As new retirees exchange time cards for Social Securitychecks, many also follow their dreams by flying the coop.Some head straight for laid-back country living: choppingwood, raising horses or chickens, slipping into small-town life. Otherssee the kaleidoscope of opportunity in city life as a retirement bonusand grab a condo or co-op in a hopping downtown metro area.Both choices have their advantages, but what you ultimatelydecide should reflect the future. Want to know more before you make amove? Look into Bankrate's crystal ball ... The benefits of city lifeAt 71, Alan Entine, a native New Yorker, has moved completelyacross the country to retire where Tony Bennett left his heart -- SanFrancisco. A former university administrator with a doctorate ineconomics, Entine chose to live near his two grown daughters and theirfamilies, but the Bay City wasn't his first choice. He and his wifeoriginally relocated to Cary, N.C., a bedroom community near Raleigh.Within six months, his wife Jan developed a serious, and ultimatelyfatal, illness."Thank heavens we didn't move to the coast or someplace likethat," Entine says. "Because we were within driving distance of Duke(University Medical Center)."After Entine's wife passed away, he regrouped. While Cary wasnice, he gracefully acknowledged his driving days were numbered andknew he didn't want to be dependent on others for transportation.Entine decided to trade Cary for the big city.
Because his daughters were there, Entine naturally gravitatedtoward San Francisco, which has excellent mass transit. He rented atfirst, then eventually bought a small condo. He wanted a place where hecould walk to stores and attractions, which his new home at theInfinity Complex, allows him to do. And, he says, the variety ofresidents in the area -- from young professionals to retirees -- makeslife more interesting and varied than might be the case in a retirementvillage. Plus, there's always something going on within strikingdistance.
"San Francisco ... has wonderful museums, theater, symphoniesand opera, as well as great weather," says Entine, who hasn't abandonedacademic life altogether. He works with the FROMM Institute of LifelongLearning at the University of San Francisco, which offers an eclecticcross-section of classes for seniors. Many colleges and universitiesoffer similar free programs.
Entine also touts San Francisco's proximity to aninternational airport and says that although buying his condo wasn'tcheap, the trade-off is that big-city living is more economical thansome might think.
"Sure (big cities) are expensive in terms of housing," hesays, "but the day-to-day living in San Francisco isn't that much moreexpensive."
And there are bargains, too.
"On the Muni (San Francisco Municipal Rail) system, as asenior I pay $10 a month for a pass and I can have unlimited bus andtrain rides for a month," he says.But even if housing in San Francisco costs more than in Cary,Entinebelieves the convenience and variety of a big city is ultimately worthwhat you pay for it.Theallure of the countryBig citiesdon't faze Clark Pettit. From the time he was a child,Pettit lived all over the world, from Paris to Hong Kong, London to LosAngeles. When he decided to put down roots, he didn't turn to New Yorkor Rome. Instead, he headed for the outskirts of Prescott, Ariz. Pettit,a media consultant who travels frequently in his job, is only 42 andnot yet ready to give up his frequent flier account. But living wherehe does -- on a 10-acre horse-friendly tract -- hasn't dampened hisappetite for a rural lifestyle. In fact, he's right where he plans tostay even after he stops dashing through airports."We wanted land sufficient for horses; wewanted quiet," Pettit says. Originally, Pettit and his wife boughtland in Mexicowith the intention of retiring there, but changed their minds andinvestigated western areas, such as California and Montana, eventuallyopting for Arizona. Although Prescott, located at the convergence ofthree cities (Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, all inYavapai County), is booming with retirement opportunities, Pettit andhis family live in an area developed by LV Ranch Estates about 25minutes from the nearest grocery store, 30 minutes from the nearestmajor medical center and 35 minutes to the center of Prescott (which isabout 75 miles from Phoenix).
"We do have asmall town near us called Skull Valley that has a general store, butit's not a lot closer to us -- maybe 20 minutes," he says.Butwhile driving to the store to pick up a half-gallon of milk might beinconvenient when you settle in the boonies, Pettit points out that inmany ways, living in the Los Angeles area isn't particularly moreconvenient. "It takes two hours to get to theairport from almost any of the outskirts of L.A., plus substantiallylonger if the traffic gets in the way," Pettit says. "Even amedium-sized city, which I consider Phoenix to be, isn't going to giveus that quality-of-life balance." Plus, he says, the rural lifestylehelps him keep stay fit and healthy.A 'European experience'KyleEzell, an urban planner and principal of Get Urban America, aswell as author of "Retire Downtown," believes seniors thrive in urbansettings. In fact, Ezell says all the hustle and bustle that make somepeople want to flee the city might be exactly what keeps them young asthey age."In some ways they're like fountains ofyouth," Ezell says.In addition, Ezell says most retiredcity-dwellers can easily reduce a two-car household to one car -- or nocars at all, which frees up the cost of payments, repairs, insuranceand gasoline. And, as San Francisco's Entine points out, although masstransit isn't free, there are often deals available to older residents.
