Where Should I Retire?: We want a $250,000 home within an hour of the mountains or the ocean — where should we retire?

United States

Dear MarketWatch,

My husband and I are looking to retire in a year. He is 61 and I am 57. We each have over $ 1 million saved in retirement accounts. We each have a small pension that will pay $ 500 a month that we will start collecting in five to seven years.

We own two houses (we rent one) and are looking to sell both in the next five years. We would expect to clear $ 400,000 and then would buy a small house, hopefully no more than $ 250,000, in a community that has access to cultural events, good restaurants as well as good biking and hiking, and is close to a major airport. Within an hour to the mountains or the ocean would be a plus.  

We don’t have any areas that are off limits; we have even entertained Italy, Portugal and Spain. 

We would rent for the first year to make sure we like the area.  

Any thoughts?


Dear Judi,

I’m going to be honest: $ 250,000 is below the median U.S. home price, so I’m glad you are saying it will be a small home (though small isn’t always cheaper). On top of that, you pay a premium for being close to mountains and beaches. The same is true for vibrant cities, which of course are also where you’re more likely to find the better airports.

Read: Here’s how you can save money on capital-gains taxes when you sell your home

So where could you retire?

Midwestern college towns can offer much of what you want aside from the ocean or mountains. Would a lake be a fair swap to stay within your budget? I’ve suggested many in previous articles, from Iowa City (top of the Milken Institute’s list of best small cities for successful aging) and Bloomington, Ind., to Columbia, Mo. (also highly ranked on the Milken list), and Stillwater, Okla. There are so many more.

If you can give up the water and the Southwest appeals to you, consider Las Cruces or Albuquerque and its suburb of Rio Rancho.

Read: How to successfully move from your longtime home to a senior community

I’m glad you’re willing to consider all parts of the country because that gives you so many options. You may want to try the MarketWatch “Where Should I Retire” tool to continue refining what you’re looking for. 

And thumbs up for planning to rent that first year to make sure it’s the right fit. You may even want to do a series of shorter rentals as you whittle down your shortlist.

No matter what you decide, I’d also encourage you to experience the dream of living abroad, even just a three-month rental at a time. But first learn about the Schengen area’s 90/180 rule that limits you to 90 days within any 180-day period if you only have a tourist visa. Because all three countries are part of the 26-country zone, you can’t just move from Spain to Portugal, for example, on the 90th day with that visa (the kind you get on arrival). 

In the meantime, I’ve got three suggestions in three parts of the country — with water or mountains nearby.

Beaufort, South Carolina

One of Beaufort’s historic homes.


This Lowcountry community of just over 13,000 is one of Southern Living’s picks for the South’s best small towns. It describes it as “a coastal gem brimming with charm and hospitality.” Livability has called Beaufort one of America’s best small towns. And when you want a bigger city (and the airport), it’s only an hour to Savannah and 90 minutes to Charleston.

Be sure to check out the Spanish Moss Trail, a 10-mile walking and biking trail that follows an old rail line and offers plenty of opportunities to view coastal wildlife. Outside magazine calls it one of the 10 best urban walking trails in America, and supporters are trying to connect the path to downtown.

One of the newest attractions is the still-developing Reconstruction Era National Historic Park. Beaufort and the surrounding Lowcountry, the Parks Service notes, “played a crucial role in the development of the Reconstruction Era.” Beaufort County was some of the first Confederate territory taken over by Union soldiers, in late 1861, and the first efforts to help the formerly enslaved become self-sufficient, known as the Port Royal Experiments, began.

Beaufort also is just next to Parris Island, which trains 20,000 Marines annually. Beaufort County, which includes Port Royal and Blufton, has 200,000 people. You can see what’s on the market now in both the city and county, using listings from Realtor.com, which like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp.

Some other southern options: Rome, Ga., (suggested here) and Knoxville, Tenn. (suggested here).

Midland, Michigan

The Tridge, a three-way wooden footbridge spanning the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee Rivers, is a Midland landmark.


This is an almost-ocean option, one that puts you just 30 minutes from Lake Huron, the second-largest Great Lake by area. And don’t underestimate Midland, with nearly 42,000 people plus Dow Chemical’s global headquarters and more than 400 examples of mid century modern architecture. It’s also easily within your budget.

Midland is a bronze-level bicycle-friendly community, as rated by the League of American Bicyclists. Bike or hike on the 30-mile Pere Marquette Rail-Trail (it unfortunately heads west, not east toward Lake Huron) and connect downtown near the “Tridge” (a three-part bridge) with the 4-mile Chippewa Trail, which leads to the Chippewa Nature Center. The 110-acre Dow Gardens, a botanical garden, and the 8 miles of hiking trails in Midland City Forest are other places to enjoy nature.

Just 20 miles away are sandy beaches and more trails at Bay City State Park.

Turn to the Midland Center for the Arts for your cultural fix. You’ll also find free outdoor concerts, with a mix of music, all summer long on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. As for restaurants, the movement toward locally sourced food is happening here, too, and you won’t find a single chain restaurant among the 10 places to eat downtown.

If Midland seems too small, consider that the three-county Saginaw-Midland-Bay-City area is home to around 400,000 people.

Average summer highs are in the low 80s; average winter highs are around freezing, and you’ll get an average of close to 40 inches of snow. 

Too much winter? Turn it into a great time to travel. When you don’t want to connect via the local airport (MBS International Airport), the Detroit airport is two hours away.

Here’s what’s on the market now in Midland, using Realtor.com.

Spokane, Washington

The Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox is the Art Deco home of the Spokane Symphony and hosts other performing-arts events.

Courtesy Visit Spokane

Maybe you want a bigger city? Spokane has 225,000 people; the county as a whole is home to about 525,000 people. Culture, restaurants, airport — all there. And while the median home price is above your target, Spokane’s size means you’d have a wider range of housing options. Or you may want to check out its suburbs.

The biking is there too. Like Midland, Spokane is a bronze-level bicycle-friendly community. Among its rail-trails is the 37.5-mile Spokane River Centennial State Park Trail that leads to Idaho … and another trail that will get you to more upscale Coeur d’Alene.

You’ll also find many hiking options, including 100 miles of trails (and a ski resort) in Mount Spokane State Park about 35 miles away. For a water adventure, you can go whitewater rafting on the Spokane River just minutes from downtown. Lovers of craft beer have 31 breweries to check out in Spokane and nearby communities

Spokane gets about 44 inches of snow a year, so a bit more than Midland, and of course there will be more at higher elevations. Average January highs are just above freezing; average July highs are in the mid-80s.

This may not be a factor for you, but for those who prioritize living in a state with no income tax, Washington is one of those.

Here’s what’s on the market now in Spokane and across Spokane County, again using Realtor.com.

Where should Judi and her husband retire? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

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