Our review of: “10 Places to Buy a Retirement Home for Under $100,000”
by Emily Brandon for U.S. News & World Report.
This list was published August 15, 2011, so it may be a little out of date now; we’ll take another look.
We get demographic data from a variety of government and private sources, as well as staff research on location. Other sites represent home prices in a number of ways, such as “median home price,” “median home cost,” “median home sale price” (as in the reviewed article), “median value owner occupied home,” and similar.
We use the median sales price (if available) for a 2 bedroom (2BR) home, meaning equal numbers of 2BR homes have sold at a price above or below this recent median sales price. This metric more closely estimates what you would actually pay for a typical modest retirement home. Because this number varies, we provide a rounded-off estimate. We overlay crime, healthcare, and cost of living and see how these cities stack up as retirement places.
The first city is Alpena, Michigan. Alpena is small (pop. 10,483) and yet is the second largest American city on Lake Huron, the second largest of the Great Lakes. The cost of living is well below the national average, the crime rate is lower than average, and the median sales price is about $90,000. I’m not sure where the author got the $58,600 for 2010 for the median home-sales price, but most of the homes are very affordable at under $100,000. So, given the great quality of life, a large regional medical center, and great low prices, Alpena is a great cheap place to retire.
Next is Augusta, Georgia, home of the Masters Golf Tournament. This golfing paradise along the Savannah River has a lower than average cost of living, several medical centers (including VA), a crime rate a little above average, and a median 2BR home sales price of about $80,000. It is also a good place to retire cheap.
The third city is Columbus, Ohio. The crime rate is fairly high, but varies with location, as in most large cities. The cost of living in Columbus is less than average and the median 2BR home sales price is $91,000. There are a half dozen or so medical centers in Columbus.
Next is Memphis, Tennessee, a legendary mecca for BBQ and blues. The cost of living is considerably below average, the median 2BR home sales price is $58,000, and Graceland and the Mississippi River are local treasures. Healthcare facilities are adequate and the only downside is the crime rate: off-the-chart high. Memphis home prices are continuing to slide. While very low prices are alluring, the crime rate and housing market instability are red flags. In spite of rock-bottom prices, Memphis is not a good choice for retirement at this time, in our view.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, makes Ms. Brandon’s list next. The median 2BR home sales price in Milwaukee is $86,000 and the cost of living is below average. As a large city, Milwaukee’s crime rate is well above average, but location is everything. This great city on Lake Michigan is famous for beer and baseball. It also hosts the Wisconsin State Fair, as well as an annual lakefront festival, Summerfest. Also known as “The Big Gig”, Summerfest attracts around a million visitors each year to its 11 stages. I attended the festival in its early days (mid-70s) and it was a big deal then. Healthcare is adequate; Milwaukee is a good place to retire, and Chicago is just down the road.
Mobile, Alabama, is the next city on the list. Although not the largest city in Alabama, it is the only major city in Alabama within a short boat ride of the Gulf of Mexico. The median 2BR home sales price in Mobile is $125,000 and it appears home prices have begun to rebound. The cost of living is below the national average, and there are several fine medical centers, but the crime rate is a bit above average. The city of about 500,000 has many cultural venues and plenty of water-related attractions, and it mounts one of the oldest and best-known Carnival celebrations. Although it has taken several hits from hurricanes, Mobile is still a great city for retirement, and prices are still very affordable.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, once a great steel town, has transformed itself into a financial center. It is thriving and it has one of the lowest rates of unemployment of any large American city. Rated a “most livable city” by several top publications, it boasts a below-average cost of living and a crime rate that is just a little above the national average. After a seasonal dip in January, the median 2BR home sales price is back to around $100,000, although sales activity is cooling off. Almost 85% of the homes cost less than $150,000, making it a great place to live, with plenty of affordable housing and excellent healthcare facilities. The scenic Allegheny Mountains are not far away, where I spent many wonderful summer vacations in state parks and campgrounds when I was a younger man.
Your best choice for a winter-free cheap place to retire from this list would be Port Charlotte, Florida. The cost of living there is below the national average and the median 2BR home sales price is about $55,000, although three bedroom homes are selling for almost twice that. I suspect the larger homes are also quite a bit newer, accounting for the big price gap. Either price point is below the national average and is an even better value when you consider that a large portion of the homes here are on a waterway. Many boast deep-water access (Gulf of Mexico). It’s an older town (most homes were originally built over 30 years ago), but that is part of the charm. It’s less expensive than Punta Gorda across the harbor and safer than Fort Myers to the south or Sarasota to the north. Devastated by Hurricane Charley in 2004, this area is on the mend. Port Charlotte, and in fact much of the area from Bradenton to Cape Coral, is a great place to retire at affordable prices.
Springfield, Missouri, made the cut for this list, with a cost of living substantially below the national average and a median home cost of $107,000. There are number of colleges and universities in town, including the second largest in Missouri, the Missouri State University (MSU). Weather is an issue, with tornadoes in the spring and and snow and ice in the winter. Property crime is high as well. Outdoor recreation is abundant. The Lake of the Ozarks is to the north, and Table Rock Lake, Branson, Missouri, and the Ozark Mountains are to the south. There are three good medical centers in the city. If your idea of retirement includes outdoor recreation, outlet malls, and a conservative version of Las Vegas (in nearby Branson), Springfield is a good choice for retirement.
Syracuse, New York, is last and is the snowiest of the list. The cost of living is below average and the median 2BR home sales price is $80,000. Medical facilities are plentiful and include a VA hospital. Crime is somewhat above average, but for those who don’t mind the snow, the city has many features to attract residents. Syracuse University is a well-respected major university, the Finger Lakes are nearby, and the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Ontario are not far away either. So if you don’t mind cold and snow, Syracuse is a good place to retire cheap. Brrrr…
All in all, this is a good list, although with only ten cities, it just scratches the surface of cheap retirement places. Read the entire article: “10 Places to Buy a Retirement Home for Under $100,000”.