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The Top Southeast Cities to Retire In Thumbnail

The Top Southeast Cities to Retire In

Are you ready to retire and looking to relocate?  The options regarding what city to retire in are endless and depend on several factors.   While we here at Oasis Wealth are biased in that we serve clients throughout the Southeast, we truly do like the Southeast region as it has a lot to offer retirees (and families alike).  After researching what cities are the best in which to retire, there were several that ranked at the top of the list time and time again.  One of these cities might be right for you!

There are several different things to consider when choosing a city in which to retire.  Things such as cost of living, tax rates, climate, things to do, and overall resident happiness should be at the top of your list when looking for that perfect retirement city.  

  • Cost of living.  If you are looking to stretch your nest egg, choose a city with a low to moderate cost of living so that you are not spending all of your retirement funds on housing and other basic necessities.  
  • Tax Factors.   States with little to no income tax are very attractive and pay special attention to what types of income are taxed in the particular states.  (Nothing gets us more excited than implementing effective Roth conversion strategies for our retiree clients in Tennessee and Florida.)  Don’t waste your retirement income on paying state income taxes.   Another consideration is the local sales tax and property taxes.  
  • Things to Do.   While not everyone is looking for a city filled with things to do, it is important to look for a city that reflects who you are and the things you like to do.  If you like to play golf, choose a city or region with plenty of golf courses.   Or, if you are a museum lover, find a city that has some in close proximity.  Do you like outdoor activities?  Perhaps, you are like me and you would be content with warm weather and a beach to enjoy reading and listening to the waves.
  • Climate.   Do you prefer warm weather or cold weather?  Does humidity bother you?  Let’s face it, if you are reading this article with an interest in the Southeast, you may have already come to the conclusion that you are willing to sacrifice many less grey and snowy days for a few more hot, humid summer days.
  • Overall Happiness of the Residents.  You probably do not want to live with people who are unhappy all of the time so choose a city where the happiness scale is in the top 50%.  In my opinion, this is very hard to gauge. There are some rankings out there, but my suggestion is to try out the city in which you might want to retire. Go on an extended vacation to that city and observe the residents.  Do people greet each other when they walk by?  What is the demeanor of the servers at local establishments?  Are people smiling?  
  • Economy.  OK, so you may be retiring from your “main career”.  That does not necessarily mean that you would not be looking for other employment – whether full-time in a different career, part-time work, or even self-employment.  Moreover, a healthy economy can lead to an overall better quality of life even if you are not receiving a paycheck.
  • Family.   Is it important for you to be close to your family or are you okay with needing to travel to be near them?   Family can often be the deciding factor in determining where – or, even, whether – to move.  If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford two residences – one in the Southeast and one near your “home” – perhaps you can indeed have it all.

Of course, some of the above factors are merely personal preference, but it is important to consider all of them to be sure you chose the right city.

So, what cities rank highest among the best places in which to retire?  As I researched this, I found that there are several cities in the Southeast that ranked high on the list.  And, as you might have guessed, several of those are in Florida.  So, here is my list of the top twelve retirement cities in the Southeast along with the state income tax, median home price and monthly rental, average high and low temperatures at various times of the year, population, along with cultural and recreation options.  

