With threat of hurricanes, is Florida still a retirement haven?

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Would you have the resources to weather a major storm in old age?

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A collapsed coastal house after Hurricane Irma passed through Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

I’ve always imagined my retirement would include a home near a beach, where the weather is warm all year and I can spend hours a day listening to crashing waves.

I love the Mid-Atlantic with its simmering summers, fall colors and warm springs, but I hate the winters — mostly because the cold aggravates my rheumatoid arthritis.

So with our golden years in mind, my husband and I have been working and reworking the numbers to see whether we can afford a second home to escape the cold weather.

Until recently, Florida was the state at the top of our list. Although we did consider — briefly — buying a beach bungalow in the Virgin Islands.

Hurricane Irma has dashed our dreams of a Caribbean retreat. Those islands have been decimated, and it will be years before they are back to their glory days. But even before the storm, we calculated that the cost would be too much.

And after Irma, I’m wondering if Florida should still be our retirement destination. Would we have the resources to weather a major storm? Would the cost of housing, insurance and tax hikes in the aftermath of recent hurricane-related damage drive away others like us?

In the United States, when the question of moving after retirement comes up, Florida is typically a front-runner. The state has two great positives going for it — beautiful weather and no personal income tax.

“By many measures, Florida — which has long attracted snowbirds and retirees — is one of the nation’s grayest states,” according to a Pew Research Center report.

About 19 percent of the state’s population is 65 or older, the highest percentage in the nation. Sumter County, which is west of Orlando, is the only U.S. county where more than half of residents are 65 or older, according to Pew. Coming in second is another county in Florida — Charlotte — where almost 38 percent of residents are seniors.

“In Florida, 53 of 67 counties have an above-average share of people 65 and older when compared with the percentage of Americans in that demographic,” Pew said.

But lately Florida isn’t topping the lists of the best places to retire. On Forbes’s 2017 ranking of the 25 best places to retire, only two Florida communities — Port Charlotte and The Villages — made the cut, and they were near the bottom.

Bankrate.com’s most recent list had Florida in the 17th spot. New Hampshire is the best state to retire, according to the personal finance site.

Bankrate.com found that half of working adults would consider moving to a different city or state when they retire. Are you one of them? If so, here are three key questions to consider if Florida is on your list.

Have you factored weather-related costs into your retirement planning? In 2004, Hurricane Charley pummeled Port Charlotte with 145 mph sustained winds. The storm hit the Gulf Coast community “like an angry drunk swinging a billy club,” the Orlando Sentinel reported in a 2009 retrospective. About half of the county’s 12,000 homes were destroyed or deemed unlivable.

“Residents who couldn’t afford to rebuild moved away, while speculators moved in and drove up prices, creating a post-storm housing shortage,” the newspaper reported.

Hurricane Irma brought fears of flooding from a storm surge. As the storm approached, more than 6 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate. By early last week, more than 6 million households had lost power.

Coastal cities are increasingly facing costly flood damage because of climate change, according to research by the World Bank. Two cities in Florida — Miami and Tampa — made the bank’s top 10 list of the most vulnerable coastal cities worldwide.

Are you really saving as much as you think on taxes? There’s more to taxes than the personal rate. States with no personal income tax, such as Florida, often make up for the lack of this revenue by having higher sales or real estate taxes.

Can your family afford to get to you soon enough in a crisis? What would be your support system should you need assistance, especially with health-related issues? And let’s be real, having family close can save on the cost of hiring help.

If Florida is far from family and friends, will you have the money to go see them regularly? Can they afford to come to you?

There are always trade-offs when you make a major move. Just don’t let the promise of a sunshine paradise cloud your judgment of finding a sustainable place to retire.

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