The best places to retire #America

Steve and Kathleen Nagel had two special requirements as they searched for a retirement locale last fall: plentiful medical specialists (Kathy, 64, has health issues) and no risk of hurricanes, a perpetual threat to their old home in Lake Charles, 30 miles off the Gulf of Mexico. “We went through two hurricanes in a year,” explains Steve, 60, who is now winding up a career at oil refinery and chemical plants in the U.S. and abroad. They also wanted low taxes and reasonable living costs, mild weather and a lively cultural scene. The couple investigated Nashville, Austin, Tex., and Asheville, N.C. As part of their online research they came across a Facebook group touting the eastern Tennessee city of Knoxville. Scenic and far from hurricane paths, Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee and its medical school, which translates into lots of doctors, restaurants and entertainment. Housing prices are low and Tennessee was about to end its remaining state income tax on dividends and interest. Despite the pandemic, with the help of a Knoxville real-estate-agent couple, Jon and Dawn Powell, the Nagels’ were able to tour a dozen potential homes during two 1,600-mile (roundtrip) road trips. “We just kept putting on and taking off masks,” Steve shrugs. In November they closed on a one-story on the outskirts of Knoxville, where they are now living.

Even a pandemic couldn’t stop some of the nation’s 70 million baby boomers from their determined pursuit of an agreeable retirement lifestyle. Last year, we noted work-from-home would enable some boomers to move while still on the job. But Covid-19 also led to a jump in the number leaving the workforce 3.2 million retired in 2020, more than double the number the year before. With housing prices up %11 since March 2020 and mortgage rates still near record lows, now would seem to be an ideal time for newly vaccinated boomers aiming to either downsize or move to a cheaper housing market to start their search.

Where to look? As it happens, Knoxville is for the first time on Forbes’ Best Places To Retire list, which aims to identify places that provide exceptional retirement value—meaning they combine a high quality of life with affordability. The National Association of Realtors reports the national median home price has climbed to $329,000, but the median for our list averages $246,000 and all but two of our picks are under the national median. We also look closely at taxes and the strength of the local economy (should retirees want to work part time or resell their homes), the availability of medical care, the level of serious crime and factors conducive to a healthy and active lifestyle, such as air quality, and convenience for walking and biking.

Our 2021 roster contains 25 spots in 18 states across all four continental time zones, representing a wide range of size, climate, culture and politics (though those play no role in our decision-making, we do note the 2020 Presidential vote in our full profiles). The majority offer warmish weather—three are in Florida, with two each in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. But we also identify inviting locales in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota; indeed, Fargo is the only city to make the list all 11 years we’ve compiled it.

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