  1. Sarasota, FL.    
  2. Fort Myers, FL
    • No State income tax
    • Cost of Living Index:  96.2
    • Median Home Cost:  $219,200
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $1,035
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 75/54; July: 92/74
    • Annual precipitation:  56 inches
    • Sunshine %:  est. 71%
    • Population:  City - 87,000; MSA - 718,000
    • Perhaps Thomas Edison and Henry Ford knew something about attractive retirement destinations.  Fort Myers is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and continues to attract retirees (as over one-fourth of its population is over age 65) from the Midwest and Northeast.   Along with the beaches such as those found on Captiva and Sanibel Islands or at Cayo Costa State Park, the ocean and riverways bring plenty of opportunities to fish and boat.   There are also cultural options such as those offered by The Alliance of the Arts, a great restaurant scene in downtown, and parks to frequent, including activities such as The Art Walk and The Music Walk in downtown Fort Myers.  Of course, we can’t fail to mention the ever-popular baseball Spring Training, especially for Sox and Twins fans.  There are many other towns near Fort Myers that are obviously good retirement destinations, including Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, and the more posh Naples to the south.
  3. Nashville, TN (Home to Oasis Wealth Planning Advisors so that is reason enough to consider this great city!)
    • No State Income Tax (except the Hall Income Tax which is to be completely phased out in 2021)
    • Cost of Living Index:  101.4
    • Median Home Cost:  $248,883
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $951
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 47/28; July: 89/69
    • Annual precipitation:  47 inches (7 inches of snowfall).  
    • Sunshine %:  56%
    • Population:  City - 694,000; MSA – 2,094,000
    • The Mid-South region continues to pick up steam as an alternate to Florida as a retirement destination.  Some choose this region for the more moderate weather when compared to Florida, perhaps a more friendly environment, and a different pace of life. The Middle Tennessee area is one such destination in the Mid-South that retirees continue to flock to and it’s not just because Nashville continues to rank as one of the “nicest” cities in America.  Needless to say, there is plenty of entertainment with the local bar or restaurant hosting live music – yet, Nashville boasts perhaps more refined arts with the Nashville Symphony and Tennessee Performing Arts Center which continues to be a preferred destination for tours.  The combination of a passionate professional team sports base (Predators of the NHL, Titans of the NFL, Nashville SC of the MLS, and the Sounds of AAA baseball) along with solid choice of college sports (Vanderbilt and its SEC pageantry, the underrated sports programs of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, or the solid college basketball programs at Belmont and Lipscomb), Nashville is a great city for the sports enthusiast.   The city also offers the up-and-coming Nashville Zoo, an excellent science center for the grandkids and adults alike, and ample park space.  There are numerous nearby towns where retirees choose to live, including towns in the fast-growing counties of Williamson, Rutherford, and Sumner.  
  4. Chattanooga, TN
    • No state income tax (except the Hall Income Tax referenced earlier)
    • Cost of Living Index:  83.8
    • Median Housing Price:  $164,550
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $771
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 50/31; July: 90/70
    • Annual precipitation:  52.5 inches (4 inches of snowfall). 
    • Sunshine %:  57%
    • Population: City - 183,000; MSA - 528,000
    • Chattanooga continues to be known as an ever-growing destination to live – both for professionals and retirees alike – in light of its moderate four seasons (especially the beautiful falls) and low cost of living.  This Mid-South town nicknamed “The Scenic City” offers lots of outdoor activities with its natural surroundings.  These include climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking.  The Chattanooga Riverwalk, boutique shopping, art museums, and The Tennessee Aquarium (great for grandkids!) are among some of the other exciting things to do in Chattanooga.
  5.  Asheville, NC
    • Top State Income Tax Rate:  5.25%
    • Cost of Living Index:  106
    • Median Housing Price:  $248,500
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $849
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 47/28; July: 85/65
    • Annual precipitation:  37 inches (includes 13 inches of snow!). 
    • Sunshine %:  59%
    • Population:  City - 93,000; MSA - 425,000
    • Of the cities on this list and of the cities throughout the Southeast, Asheville perhaps boasts the most ideal moderate, four season weather.  With its close proximity to the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains and Smoky Mountains, hiking during warmer weather and skiing during the cold months are popular activities.  Traditionally known as a great locale for music, crafts, and arts scene, the city has become known for craft beer so there are many breweries to try.   Other things to do include seasonal farmers markets, numerous art galleries and festivals.  While there are no major sports in Asheville, you can get your fill with UNC Asheville (part of The Big South Conference) an underrated sports program at Appalachian State University in Boone or with a moderate drive (a bit over two hours) to see ACC sports in Winston Salem or to catch pro sports in Charlotte.
  6. Orlando, FL
    • No state income tax
    • Cost of Living Index:  104.1
    • Median Home Price:  $260,915
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $1,435
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 71/50; July: 92/76
    • Annual precipitation:  53 inches
    • Sunshine (in hours):  est 66%
    • Population:  City - 287,000; MSA – 2,510,000
    • Besides being home to the world famous resorts (Disney et al.) and a reason for all the grandkids to visit, the City Beautiful offers abundant world class and affordable golf options (can you say 170 golf courses?), professional sports teams such as NBA’s Orlando Magic and the MLS’s Orlando City,  culture at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre or Orlando Repertory Theatre , and numerous festivals held throughout the year.  There are plenty of retirement communities throughout the Orlando area if you prefer the more classic retirement.  For the area to call home, you may obviously prefer some of the towns that are outside Orlando including Celebration, Lake Mary, or Belle Isle or perhaps one of the enclaves within Orlando such as Winter Park or Winter Garden.
  7. Charleston, SC
    • Top State Income Tax Rate:  7% with partial retirement income exemption.
