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Where Should I Retire?

Dec. 19, 2020, 4:29 p.m. EST

We want to retire to Florida or a Florida-type atmosphere and buy a condo with lots of amenities for $250,000 — where should we go?

Have a question on where to retire? Email us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com

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By Silvia Ascarelli, MarketWatch

Dear MarketWatch,

My wife and I are looking to retire in three years from New Jersey to Florida or a Florida-type atmosphere — warm weather, no snow!

We will be getting around $5,000 from Social Security monthly and will have a little over $1 million spread among savings/401(k)/house equity. We want to buy a condo for about $250,000 that has all the extras like pools, restaurants, social activities and near the beach.

Can you make any suggestions?

Thanks,

Marty

Dear Marty,

With 1,350 miles of coastline in Florida alone, never mind the rest of the South, you have many possibilities for your retirement. But as you can imagine, properties closest to the beach are more expensive, so “near the beach” may involve some compromise.

I started my search with Realtor.com (which, like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp.) and its picks of affordable beach communities, but didn’t stick to it exclusively.

Read: This popular state for retirees is the worst for long-term care

My three suggestions are just a starting point. No place is perfect, not every development will have all the amenities you want, and every town has its own personality, so you may want to think about what else is important to you. You also may want to consider gated communities and townhomes, not just multistory condominium buildings.

As you narrow down your list, I recommend you visit at least twice — once in the winter to experience the crowds in high season and once in the summer to understand what southern humidity is like. It’s worse than in New Jersey.

Think about how you will build your new social network, even with all the social amenities in your condo building. Don’t rule out the local senior center or the town’s recreation department.

Consider renting for the first year to test it out to make sure you’ve picked the right area.

Read: Why this popular retirement state is the worst for long-term care

Then there are the money questions. The last thing you need is a surprise.

You’ll have condo fees; they can be quite high, particularly in a high-rise building along the beach. What do they cover and what don’t they cover? How much have fees been rising over, say, the past 10 years? How does the board budget for bigger repairs? More broadly, are you OK with the condo association’s rules?

Ask about the cost of both flood and wind insurance given that the southern coastline is regularly threatened with hurricanes. That’s on top of homeowner’s insurance. Or are you far enough inland that you can get away without them?

Walk into the tax assessor’s office to try for a more accurate tax assessment than your real-estate agent may give you. And since this would be your primary residence, ask about the homestead exemption.

And don’t forget that you’re trading your New Jersey heating bill for more months of air conditioning; what will that cost?

Read: You can still claim Social Security spousal benefits — even if your spouse is gone

Finally, three years isn’t that far away. Start decluttering now. That’s hard work, too.

Here are three coastal towns to get you started on your search:

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