Why Florida Is Losing Its Grip on Retirees

Apr 04, 2016

Are retirees looking for their dream home in all the wrong places? Florida, which helped popularize the notion of a snowbird retirement, has the most residents age 65-plus. Yet it now ranks near the bottom of a new list of states deemed most desirable for folks contemplating retirement. Virginia tops the list, while another long-standing retirement haven, California, comes in dead last. The Midwest generally shows well.

Quality of life, including weather, is just one of six components in the calculation. The others: financial health of the state and its residents, access to healthcare, affordable and age-friendly housing, employment and education opportunities, and residents’ overall wellness. The report from LPL Financial is designed to help pre-retirees, defined as those 45-64, choose a state now that they will be happy with when they retire.

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The criteria may explain why Florida comes in at No. 38. It scored poorly on housing as well as on employment and education. Incredibly, the sunshine state also scored poorly on community and quality of life, which looks beyond weather to the impact of traffic patterns and crime rates. Florida is home to 11 of the nation’s 100 most dangerous cities.

At least among pre-retirees, who may still have kids in school and 20 more years of career, the weather in retirement seems almost irrelevant. These people may change their tune when they finally get to age 66 and tire of snowstorms. But at this point their life, the research shows, South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico clock in at Nos. 43-46, respectively, joining California as among the least attractive places to call it quits.

Arizona and Nevada scored an F in health care; New Mexico scored an F in both quality of life and employment and education. The biggest problems with California are the state’s fiscal mess, which raises the specter of more tax hikes, and its high cost of living, which translates into stratospheric real estate costs. California is home to nine of the 10 most expensive housing markets in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the upper Midwest—known for cold, snow, rain and tornadoes—is the top-ranking region. South Dakota, Wyoming and Michigan claim 2, 3, and 4, respectively. They rate average, at best, in employment opportunities and wellness. But the region has some of the best scores on financial health, quality of life and housing. Evidently there is something to be said for down-home neighborliness, a low cost of living and downright affordable housing. An average four-bedroom two-bath home in Rapid City, S.D., lists for $194,199, vs. $2.1 million in Palo Alto, Calif.

Read next: Money's Best Places to Retire

Virginia seems to have it all—it is one of 12 states with no grade lower than a C. The state was a standout in the quality of life and financial categories, helped by a high median income, low cost of living and below-average tax burden.

Financial data get the heaviest weighting in the LPL report. But if your personal finances are in excellent shape, you may still want to consider more expensive destinations, such as New York (No. 49, but has an A for health care) and California (A for quality of life). Or even Hawaii, which ranks ranks No. 41 largely because of its oppressive costs but gets straight A’s in quality of life, employment and education, and wellness.

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In the end, where you will want to live in retirement depends a lot on how well you prepare financially. It’s easy to discount warm weather and emphasize employment opportunities and low costs when you are still going into the office every day and building a nest egg. But if all that hard work pays off, and you can afford to find a safe beach somewhere at age 66, the weather just might matter after all. Only time will tell.

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