    • Cost of Living Index:  111.5
    • Median Housing Price:  $247,408
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $1054
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 59/38; July: 91/73
    • Annual precipitation:  51 inches
    • Sunshine %:  63%.
    • Population:   City - 136,000; MSA - 802,000
    • Charleston has a lot of Southern charm and is said to have some of the nicest residents around.  This historic town is home to Battery Park – a great place to stroll and take in the Rainbow Homes, a performance center such as The Charleston Stage and Thirty Four West Theater Company, and some great museum options such as The Gibbs Museum of Art.  Golf in Charleston, up and down the South Carolina coast, in the Lowcountry, or along the foothills near Greenville.  South Carolina provides some of the nation’s most enjoyable golf.  Other popular outdoor activities include surfing, paddle boarding, fishing, and kayaking.  The great restaurant scene is another reason to call Charleston home.  If you prefer to live outside of Charleston, there are nearby communities that are also top retirement destinations, including the slightly more expensive Kiawah Island, Beaufort, and Hilton Head Island.
  8. Tampa (St. Petersburg, Clearwater)
    • No State Income Tax
    • Cost of Living Index:  100.1
    • Median Housing Price:  $199,717
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $1,014
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 70/52; July: 90/76
    • Annual precipitation:  46 inches
    • Sunshine %:  est 70%.
    • Population:  City - 400,000; MSA – 3,143,000
    • Tampa provides many different cultural enclaves (e.g., Ybor City, Tarpon Springs), highly rated beaches, parks, kayaking, fishing, and a unique island park which is only accessible by ferry.  The professional sports scene is solid, including offering the NFL’s Buccaneers, NHL’s Thunder, the MLB’s Devil Rays, and the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.  The University of South Florida also offers good, if not spectacular, college sports opportunities.  Like many spots in Florida, golf is abundant in the Tampa Bay area and along the coast.  Some other outdoor activities include The Lowry Park Zoo, The Strazz Center for Performing Arts, and The Dali Museum in St. Pete.  The restaurants offer a diverse range including great Cuban options, Spanish, seafood, and Greek.  If you prefer more of a laid-back atmosphere and beach scene, consider the options in Pinellas County, including St. Petersburg or St. Petersburg Beach, Clearwater, or Palm Harbor.
  9. Atlanta, GA (Marietta and other suburbs)
    • Top State Income Tax Rate:  5.75% with partial retirement income exemption.
    • Cost of Living Index:  107.5; 111.5 (Marietta)
    • Median Home Price:  $209,658
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $1,053
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 52/34; July: 90/72
    • Annual precipitation:  49.7 inches
    • Sunshine %:  60%
    • Population:  City - 507,000; MSA – 6,000,000
    • Sure, Atlanta may not immediately come up on the radar as a top destination for retirees. But, for those that prefer to be near a major city in retirement, living within a quaint enclave within Atlanta or in one of the numerous world class suburbs is sure to be a consideration. With Atlanta’s continued growth and destination for professionals, a retiree’s children or grandchildren may be calling Atlanta home, making this even more attractive for the retiree. While the golf within the city may not be over-abundant, there are a plethora of golf courses in the counites north of Atlanta – and they are quite fun!  Consider looking at ClubCorp as an option if you live in the Atlanta suburbs.  Activities and entertainment in Atlanta include a vibrant arts scene, parks, festivals, The Georgia Aquarium, and professional and college sports teams aplenty.  Speaking of suburbs, Marietta in Cobb County just to the north continues to get high marks for retirees with its abundance of recreation, clean community, and park system including Laurel Park.  Stone Mountain, Cumming, or some communities a bit further north in the Blue Ridge Mountains also provide great option for retirees that don’t want to live in a major town but want easy access to one.
  10. Augusta, GA
    • Top State Income Tax Rate:  5.75% with partial retirement income exemption.
    • Cost of Living Index:  80.7
    • Median Home Price:  $147,427
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $809
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 58/33; July: 93/70
    • Annual precipitation:  43.6 inches
    • Sunshine %:  est 61%.
    • Population:  City - 198,000; MSA - 600,000
    • Augusta is known for its numerous golf courses so this is a golfer’s haven, especially if you like watching the granddaddy of them all in April.  This classic Southern town also offers river walks such as the Augusta Canal, cool parks such as the Phinizy Nature Park, concerts given by The August Symphony and other touring acts, farmers markets, and nearby lake activities such as bass fishing at Clarks Hills Lake.  You can also pursue educational opportunities at Augusta State.  For those that want to go on short weekend or weekly trips, taking excursions to the beaches (Georgia or South Carolina offer great options), to the mountains, or to the bigger city environment that Atlanta can provide, Augusta is uniquely situated.
  11. Huntsville, AL
    • Top State Income Tax Rate:  5.0% with exemption on certain pension income.
    • Cost of Living Index:  86
    • Median Home Price:  $167,300
    • Median Monthly Rental:  $779
    • Average Temperatures:   January: 51/32; July: 91/70
    • Annual precipitation:  54 inches (3 inches of snowfall)
    • Sunshine %:  est 56%
    • Population:  City - 205,000; MSA - 463,000
    • Huntsville is known for being one of the most educated cities and is certainly  famous for being the home of the Space and Rocket Center.  This Mid-South city continues to climb the charts for the top places to live, and the tech and defense industries have certainly helped propel the Rocket City’s economic environment to new heights.  This is a very affordable town with a close-knit community, yet you will be welcomed here as there are many transplants that call Huntsville home.  If you like golf, The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is perhaps the best value and fun golf trail in the United States.  The downside is that there is not a major sports presence here so you will need to travel to Nashville or Atlanta for pro sports or even to Auburn or Tuscaloosa for a great college sports weekend.  There are also museums, outdoor movies and concerts, a mill house, parks such as Monte Sano State Park, and nearby lakes.  Guntersville Lake offers affordable lake living within an easy drive to Huntsville.  If you want an even more quiet, quaint, and beautiful retirement (but remote) setting, consider Mentone, Alabama.