Ezell says living in a metropolitanenvironment isn'tfor everyone. Some think of cities as "cold" experiences, but he saysmany now offer reasons for seniors to head downtown. "The people who decide to move to theirdowntowns,whether it be the one closest to them or if they want to experience alife adventure and move to Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco or someother place near their grandkids, they know what they want, and theyknow that city living is such an unusual choice for Americans ingeneral that they are expecting a more European experience," he says.But Ezell doesn't believe "downtown" or"city" refersonly to huge metro areas. Smaller ones qualify, too. Whether it's NewYork City or Prescott, metropolitan areas are gearing up to make olderAmericans feel welcome. In addition to revamping downtown, makingsignage easier to read and adding senior discounts to city services,colleges and universities are offering programs that help keep olderadults "lifelong learners." Ezell, who says his mother lives in asmaller town,doesn't like retirement communities. He believes it's healthier forolder Americans to integrate with people of all ages -- and he sayscities offer more variety as well as good value for the money. "I would not want my mom to live in acommunity that is in decline,"Ezell says. "Urban centers are vibrant, they are where art lives, whereideas and creativity are born; there is something to do, something toexperience in the city every single day, every minute of the day."
An expert's opinionWarrenBland concedes his prejudice. "Iadmit I can't see living in the countryside," Bland says. But thatdoesn't mean everyone he knows feels the same way. Bland'sbrother-in-law, for example, savors life in the country, but Blandbelieves his brother-in-law is in the minority when it comes toretirement. And he knows all about places people retire. Aregional geographer and author of "Retire in Style: 60 OutstandingPlaces Across the USA and Canada," Bland ranks areas on a 12-pointscale, including transportation, medical care and climate. Of all hisevaluation points, climate is one of the most influential when choosinga general area, but doesn't play much into choice of a city or countryhome. After all, hot and humid are, well, hot and humid -- whether youlive in a Savannah condo or on a Georgiafarm.Then, of course, there's shopping. No onecan deny the shopping's usually superior in metropolitan areas. "Retiredpeople have more time than when they were in the work-a-day world and alot of people like to shop in person," Bland says. "The more retailoutlets there are, the more competitive prices tend to be." Smaller towns and suburban lifeRetirementisn't as simple as buying a house on a golf course andteeing off every morning. Although the idea of pursuing one's dreamscertainly motivates choice of a retirement location, that remote cabinin the mountains might not be the best choice for you at 85.
Ron Manheimer, executive director of the NorthCarolina Center for Creative Retirement,says he's seeing a migration from rural areas to cities as people age."They want to be closer to medical services and amenities," Manheimersays. Most retirees stay in their home state.Manheimer says only about 4 percent to 6 percent relocate to adifferent one. "The general migration pattern is from fairly densemetropolitan areas to less dense metropolitan areas," he says. "That'swhy you see people moving into smaller towns and suburbs around the bigcities."While many downtowns are creatingwalkable communities and trying to lure retirees, Manheimer says thesandwich generation -- those who care for both children and elderlyparents simultaneously -- don't want to become a burden on their ownkids. Thus, they are choosing places based their ability to liveindependent lives.The upshot is that while a cabin in themountains looks good to you, you might be better off in Roanoke, Va., or Asheville, N.C., which offermountain living plus the conveniences of larger metro areas.Another option is to "try on" yourretirement before you commit. Rent in an area you like. That cottage 45minutes from town might seem quaint right this minute, but will it holdits allure six months from now? The same for city living: You may lovethe idea of nonstop activity, but is a city really for you?
There's always the option of tworetirement homes --one to placate your heart and a second for when you reach the age thata city bus at your doorstep extends your independence.Whether you choose to spend your retirement on 800acres or in an 800-square-foot condominium, remember that no choice isirrevocable. You can always change you mind.Bankrate.comis the Web's leading aggregator of information on financial productsincluding mortgages, credit cards, new and used automobile loans, moneymarket accounts, certificates of deposit, checking and ATM fees, homeequity loans and online banking fees. Visit Bankrate.comto get the tools and information that can help you make the bestfinancial decisions.