The quest to find the perfect place to live takes on even more importance as you reach a certain stage in life. For some of us that stage is age sixty-five; for others it's fifty; and for many of us it's even younger. But I've found that the exact number makes no difference, because it's defined by your mindset more than by a figure. Midlifers' dreams and plans for their personal retirement today vary wildly. According to a new Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll, which investigates what's on our minds when it comes to retirement living, things have changed.
Despite the dire condition of today's real estate market, which has tumbled American home values 33% since their peak in 2006, a sizable three in 10 midlifers say they are at least somewhat likely to purchase a new home for their retirement. A surprising finding since so many midlifers are likely to leave their family home with less than half the cash they anticipated only ten years ago. It's particularly surprising because, despite the shattered image of home ownership as a sound investment that many Americans no longer trust, we're still wanting to buy.
STICKING CLOSE TO HOME
It turns out today's midlifer is more of a homebody than anyone expected. Many of our parents dreamed of getting that pretty little house in a nice little town somewhere in Florida where mom would play bingo and dad could lounge in his La-Z-Boy chair between rounds of golf. Today very few retirees expect to leave their current home state, with 67% calling that "unlikely" according to the poll and only 13% saying there's even a good chance they'd move across state lines. A whopping 48% of older midlifers say it's extremely or very likely they'll stay put in the home they live in now throughout their retirement.
According to the poll, rural residents might be the happiest folks of all. Fifty-three percent of rural homeowners say it's extremely or very likely they'll just stay put in their current homes. And Midwesterners seem to be more content than Northeasters, as 45% of them plan to stay put compared to only 37% of Northeasters. But if there's one thing midlifers agree on across the nation, it's that they're tired of maintaining their home and are very unlikely to take on a second home in their retirement. A measly 6% of midlifers say they'll give that a try.
THE "X" FACTOR
What motivates those of us who do move on to buy another place? According to the AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll, more than four in 10 want a smaller home, 30% would like a different climate, 25% will look for a more affordable home, and 15% will pack up our bags for the sole purpose of moving closer to family. And it seems retirement today is more about daydreams than ever. Many of the other reasons cited for buying a new home are personal, such as wanting a cabin in the woods or a horse pasture, or the dream of building one's own home, or even simpler wishes like the desire to move closer to downtown or live near the water.
And forget about the time-tested theory that most retirees want to live near their peers. The poll found 73% of midlifers prioritized being closer to their children and family. Only 27% would opt for living in a community with "friends of your own age." Women and men weigh in differently on the importance of being close to their kids: 61% of moms were likely to call living close to children important, compared with just 38% of dads.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
So what particular features are we looking for in a home to retire in? Forty-six percent prioritize having a home that is all on one level. Obviously those who are not in good health place a higher priority on this than healthier folks – 56% among those in fair to very poor health vs. 42% among those who are in good to excellent health. A guest room for visitors is also an important amenity. Thirty-seven percent say they'd like to have "an extra room for visiting family or friends."
And what neighborhood amenities are most important? Thirty-nine percent rate "being close to medical offices or hospitals" as very important and 38% want most to be "close to shops and services." Just 14% say it's important to live in a city, 10% say it's important to have an airport nearby, 8% rank a "gated community with full-time security" as important, and a mere 4% want to have a golf course nearby. There's good news for the sunbelt states: 25% say it's important to live in a warm climate. But unlike days of old, only 12% say they want to live at the beach or seashore.
THAT NOT-SO-EMPTY NEST
Also, according to the AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll, it seems college kids' rooms don't stay vacant long. Forty-seven percent of midlifer parents whose kids have moved out have already converted their rooms to other uses, a surprising finding considering one third of all college kids these days move back home after graduation. And younger midlifer parents are far more likely to convert their children's rooms for a variety of uses the minute their kids are out the door. Most whose children have already moved out made the newly spare room into a guest bedroom, 39% into a home office, 28% a craft room, and 15% an entertainment room.
Finally, the importance of family comes to the fore yet again as 76% of midlifers say they prefer that visiting friends and family stay with them when they travel to the area. Only 23% think they ought to get a hotel room, a finding that may explain the popularity of converting children's rooms to guest bedrooms.