The big topic of conversation at our house of late is retirement. Though Paul is already a pensioner, I am still a couple of years away from finishing at the college and crossing that threshold. Before I pass over, there are many decisions that need to be made about how, when, where we retire.
The why of it is easy: I’m not getting any younger and I want more time to write while I still have a few brain cells and we want to travel while we still have good knees. The folks at the State Teachers Retirement System have answered the how question; let me assure you that “rich teacher pension” is an oxymoron, and if anyone tries to persuade you other wise, send them to me. Every Monday morning I grow more certain about the when part. The next question, then, is where? Do we stay put, or do we move elsewhere?
Recently, Paul and I got together for dinner with three of my former UCLA housemates and their spouses. We have remained friends through college, boyfriends, marriage, babies, launching careers and now, ending those careers and scattering out of the Elay area. Among the eight people at the dinner table, five had already retired and the rest of us would soon. The question of where to retire dominated the conversation. All of the others had, or were in the process of, selling the homes where they raised their children and were planning to move to less expensive areas.
Our hosts had recently purchased a brand new home on a fairway in a brand new over-fifty-five development out on the far edge of civilization, i.e. the desert. All over the Mojave and the Sonora deserts, like mirages shimmering in the distance as you zip by on the Interstate, you will find random gated communities for seniors, instant towns built around golf courses and Costcos. The developments aren’t there because someone thought the desert was good for oldsters, but because the land comes cheap.
For about the price of a one-bedroom condo in our beach-front neighborhood, our hosts bought a lovely big house with a fairway as a back yard. The trade-off for us living so far out would be convenient access to certain amenities we think are essential: an airport and good medical facilities, tolerable weather and some cultural offerings, such as an accessible symphony or some theater, good restaurants, an interesting community outside the gates.
Another couple at the dinner—for her wedding she dressed me in harvest gold silk moiré, I put her in hot pink chiffon for mine—was selling a big house overlooking thirty acres of avocadoes and moving into a 450 square-foot RV. For a while, anyway. They will head off on the land version of a cruise around the world while they decide where to end up. Sounds interesting, and challenging. I’d be more inclined to load up the trunk of the Honda and invoke my AARP discount rate at hotels than live in an RV, even a very big one, but wandering for a year or so could be a grand and fun adventure; something to think about.
Last week, spring break for me, we took a trip that began with what we call The Kid Loop. We went up the San Joaquin Valley to visit my son and his wife in Fresno, and then crossed the state to see my daughter and her husband in Menlo Park. Menlo Park put us next door to Palo Alto, so we were able to meet Meredith for a lovely lunch before we headed up to Sonoma County to go house hunting.
Everywhere Paul and I visit, we try on the area. We tour neighborhoods, look into the real estate, talk to the locals. This is what we have learned: no matter where we end up, there will be trade-offs; college towns, even if they are small towns, offer most if not all of the requisite amenities on our list and are far less expensive than big cities are; we are spoiled by Southern California’s weather.
That last one, the weather, keeps coming up when we consider the Midwest where Paul’s family is, and the Pacific Northwest where much of my family is, as well as the Southwest and the Atlantic shore. Parts of Europe are gorgeous, cheap and clement, but too far from family; I am still hopeful of a grandchild one day.
The dream retirement house will have space for a real garden again, a guest room that doesn’t double as an office, a beautiful view that doesn’t include either stucco or asphalt, good walks, a nearby village. And, of course, will cost less than our beach house sells for. Is that too much to ask for?
We have some time to make the big decisions. And once made, those decisions won’t necessarily be final.
Filed under: Wendy Hornsby