What and Where is Home?

“Where you are is who you are.” –Virginia Woolf

“Home” conjures up many images. Defined as “the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered,” it has been celebrated by artists, poets, writers, and philosophers. With the number of multiple corporate relocations in our mobile society, “Where is home?” can become a difficult question to answer.

Is it your current residence? Where you were born and grew up? Where most of your family lives? It’s an important concept and a vital one to think about if you’re contemplating moving upon retirement. Will there be a “Dinosaur Age,” with retirees roaming the earth in search of nirvana?

According to Marjorie Garber in Sex and Real Estate, 50 percent of boomers think they’ll move into a new home after they retire, 22 percent want to move to another state, and 44 percent want to move to the southern Atlantic coast. When you’re talking about 78 million boomers, that’s a lot of moving vans!

Although many people “stay put” to be near family and friends, an interesting and surprising national survey by Clyde and Shari Steiner, authors of Steiner’s Complete How-to-Move Handbook, found that the third most frequently cited reason for a move is to escape from family members and friends!

Whatever your reasons, will you pack up your things like a nomad and join the one in seven Americans who live along the East or Gulf coast? Will you ponder a second home? Which factors should you consider before relocating? How can you “try out” new places to live, and what housing possibilities exist?

Should you consider renting? What if your adult kids decide to move back in with you? What is universal design, and how can it help you? And if you do decide to pull up roots, how do you increase your chances for a successful move? Enough questions — let’s start answering them!

Currently, the majority of people do not move when they retire, but predictions about today’s boomers paint a different picture. A 2003 survey by Del Webb, builder of active-adult communities, found that almost 60 percent of those between the ages of 44 and 56 plan to pull up stakes after they retire. If you’ve thought about the possibility of moving after retiring, take our survey, “To Relocate or Not to Relocate: That Is the Question” on page 453.

In addition to quality-of-life factors, Harry Dent, author of The Roaring 2000s, suggests you consider quantitative factors such as job opportunities, income growth, population growth, how much land and water is available for development, real estate appreciation, and office building vacancy rates. Dent also recommends using psychographics, or lifestyle analyses, in helping to choose a retirement location.

One of these lifestyle analysis systems, called PRIZM, from Claritas, “classifies neighborhoods into one of 62 categories based on census data, leading consumer surveys and media measurement data, and other public and private sources of demographic and consumer information.”

For example, on the Claritas Web site (www.claritas.com), we clicked on “Customer Segmentation Systems,” then “You Are Where You Live.” We then entered 33480, the zip code for Palm Beach, Florida, which we know is an expensive area. The three most common lifestyle segments that surfaced were “Gray Power” (affluent retirees), “Second City Elite” (college-educated professionals), and “Money and Brains” (educated professionals living in upscale neighborhoods). This is a thumbnail sketch of the type of information that PRIZM provides. Try putting in the zip code of your present locale or one you’re considering, and see the demographics of people who live there!

Perhaps all these factors are not burning issues for everyone — some people love snow and cold weather, some are unconcerned with job opportunities or the quantity of available land, and for the very wealthy, a low cost of living may not be paramount. (When we and our spouses prioritized our own criteria, climate and proximity to the beach were paramount.) Each person has to rank what is most important as he or she (and a significant other, if there is one) goes through the decision-making process. You may realize you have the qualities that are most important to you in your current location and decide you’re already in the best possible location.

A Home Away From Home

One home or two? According to the National Association of Realtors, the second-home market represented 6 percent of real estate transactions in 2000; there were a total of 3.6 million seasonal homes by the third quarter of 2002. If you have the financial wherewithal and the desire for a second home, this is another path to consider — it’s a hot trend.

Perhaps you’re very satisfied with your social group, you love your doctors, you know the maitre d’s of the best restaurants by name — the only things you’re missing are dramatic mountains to ski, a sandy beach to stroll, or a secluded cabin from which to enjoy Mother Nature. Or, maybe you’d like to be a snowbird (flee the cold winter weather for warmer destinations) or a sunbird (avoid the swelter of summer by going to a cooler location). A second home is also a way to sample an area as a future permanent retirement spot.

If you think you might want a second home, check out chapter 5, where we recommend some specific locations and communities. Or, take a look at Escape Homes (www.escapehomes.com and click on “Pressroom,” or 800-937-9090), which released its 2003 list of “Top 100 Second-Home Markets.” (You can also just browse online for a second home.) Escape Homes also compiled its 2003 list of “Top 10 Emerging Second Home Markets.” Alphabetically, they are Burnside, Kentucky; Caribou, Maine; Ely, Minnesota; Island Park, Idaho; Ketchikan, Alaska; Lake Martin, Alabama; St. George, Utah; Sisters, Oregon; Waterville Valley, New Hampshire; and White Mountain, Arizona.

