my current place physically appropriate for me? Do I have this sense of connectedness to it?

Sometimes people fall in love with Zillow. They see a house on Zillow, oh my gosh, my dream house. Then they make this big financial decision, and they’re there, and maybe they love the Zillow version of the house, but they find out it isn’t helping them with purpose. They’re not socially connected and so on.

Next, I encourage people in their 50s and 60s to think at the macro level. Am I in a region which is set up to be successful over time? So that I know that I, if I love it, I can be here for maybe the rest of my life, at least in that region

Then it’s the design of a place. Does it have universal design elements incorporated in the physical? (Universal design focuses on making a house safe and accessible for any age or physical ability—from wider doors and hallways to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs to a range of countertop heights in the kitchen, or slip resistant tiles and grab bars in the bathroom and shower.) Less than 3% of our housing stock in this country has elements of universal design.

Does your neighborhood create a sense of hospitality and connectedness? Not that you need to be best friends with all your neighbors, and they need to know everything about your life, but is there social capital? That’s part of really thriving at any age. But particularly as we get older, that social fabric where people help each other, and you can be a part of the community together, matters.

Once you have a good idea of where you’d like to live and what kind of home, then what?

Test it before fully committing to it. Is it really what you want? If you’re moving from a single-family home, and you’re curious about having a downtown condo, take a few weekends, maybe even a couple of weeks, and just rent an apartment, an Airbnb, and get comfortable. Maybe you thought 1,500 square feet was the right number and found having spent time there now, that’s too small.

These decisions can be costly, particularly when you move from one region to another. If it’s not the right place, it’s difficult to replicate your old life after you’ve sold your house and moved your belongings there.

What’s the biggest takeaway from the book?

If you care about your diet or exercise or financially saving for a longer life, you should be thinking just as much about place. Place is a direct element in your well-being. If you talk to your financial adviser about your finances as you age, that same conversation should be happening around place. Are you in the right place to thrive?

More retirement ideas

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We want to retire in ‘an area like the Berkshires, but warmer’—where should we go?

I’d like to buy a home in a warm spot near the beach for $350,000—where should I retire?

‘Work and a few vacations each year is all we’ve done for the past 34 years’—This couple has $2.6 million and no idea where to retire

‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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‘I never expected to retire to Panama’ — but this couple is living the good life on $1,200 a month

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