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Where Should I Retire?: We want to retire in a mild-weather spot near the ocean and a top cancer hospital — where should we go?

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Dear MarketWatch,

My wife (68) and I (66) recently retired in Pennsylvania, and are looking to move south where winters are mild.

When we start Social Security later this year, plus with our pensions, our monthly income will be $6,000 to $7,000. Between real estate, 401(k), investments and savings, we have $2.5 million to $3 million of net worth, and no debt.

Our fight with cancer requires we be within an hour of a NIH-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and major medical center for continuing treatment.

We are looking for a single home in a quiet, safe, gated community of 300-plus homes, with an active community center, pool, and lots of nearby places for walking, biking, and to have a rescue dog.

We have seen great homes for $400,000 to $500,000. Many have monthly HOA’s of $1,000 or more. 

We also would like to be within 15 to 30 minutes of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, and within an hour of a large airport, in an area with lots of others our age, but not in a town where highway traffic or a turnpike is overly congested, or generally noisy with tourists.

Winter temperatures in the 70s would be nice. Warm summers in the 90s are fine, if not extremely humid everyday and not buggy (so you are not forced to always be in a screened-in lanai).

What would you suggest?

Tom

Dear Tom,

MarketWatch had people like you in mind when we included “top cancer hospital” as one of the criteria you could pick in our “Where should I retire?” tool. We use the list from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health — exactly what you’re saying you need.

The cancer hospital strikes me as the most important criteria out of everything you’ve mentioned — and there are just 51 comprehensive cancer centers in the U.S. Unfortunately, only a handful are in places with warm winters and near either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico — two in Houston and one in Tampa. The flip side is that the summers in these places have the extreme humidity you say you don’t want. 

NIH National Cancer Institute

All that tells me you need to compromise on one of these criteria. The choices I see are:

  • You cope with the oppressive summers around Houston or Tampa and the traffic that comes with a large metro. In Florida, you could consider Spring Hill, north of Tampa.
  • You opt for one of the 20 NCI-designated cancer centers (one level down), which would add the areas around Miami (that same bad humidity) and Charleston (slightly less bad humidity and no 70-degree winters). You can read about Miami Beach as a retirement possibility and a town near Charleston suggested to another reader.
  • You consider the Pacific Ocean, which opens up California. Think the San Diego area (winter highs in the mid-60s).
  • You consider living near a lake rather than the ocean. That could put you within an hour of the Triangle Region in North Carolina (suggested here), Winston-Salem, N.C. (suggested here), Memphis (suggested here), Sacramento or St. Louis. University City, home to Washington University in St. Louis and with light-rail service into downtown St. Louis, perhaps? Admittedly, all these won’t give you winters in the 70s.
  • Or you go even further north to stay near the ocean and spend part of the winter somewhere warmer. 

As a Pennsylvania resident, you probably know Philadelphia (suggested here) has great medical care, including two comprehensive cancer centers. You could live in Delaware, probably no further south than about Middletown, and still be an hour from your cancer doctor. 

There are also two comprehensive cancer centers in Baltimore; that could translate into Annapolis (suggested here) or some other spots along the Chesapeake Bay. Again, you’d need to compromise on winter weather.

As hard as it may be to realize that your dream spot doesn’t exist, your nest egg gives you plenty of options. And all of these cities have airports, some bigger than others. So you can get away from winter, if that’s what you choose.

Finally, living near the beach and in a community like the one you describe doesn’t come cheap. Give your real-estate agent a lower budget, or accept that this is the going rate in the area you’ve been looking. You may decide you don’t need quite as elaborate a community, and that will bring down costs. Or a smaller home will do.

But if you really like those homes between $400,000 and $500,000 with the HOA fees of $1,000 or more and they are in the area you want to live, you may just need to accept that’s the going price.

All the best with your cancer treatment.

Read: There is more to picking a place to retire than low taxes — avoid these 5 expensive mistakes

More: I moved out of California in retirement — but it wasn’t because of taxes

Also: I’d like to buy a home in a warm spot near the beach for $350,000 — where should I retire?

Plus: Can I afford to retire? Not before you know the answer to this big question

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