Smart Moves

A couple in their 50s are grappling with one of the most confusing decisions they've ever made. They're trying to decide where to live when the husband retires in a few years.

"There are so many variables for this couple to consider, including finances, health and where their three children will eventually land after they're through college," says Dorian Mintzer, a life coach specializing in retirement issues.

The couple engaged Mintzer to help sort through the many issues they face.

"Where to retire is a huge puzzle with lots of pieces," says Mintzer, co-author of "The Couple's Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together."

"People can get a curveball thrown at them at any stage of life, and this is all the more likely during their retirement years," Mintzer says. On her website (revolutionizeretirement.com), she offers pointers for those who are approaching retirement or have already stopped working.

Jim Miller, who writes extensively on retirement and authored "The Savvy Senior Book," says the "vast majority" of older people would prefer not to move far away during their retirement years.

When downsizing proves necessary, often due to ill health, the death of a spouse or a financial reversal, the process of moving can be grueling.

"A house full of stuff is a house full of memories, and that's a big challenge," says Miller, noting that one option for older people who must relocate is to hire a "senior move manager." (To find a move manager in your area, one source is the National Association of Senior Move Managers: nasmm.org.)

Here are a few pointers:

-- Create a holistic retirement plan with housing in mind.

Before deciding whether and where to move in retirement, Mintzer says it's wise to create a plan for volunteer work, paid work or other activities you'll find fulfilling in the long run. That could involve anything from an entrepreneurial business to tutoring disadvantaged children.

Hiring a certified life coach can be helpful in charting your course. One way to find such a coach is through the International Coach Federation (coachfederation.org).

You can also find guidance through books written by retirement planning specialists. A few that are widely recommended include "Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life," by Marc Freedman and "Don't Retire, Rewire!" by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners.

-- Factor finances into your projections.

Jeffrey Wuorio, author of "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Retirement Planning," says all prospective homebuyers in their 50s or 60s should try to factor finances into their selection of a domicile.

"Unless you're going to live austerely, you may need more money than you anticipate. This is especially likely if you have expensive interests, like traveling," he says.

Wuorio says financial concerns shouldn't discourage those who can afford to buy a different property from doing so in the current economy. For example, given the availability of low mortgage rates, now could be a good time to sell a two-level house in favor of one that spares you the need to climb stairs.

-- Seek out information before making a long-distance move.

Are you considering the purchase of a home in a distant area where you expect to retire in a few years? If so, Wuorio urges you to gain as much firsthand information as possible about your target venue.

One obvious way to learn about a new area is to travel there and talk to local residents. Inquire about opportunities to pursue such interests as sailing, golfing, hiking or volunteering. You may also want to ask about access to educational opportunities, including the chance to audit courses at a local college or university.

In addition, Wuorio says it's important to check out resources of practical importance in a new area where you might be buying a home.

"Find out if the town or city offers quality public transportation. Also, ask about the quality of medical facilities in the area, including clinics and hospitals," Wuorio says.

He says your best guides to the new area are often friends or relatives already living there. Also, he recommends you connect with alumni from the schools or universities you've attended who've lived in your target area for several years or longer.

-- Consider buying a smaller home in the same general area.

One potentially viable option for homebuyers of retirement age is to downsize to a smaller property in the same neighborhood or nearby. For example, you might sell a large family home in a suburban community for a smaller low-maintenance condo in a newly constructed high-rise complex there.

Wuorio says downsizing in the same area -- a common way to handle housing in retirement -- has one significant advantage. This is the approach most likely to keep alive the longtime friendships you've built over the years.

"One of the biggest risks facing retirees is loneliness. That's why staying connected to those who are important to you makes a lot of sense," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)

More like Smart Moves