As you might have noticed, one of the reasons several Florida cities are represented is because there is not a state income tax.   Add that to the warm weather and variety of things to do specific to each city and a Florida city just might be a perfect fit for you.   If Florida is too hot or otherwise not to your liking, venture a little north to Georgia where you will find a couple more great retirement cities, Atlanta and Augusta.  These offer summer temperatures not quite as hot as Florida and more seasonal weather.  Still prefer the coastal scene but don’t prefer Florida’s climate or culture?  Try historic Charleston, South Carolina, located on the coast with unique appeal.  

Do you prefer more seasons and would rather be near mountains or lakes?  If so, consider Nashville or Chattanooga, both offering a relatively friendly tax environment like Florida.  If you would rather not two-step in Tennessee, consider several great options in North Carolina such as Asheville or even consider the up-and-coming Huntsville, Alabama, as a place to call home during your retirement years.

The perfect retirement city is out there for you.   Whether it is where you currently live or will require a move, only you can make that decision.  Consider what is important to you and the things you like to do and from there give a city, or even a couple of cities a trial run to find the perfect retirement city for you.

Oasis Wealth Planning Advisors is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and provides tax-focused fee-only financial planning to individuals and families planning for retirement or already navigating retirement. Our firm works with clients throughout the Southeast - our principals have either lived in, worked in, or served clients in every state throughout the Southeast.  We are happy to meet our clients in-person as we love traveling throughout the Southeast region.  We are also obviously thrilled to be able to serve clients by video as the majority of our clients work with us in this manner