Year-round sunshine could be more than a tagline to seniors in the area

Buddy and Mary Carpenter thought about retiring to Arizona. Or Walla Walla, Or any of the other retirement destinations across the west.  But now, the couple that lived in Portland for 38 years, gladly calls Richland home.

Trends show that moves like theirs are part of the retirement culture and that the Tri-Cities is becoming a popular retirement choice.

According to the National Association of Realtors, retirement was the third-most-common reason people purchased a home in 2008 – behind the desire to own a home and a job-or family-related move.

And experts expect the seniors to continue moving to the Tri-Cities. The Tri-Cities is a top community for seniors moving into the region. Good weather, a fairly stable economy, low housing costs and a lower cost-of-living makes the community attractive.

People who are searching for less-expensive, mid-sized communities often find the Tri-Cities. About 10 percent of people moving into the area are retirees or people planning to retire within five years.  Those were primary reasons the Carpenters moved to Richland.

After the sale of the Portland area home, they wanted to avoid spending a huge amount on a new home – preferably with a golf course view and an easy trip downtown. “It’s only three miles to downtown. In a metro area, it would be 25 miles and take an hour to get there,” said Buddy Carpenter. “Here, you’ve got world class wineries everywhere you look, nice golf courses and weather that allows golf most of the year.”

In recent years, the Tri-Cities has become so popular for retirement that a local wealth management specialist has begun to teach classes on it. Todd Halterman, CEO of Pacific Crest Planning in Kennewick said he has seen an increase in people looking for advice and planning to come to or stay in town.

“We’re centrally located, three hours from Portland or Seattle, two hours from Spokane, four from Boise,” he said. “Travel and tourism is very inexpensive, the economy is stable and the real estate market is good.”

The cost of living in this area is noticeably lower than many other regions. According to Sperling’s Best Places, an online community data search engine, the cost of living in Kennewick-Pasco-Richland was almost 15 percent lower than the national average in 2008.

Housing is 50 percent less than in Seattle and 38 percent less here than in Portland, according to CNN Money’s cost of living calculator. The Carpenters noticed that quickly.

“People don’t believe us,” Mary Ann Carpenter said. “We tell them how much we paid for the house and they think we’re lying to them.”

As Baby Boomers age they will place more demands on health care and social systems, Halterman said. And they need to manage their money to pay for lifestyle and economic decisions, he said.

The Carpenters did that. They traded in a two-story home with acreage for a single story home on a small lot in a golf course community in Richland. “We had a limited income and we’re newly retired, and we didn’t want to invest all our money in housing.” Mary Ann Carpenter said. “We had a nice windfall from a house with acreage and we wanted to live on that.”

They also wanted to be close to hospitals, which ruled out more rural areas with lower housing prices. “When you get to be our age, you want to know where the nearest doctor is,” said Buddy Carpenter, with a wink.

Planned communities like Horn Rapids, on golf courses and near shopping and restaurants, are gaining popularity. People want smaller lots that are easier to care for and require less maintenance. They do want to be part of a community and be able to go to visit neighbors.

According to the National Association of Realtors, about 20 percent of people who move into resort or recreation areas want to be close to health care and 36 percent want access to entertainment and leisure activities. That is where many believe the Tri-Cities is falls short.

“We lack (culture) and it will hold us back from being a premier retirement community,” Halterman said. “We also need more riverfront development. That’s paramount to the tourism, travel and retirement industries.”

The National Association of Realtors said seniors work with Realtors more than any other group. About 30 percent of seniors contact a realtor first in the homebuying process — the highest percentage of any group. The group is also the least likely to start a home search process.  The group is also the least likely to start a home search online.

As the Tri-Cities has grown up, so has the population – and so has the population coming in. Halterman said about 70 percent of his clients are longtime Tri-Cities residents and about 30 percent are newcomers.

But a few years ago, only about 15 percent were newcomers, he said. “A lot of people have been arriving here over the last 15 years,” he said. “They like wine, golf, the rivers and cheap real estate. This is a nice-sized growing urban market. The worst you can say about it is that we’ve got no trees.”

Sunshine was a major selling point for the Carpenters, although they’re wondering when they’ll see the sun again.” “They sold us on the weather and mild winters,” Buddy Carpenter said. “I think everyone’s lying to us.”

Improved shopping has also made the area more appealing. The addition of more mall stores and new shopping districts, like Queensgate Village and expansions at Southridge mean residents can get what they need without driving too far.

Halterman said the golf, sunshine, fishing and river recreation, low cost of living and good wine combine to make the Tri-Cities and attractive place to live.  “I can see this place becoming a mecca to retirees in Washington,” Halterman said. “This is a great place to retire to.”

Source: Journal of Business, Tri-Cities Area.



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