Cost of living spoils Hawaii’s retirement rank
The expense of the 50th state lands it at 46th on a recent list for post-career life
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 23, 2014
Models of retirement planning, Don and Reina Weiner bought an acre almost a decade ago in the Woodlands of Chapel Hill, a mixed-age community in North Carolina.
The couple, living in Leesburg, Va., at the time, had visited several towns in their hunt to find a place to live when Weiner was ready to leave his job as senior sales director at Airbus Americas. Chapel Hill met their three criteria: warm weather, access to top medical care and proximity to a university to continue learning, Reina Weiner said.
So they paid $130,000 for a lot and $11,000 to an architect to design their dream home. They sold their townhouse in Leesburg and rented an apartment in Chapel Hill so they could supervise construction.
That's when Don Weiner, now 68, and Reina Weiner, 67, hit a barricade.
"I had a significant allergic reaction to the environment," Reina Weiner said.
She felt an intense pressure in her head. Her throat hurt. There was sinus pain.
"The question was, Could I live here?" she said.
They decided to hold off breaking ground on the home while she tried to see whether she could acclimate to the area. But she had an epiphany: "I decided, You know what? This is crazy. I'm trying to do something that I can't do." So they regretfully put up the "for sale" sign on the lot and are back in the search for a place to live.
"The whole experience was disappointing," Reina Weiner said. "There was money that just went flying out the door. On the other hand, when I decided I couldn't do it, I just felt it was the right thing to do. I haven't looked back."
As people grapple with whether to pull up stakes and retire in another part of the country, there's small margin for error. Get it wrong and it's hard and costly to undo.
Hawaii ranked as the fifth-worst place to retire, according to a recent report by Bankrate.com.
Bankrate said that if it weren't for the sky-high cost of living, Hawaii would be one of the best states in the country for retirees.
"Its remoteness, popular beaches, wildlife and culture make America's 50th state a top tourism destination," Bankrate said in its report.
But, Bankrate.com cautioned, Hawaii is also tough to afford, especially for anyone on a fixed income.
"The Council for Community and Economic Research, which tracks consumer prices around the country, found Hawaii to be the most expensive state in the country for retirees," Bankrate.com said.
A loaf of bread, for example, costs an average of $2.80 in Honolulu, according to the council's 2013 analysis. That's $1.30 higher than the national average. The city's gas stations charged an average of $4.19 a gallon last year, compared with a national average of $3.44. And a trip to the beauty parlor costs an average of $52 in Honolulu, about $18 higher than the national average.
Bankrate.com looked at several factors in determining which states offer the best quality of life for retirees, including local weather, cost of living, crime rate, health care quality, tax burden and well-being (a measurement from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that quantifies how satisfied residents are with their surroundings).
The five best states for retirement were South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming. Popular retiree spots like Florida and Arizona don't even make the top 10. The five worst states for retirement, according to the report, were New York, West Virginia, Alaska, Arkansas and Hawaii.
According to a report this year from Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, 57 percent of baby boomers say they plan to move to a new home in retirement. When asked which type of community they were likely to choose, 39 percent said a small town, like Chapel Hill, or a rural community. The next choice was a 55-and-older community (27 percent), followed by a metropolitan city (26 percent); 8 percent picked "lifestyle" communities (such as ones for active retirees, planned around golf courses).
Almost one-third of those canvassed plan to spend retirement in a different state from the one in which they currently live.
Moving from a high-tax state to a low-tax state is also strategic. Many people pick a retirement destination because there's no income tax.
Proximity to shopping, restaurants and the airport is also an important consideration when deciding where to relocate.
Transportation is one reason the Weiners are now considering Portland, Ore., in addition to Charlotte and Asheville, N.C.
"Don hates traffic, and there is a great light rail system" in Portland, Reina Weiner said.
What about the warm weather she said was a priority when they first started looking for a retirement home?
"I figure we could always leave for a couple months in the winter and rent a furnished apartment in Maui," she said with a smile.
Kerry Hannon, New York TimesClick here to download our mobile app for your iOS and Android device.