The Best Places To Retire In 2020

Forbes compared more than 750 locales in America, measuring everything from housing costs and taxes to healthcare and air quality. These are the top 25 cities for retirees.


Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Timur and Pamela Lacey had flown from their Los Angeles-area home to Austin and Atlanta and were planning trips to Dallas, Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and the Florida Gulf Coast—all in search of a more affordable locale to enjoy an early retirement. “I’m still looking,’’ says Timur, a 57-year-old IT technician. Except instead of heading to the airport, he now pores over real estate listing websites and calls far-flung realtors to chat about their markets.

While he’s still looking, home sales have started to come back, thanks in part to record low mortgage rates and a stock market rebound.  Daryl Fairweather, chief economist of Seattle-based Redfin, the big, cut-rate nationwide property brokerage, reports nearly half of its buyers are now making offers on a property without physically visiting it. She attributes that to a combination of coronavirus fear and enhanced online information, including interactive three-dimensional video scans produced for all homes listed by Redfin agents. In some states it’s even possible now to do a no-contact video closing.

What about retirees looking to buy? They “aren’t slowing down,” reports David Masterson, a real estate agent in Green Valley, Ariz., an area 25 miles from Tucson that is one of Forbes’ 25 picks for this year’s Best Places To Retire list.

Such upbeat talk may sound jarring given the millions of laid-off Americans now worrying about paying their rent or mortgage or even putting food on the table. But the reality is the Covid recession hasn’t been felt equally across generations; in a survey released last week, 32% of Millennials (aged 24 to 39), but just 16% of Baby Boomers (56 to 74), said that the current crisis has had an “extreme” or “very negative” impact on their personal finances. In that poll, 22% of still working boomers said they planned to retire later, and 14% sooner, because of the pandemic. But with the spread of work-from-home, even those who are delaying may be able to move now,  points out George Rativ, a senior economist at the National Association of Realtors. 

The pandemic could influence retirement location decisions in other ways, too, which fortuitously, largely align with how we’ve traditionally approached our list. For example, some Boomers who haven’t financially suffered may need their savings to stretch further as they help out Millennial kids who have taken a hit—three fourths of retired parents and grandparents said they were ready to provide support to family even if it jeopardized their own finances.

Our list has always aimed first and foremost to identify retirement value—places that offer a high quality of life at an affordable price. While the current national median home price is $284,600 according to the Realtors, 13 of this year’s picks, including Savannah, Ga., Lewiston, Maine and Winston-Salem, N.C., have a median sales price below $200,000. Another timely metric we’ve long considered is the availability of medical care, using doctors per capita as a proxy. Plus, we look at whether a city encourages a healthy and active lifestyle with good air quality, convenience for walking and biking and low serious crime.

Then there’s the big issue of proximity to those kids and grandkids. In pre-Covid surveys, the number one reason retirees have given for moving to another state is a desire to be closer to family—a factor that likely looms even larger now. So while our focus on affordability (including low taxes) keeps us from recommending any place in high-cost, high-tax California or New York, we try to spread our picks across the U.S. (a factor that is particularly relevant as Covid-19 hot spots pop up in different locales). This year the best 25 are in 18 states and all the continental time zones. In a nod to retirees’ demonstrated preference for warmer locales, more than half our picks are in temperate climates. But cold weather alone isn’t disqualifying. Indeed. Fargo, N.D., is the only place that has made our Best Places list for all 10 years we’ve compiled it. (You can read more about what makes Fargo special here. )

We did make a few adjustments this year to reflect current concerns. In a nod to the continuing impact of Covid, this year’s list is lighter than its predecessors on smallish college towns. We worry that the educational and cultural opportunities that had made them so appealing, will be slow to return. And for the first time, we considered climate change risk, using data from the University of Notre Dame Urban Adaptation Assessment which assesses the impact of future flood, heat, cold, sea level rise and drought. 

Our choices for the 25 best are listed alphabetically below. You can read more about our methodology below the list.

Asheville, North Carolina

Scenic Blue Ridge Mountains town of 92,000 in North Carolina 200 miles northeast of Atlanta. PROS: Abundant doctors, good air quality, excellent climate. CONS: Serious crime rate above national average. Median home price $308,000, 8% above national median. Click here to see full profile.

 

Augusta, Georgia

Verdant Savannah River city of 202,000, 145 miles east of Atlanta. PROS: Median home price just $110,000, 61% below national median. Big tax exemptions for retirement income. CONS: Not very walkable or bikeable. Click here to see full profile.

 

Boise, Idaho

State capital city of 229,000 with big outdoors scene in state’s southwestern corner. PROS: Lots of doctors. Good weather. Highly bikeable. Low crime. CON: Median home price $341,000, 20% above the national median and highest on our list. Click here to see full profile.

 

Columbus, Ohio

State capital, business center and college town (Ohio State) of 899,000 in center of state. PROS: Median home price $174,000, 39% below national median. Abundant doctors per capita. CONS: Serious crime rate above national average. High climate change risk. Click here to see full profile.

Dallas, Texas

Major city of 1.35 million. PROS: Median home price $219,000, 21% below national median. No state income or estate tax. Good climate. Big culture scene. CON: Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Des Moines, Iowa

Midwest state capital city of 214,000 at intersection of two rivers. PRO: Median home price $147,000, 48% below national median. High doctors per capita. CONS: State inheritance tax. Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

 

Evansville, Indiana

Ohio River city of 118,000 in southwestern Indiana. PROS: Median home price $132,000, 54% below national median. No state estate inheritance tax. CON: Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Fargo, North Dakota

North Dakota’s largest city, population 125,000, adjoining Minnesota on the Red River of the North. PROS: Median home price $228,000, 20% below national median. High number of doctors per capita. CON: Cold winters. Click here to see full profile.

