Thinking of retiring? Some food for thought

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Many retirees are opting to stay closer to the communities where they lived during their working years, deciding to be near their families and the areas they know.

And builders and real estate agents are working to meet this demand by creating and finding communities where homeowners can have recreation, maintenance-free living and first-floor amenities as they choose a place to retire.

Nearly six out of 10 homeowners said they expect to move to another home when they retire, according to the annual Baby Boomer Report by Del Webb Corp., one of the nation's largest builders of adult communities. U.S. Census figures indicate a growing number of people will reach retirement age during the next 15 years, and the real estate industry is racing to meet the housing needs posed by that demographic fact.

Where to retire depends on a variety of factors, including tax implications, housing choices, transportation, weather and health care, experts said.

The AARP, financial advisers and real estate experts said those retiring - or thinking about it - should ask themselves a series of questions about what they want to do in retirement and how long they expect to stay in the next home they buy.

"If you're 55 and looking to golf, you're going to make a very different decision than when you're 68," said Elizabeth Clemmer, associate director of AARP's Public Policy Institute in Washington.

People in metropolitan Baltimore are considering various retirement spots in the five-county area, along with the Eastern Shore, Delaware, Virginia and southern Pennsylvania, according to local real estate agents and builders. But areas such as Florida, Arizona, North and South Carolina remain top draws both locally and nationally, experts said.

Deborah Voso, a certified financial planner and president of Voso Financial Advisers in Frederick, has worked with many people looking for places to retire. She recommends that they study tax codes and make sure their health insurance coverage provides for their needs in the locale they're considering.

"And before they really move away, we suggest that if they can, they should rent there for a winter and really see how they like it," Voso said.

Surveys show that the most important factors people seek in retirement communities are safe and clean areas; health care; recreation amenities like clubhouses, tennis courts and pools; and places nearby such as supermarkets, health clubs and restaurants.

"It used to be that when people wanted to retire, they looked at Florida, Phoenix and more recently Las Vegas," said Bob Coursey, sales manager for Ryan Homes, which along with NVHomes, is building the Villages at Woodholme in Pikesville, a community targeted for adults 55 and older. "But the trend has been to change their living environment but not to completely change their social systems."

Del Webb's survey found that 27 percent of homeowners expect to retire to areas that are less than three hours from their current home. The Del Webb poll involved completed online surveys from 1,361 participants between the ages of 44 and 56. The survey has a statistical validity of 5.1 percentage points.

"What drew them to [the area] initially is what's drawing them to remain here," said Jeanne Wachter, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Pikesville. "A lot of seniors look to scale down and to relieve themselves of the responsibilities where they have to maintain the house. And they're looking for an easier lifestyle where they go into condominiums and all the amenities so they can travel and not have to worry about the house."

Where to Retire magazine last month said its top 100 master planned communities for retirees included Penn National in Fayetteville, Pa., and the Parke at Ocean Pines near Ocean City. The magazine studied areas for active seniors.

And the Web site Neighborhoodscout.com chose Pikesville and Gettysburg, Pa., as two top spots for Baltimore-area residents to retire. The Web site analyzed a variety of factors including tranquillity, housing choices, crime rates and educated seniors. It chose Pikesville as the best spot and Gettysburg as the best value.

Dottie Nachman and her husband, Steven, settled at the Villages of Woodholme in Pikesville last year after considering a number of out-of-state locations for their retirement. They decided they needed to be close to family. So they moved from Randallstown last year and opted for first-floor living and a maintenance-free community where someone else tackles chores like lawn mowing and snow removal.

"I wanted to stay right here because my kids are here," said Dottie Nachman. "You couldn't pull me away if you tried."

Barbara and Paul Rusko sold their Severn home two years ago to retire at the beach.

They bought a house in 2001 at the Parke at Ocean Pines in Berlin because they wanted to be near the water and stay active in a variety of sports. The community is being built by Centex Homes and is targeted for adults 55 and older. It includes a clubhouse, fitness center and pool.

The Ruskos looked as far west as Phoenix but decided they liked the Ocean City area because they had owned a condominium there since 1979. Family in Anne Arundel County made the decision easier.

"It's nice to know that we can get there without it being that far away," Barbara Rusko said.

Masonry Homes, which is headquartered in Carroll County, is building a community in Gettysburg called Camelot Square. The company said it has seen interest from Baltimore and Washington residents thinking about retiring there.

"They're making this move now in anticipation of retirement," said Sara Erhartic, marketing manager for Masonry Homes. "But some of them are retired, too."

David and Betty Pessagno of Reisterstown searched for places to retire in York, Pa., and West Virginia. Their desire: to play golf and relax.

They settled on a piece of property at Penn National in Fayetteville, Pa., and expect to build a house there during the next year. The golf course and maintenance-free living was most important to them, they said. They chose a smaller home than the one they have now in Reisterstown and liked the area because of the two golf courses.

"The kids are gone and married and we just wanted something that's easier to take care of," David Pessagno said. "We didn't want to move too far away."

Judy Gill, an agent with Coldwell Banker who specializes in selling homes in southern Pennsylvania, said she has seen more people give that area a look.

"And any communities where people can buy ranch homes and first-floor living are popular," she said.

Clemmer of AARP said she expects more people to choose to stay closer to home during the coming years.

"The notion that everyone wants to go to Florida or Tucson is not a universal notion," she said. "People don't want to leave their communities."

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