What if you want to buy some land at a good price on which to build your dream home? Robert Abalos, an attorney who specializes in land investments and real estate development, gave these suggestions in the October 2, 2003, issue of Fortune magazine. Consider “buying lots from bankrupt or cash-starved developers, contacting out-of-state owners in resort areas who once intended to build but now just want to unload, and look into foreclosure auctions.”

Pros of a Second Home

Real estate does tend to appreciate over time — you may be able to combine the best of both worlds (main home in a city full of cultural amenities with a second home in a laid-back beach area, for example). You may get away more often knowing there’s a place waiting for you. You may be able to rent your place when you’re not there to help defray costs. It may be a magnet for family and friends to visit (hmmmmmm . . . could this also be a con for some?). If you’re not a planner, you’ll always have a reservation at your seasonal destination. And you can double your social contacts by having two residences.

Cons of a Second Home

There are the issues of cost and maintenance — and of dealing with both from a distance. And, if you have a finite amount of money (and who doesn’t?), would owning a second home tie up so much money that it would preclude travel or other expensive enjoyable activities? Some people have found it harder to make friends when shuttling between homes. Doris and Ken M., for example, own homes in St. Louis, Missouri, and Laguna Hills, California.

Although friendly with both sets of neighbors, they found there was a readjustment period when they returned to either home. Plans had been made, groups had been formed, and it took a while to reintegrate themselves back into the social scene. Finding someone to keep an eye on each home in their absence was also critical.

A Few More Specifics

Consider distance. If getting to your second home becomes a major hassle in terms of time or cost, buying it may become a decision you’ll regret. If you’re looking for a weekend-type retreat, you may want to limit the driving distance to 3 hours or less (not more than a tank of gas away). If you’re planning on living there for weeks or months at a time, however, this is less of an issue.

If you’re thinking about a resort area for your second home (or even your primary home), find out the percentages of full-time and part-time residents, as well as rental restrictions. You may find your neighbors change from week to week.

Water damage can be a nightmare if you’re not home. When you’re leaving your house for an extended period, turn off the main water shut-off valve and drain the water lines at the lowest point. Don’t forget exterior hose bibs and pipes, if the pipes could freeze. Claudia A. had a disaster while just picking up her dry cleaning. The rubber supply hose from the washing machine (located on the main floor) burst, causing water to ruin the hardwood floors in the kitchen, powder room, and hallway, and to pour into the basement.

If the temperature where you live could go below the freezing point, add ethylene glycol (antifreeze or windshield washer fluid) to other drains with water-filled plumbing traps (tubs, showers, toilet bowls, floor drains, etc.) after you’ve removed as much water from them as possible.

Appliances can cause an electrical fire even if they are turned off. Switch off circuit breakers to everything but the lighting and heating you want to utilize while you’re absent. Dishwashers have a little bit of water in the bottom to keep the seals pliable and protect the motor. To prevent that water from evaporating, add a half-cup of liquid bleach and three tablespoons of mineral oil. The bleach will kill bacteria, and the oil will float on top of the water, preventing evaporation. Dispose of perishable foods, or take them with you. Safely store any valuable and/or sentimental items.

If your house is in a northern climate, when leaving for an extended period it’s helpful to leave the windows cracked to allow the humidity to equalize inside and outside the house, preventing condensation and the growth of mold and mildew within your home. Ask someone you trust to close and lock the windows after a few weeks.

Also, installing a low-heat thermostat (set around 40 degrees) will prevent pipes from freezing while saving money over conventional thermostats, which typically have their lowest setting around 55 or 60 degrees. If you leave a southern home vacant during the summer, Pacific Gas and Electric Company recommends you set your air conditioner above 85 degrees and close the drapes.

You’ll need a mechanism for receiving bills as you alternate between residences. Many companies can send bills over the Internet, a trend that’s accelerating. It has the added plus of eliminating the paperwork that traditional snail mail entails. So, if you’re comfortable with the computer, your bills are often only a click away, no matter where you are. Or, you can have the post office forward your mail.

There’s nothing like the human touch. If you know someone who can periodically check on the house and get in touch with you if there’s an issue, you’ll feel much more relaxed about your second home. If you notify them, the police will also drive by to check things out.

© 2004 Jan Cullinane and Cathy Fitzgerald

Excerpted by permission from The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, Published by Rodale June 2004; $19.95US/$29.95CAN; 1-57954-796-6. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735.

About the Authors:
Jan Cullinane has a master’s degree in science education and has taught extensively at the college and high-school levels. Several corporate relocations whetted her interest in finding the ultimate retirement spot and fueled her desire to travel. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and their three children and has the bizarre ability to speak backwards fluently.

Cathy Fitzgerald, originally a fourth grade teacher, has been busy raising four children, weathering half a dozen corporate moves, including one to France, and trying to answer the question that many boomers face: “Where is home?” Answering this question has been a large part of the inspiration for The New Retirement. Together with Jan, she conducts retirement seminars through their company, Retirement Living from A to Z.