Green Valley, Arizona

Town of 32,000, including dozens of desert retirement communities, 20 miles south of Tucson. PROS: Median home price of $195,000, 27% below national median. Very low serious crime rate. CON: Not very walkable or bikeable. Click here to see full profile.

Jacksonville, Florida

Florida’s largest city, population 904,000, on the Atlantic Ocean. PROS: Median home price $196,000, 31% below national median. No state income or inheritance tax. CON: Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

 

Jefferson City, Missouri

Picturesque capital city and Missouri River town of 43,000, between St. Louis and Kansas City. PROS: Median home price $157,000, 45% below national median. Low serious crime rate. CON: State income tax on Social Security benefits. Click here to see full profile.

Lewiston, Maine

Scenic treed city of 36,000 near the coast in southeastern Maine. PROS: Median home price $165,000, 42% below national median. Good air quality. Very low serious crime rate. CON:  Cold winters. Click here to see full profile.

Mesa, Arizona

Fast-growing Phoenix suburb of 509,000.  PROS:  Low serious crime rate. Good climate. No state income tax on Social Security benefits or state estate tax. CONS: Median home price of $279,000,  high for this list. Poor air quality. Click here to see full profile.

Orlando, Florida

Booming central Florida city of 287,000 known for theme parks and sunny skies. PROS: Median home price $261,000, 8% below national median. High ratio of doctors per capita. Good air quality. No state income or estate tax. CONS: Serious crime rate and cost of living both above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Rolling city of 302,000, clustered around three major rivers. PROS: Median home price $180,000, 37% below national median. High number of doctors per capita. Good for walking and biking. CONS: Poor air quality. Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Berkshire Mountains city of 42,000, 135 miles west of Boston. PROS: Median home price $189,000, 34% below national median. In normal times, great summer culture scene.  CONS: Cold winters. State estate tax. Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Raleigh, North Carolina

State capital and college town of 474,000 in famed Research Triangle. PROS: Good climate and air quality. Good ratio of doctors to patients. Very bikeable.  CONS: Median home price $290,000, 2% above national median. Click here to see full profile.

Rochester, Minnesota

Home of world-famous Mayo Clinic and 119,000 people, 85 miles southeast of Minneapolis. PROS: Incredibly high ratio of doctors per capita. Median home price $247,000, 13% below national medium. CONS: Cold winters. State taxes Social Security benefits and estates. Click here to see full profile. 

San Antonio, Texas

South Texas city of 1.5 million, making it the nation’s seventh-largest. PROS: Median home price $188,000, 34% below national median. No state income or estate tax. CONS: Serious crime rate above national average. Not very walkable. Click here to see full profile.

Sarasota, Florida

Gulf Coast city of 58,000, 60 miles south of Tampa. PROS: Sunny weather, good air quality. Very walkable and bikeable. No state income or estate tax. CONS: Median home price of $279,000, high for this list. Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Savannah, Georgia

Soothing river city of 146,000, 30 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. PROS: Median home price of $167,000, 41% below national average. Comfortable climate, good air quality. Big state tax breaks for retirees. CON: Serious crime rate slightly above national average.  Click here to see full profile.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Rolling river town of 184,000 in southwestern South Dakota, 240 miles southwest of Minneapolis. PROS: Median home price $209,000, 27% below national average. Good ratio of physicians to population. Good air quality. CON: Cold winters. Click here to see full profile.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Sprawling Atlantic Ocean city of 450,000—Virginia’s largest—with 28 miles of beach. PROS: Good air quality. Comfortable climate. Very low serious crime rate. CONS: Median home price of $289,000, high for this list. Cost of living 6% above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Wenatchee, Washington

Sunny Columbia River city of 34,000, 150 miles east of Seattle on dry side of Cascade Range. PROS: Comfortable climate. Good air quality. Very low serious crime rate. No state income tax.  CON: Median home price of $333,000, second highest on this list. Click here to see full profile.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Artsy town of 246,000 in the Piedmont area of North Carolina, 80 miles northeast of Charlotte.  PROS: Median home price $152,000, 47% below national median. Comfortable climate, good air quality. CON: Serious crime rate above national average. Click here to see full profile.

Methodology

We compared data on more than 750 places, with populations above 10,000, in all 50 states. The biggest factors we take into account involve money, including median home prices, the overall cost of living compared with the national average, and state taxes, including special income tax exemptions for Social Security and other retirement income and state estate/inheritance taxes.

Since living well is just as important as living affordably, we look at a number of quality of life indicators, including the rate of violent crime (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) as compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We eliminate from consideration cities with beyond-the-pale crime rates as well as places that are well below the national average when it comes to physicians per capita or air quality. The doctor data comes from countyhealthrankings.org while air ratings are from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

We also consider factors that promote an active retirement. These include ratings by walkscore.com for walkability (how easy it is to shop and get to places on foot) and by the League of American Bicyclists on whether dedicated lanes and other measures make it easy to bike around town.

Finally, we take note of ratings in the Milken Institute report on “Best Cities for Successful Aging,’’ which weighs such factors as wellness, health care, transportation and economics. A low score from Milken, however, does not by itself disqualify a place from the Forbes list. Were that the case, Florida would be totally absent from the list.


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