02/01/2012Soon after a couple in their early 60s retired from their jobs with a manufacturing firm, they sold their spacious suburban split-level and moved to a ranch-style place half its size in a seaside Costa Rican village.
But the setting -- which initially seemed like paradise -- proved a poor choice for the couple. Within a matter of months, they felt isolated from the friends and connections that made their lives fulfilling before the move.
"They told me they were lonely and felt like social outcasts ... Life had lost its meaning for them," recalls Keith Weber, the couple's financial planner at the time.
With Weber's guidance, the couple sold their property three years after their move. They returned to the U.S., where they bought a house near their grown children.
As this true story illustrates, a heavenly setting doesn't necessarily translate into a rewarding retirement. "Filling our lives with pleasant experiences -- like golf and travel -- doesn't bring lasting happiness for most people. To be truly happy, most people need to feel a sense of purpose in life," says Weber, a retirement coach and author of "Rethinking Retirement."
As Weber says, many couples have widely differing views on an ideal retirement. For instance, one partner might think that a move to a resort setting would be idyllic. But the other might find the same community boring due to its lack of intellectual and cultural stimulation.
"Retirement can absolutely put more pressure on a relationship," he says.
Here are a few pointers for couples seeking the best possible area for the purchase of a retirement property:
Go over your retirement expectations with your partner before moving.
Dorian Mintzer, a psychologist who specializes in retirement and relationship coaching, says, "There's no one-size-fits-all for retirement. Many times, the partners in a relationship have very different passions they want to pursue."
She urges couples to intensively discuss their notions of an ideal place to retire before they take the plunge. To encourage this process, she co-authored (with Roberta Taylor) a book of exercises, "The Couples Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Transitioning to the Second Half of Life." Though couples might have vastly different conceptions of their shared future, she says that compromise can usually be found.
Suppose, for instance, that one partner places a high priority on living in a warm climate, while the other is focused on intellectual stimulation. Rather than move to a resort area, the pair might decide to settle in a college town in a southern state.
She says couples that head into retirement without reaching a common vision could be at risk for an eventual breakup, citing an increased divorce rate in people of retirement age.
Realize the potential long-term impact on your relationship of a faraway move.
Ernie Zelinski, author of "How to Retire Wild, Happy and Free," says, "It's important to have realistic expectations." He cautions against the false lure of novelty, noting that the pristine appeal of an isolated setting can quickly pale.
Problems are especially likely to arise if one partner grows restless and wants to move back near family and friends while the other wishes to remain in the faraway locale.
To avoid choosing a location where one or both partners might be unhappy, he urges retirees to "test drive" any faraway community with an extended vacation --ideally for at least one to two months -- before deciding whether to move there.
When visiting a potential destination, Zelinski recommends that people bring along a checklist to ensure the community would meet their requirements. Among other factors, they'll want to check out a town's transportation facilities and its access to cultural and entertainment venues.
"The area should have a variety of non-profit organizations and clubs that welcome your participation and talents," he says.
Moreover, the ideal retirement location should be well equipped with medical facilities in the event that one or both partners becomes ill or requires surgery.
Make sure that you factor financial concerns into your planning.
It's no secret that many couples argue about money and that financial pressure can exert enormous stress on any relationship. Despite that, Zelinski says many people lock themselves into burdensome mortgage payments in pursuit of their ideal retirement property.
"People say, 'This is my chance to buy that dream house I've always wanted.' That causes them to buy a far bigger place than they really need for retirement," he says.
Zelinski points to research showing that retired people who live in spacious homes are no happier than those who reside in small places.
He recommends that retirees make a realistic evaluation of their housing needs -- as well as their budget limitations -- before committing to the purchase of a large property that comes with major utility expenses and maintenance obligations.
"The truth is a small house can hold as much happiness as a big one and maybe more," Zelinski says.