The Sun Belt, Hotspots for Retirement

South Carolina's Callawassie Island provides a lush nature setting where wildlife abounds.

Estimates are that hundreds of thousands— even millions—of people over 50 will be relocating across town, to a new state or a new region of the country in retirement in coming years. Experts say that “retirement” no longer means sipping a relaxing mint julep on the front porch, so a move in later life will no doubt mean a new work and lifestyle adventure.

So, where to live in the “second half”? It all depends on your likes and dislikes and goals.

Are you an outdoorsman who seeks to spend lots of time hunting, fishing, boating and hiking? Or, are symphonies and lifelong learning opportunities more appealing? Do you like college towns? Or is your ideal spot on Walden’s Pond or a cabin on Cold Mountain?

Statistics show that many retirees will head to Southern states and that Florida will continue to be the leading retirement hotspot. However, a number of communities in other Southern states are increasingly drawing mature movers. Here is a look at eight “undiscovered” retirement spots that are becoming popular retirement havens.

Hot Springs, Ark.  (pop.  about 36,800). This town is best known for being a gambling mecca in the 1950s and also as the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. More recently, Hot Springs—with its lakes, arts communities, horse racing track, nightlife and unique baths and spas—has become a retirement hotspot. Hot Springs Village is a very popular 26,000-acre gated retirement resort with eight golf courses, nine lakes, tennis courts and nature trails. Prices range from $50,000 to $500,000. Average Hot Springs home price is $122,000.

Beaufort,S.C. (pop. about 13,000). Beaufort, a charming coastal Low- country South Carolina town, has been the site for movies such as The Big Chill, The Prince of Tides and Forrest Gump. A haven for rich planters in antebellum days, it survived the Civil War intact and today is one of a few towns designated as a historic district by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Beaufort is located between Charleston and Savannah, Ga., just north of Hilton Head Island and its waterfront and downtown buildings are home to trendy boutiques, art galleries and upscale restaurants. Callawassie Island is a popular private community among retirees. Home prices range from the $100,000s to the $600,000s. The average home price is $165,000.

Elizabeth City, N.C. (pop. about 35,000). This small northeastern North Carolina riverfront town was settled in the mid-1600s and is just 45 minutes south of Hampton Roads, VA The architecture in the downtown area is impressive; and with the expansion of Highway 17 to Virginia, many Tidewater retirees increasingly are seeing Elizabeth City as a charming retirement destination. Home to Elizabeth City State University and within a short drive to the famed Outer Banks. Prices range from the $100,000s to the $300,000s, with the average home price $110,500.

Tyler, Texas (pop. about 123,000). Tyler has active retiree programs and welcomes new transplants. Rose growing is a major industry, and the Texas Shakespeare Theater is in nearby Kilgore. Medical and recreation facilities are strong; and despite some normal Texas heat in the summers, Tyler is becoming more popular among retirees. Average home price is $110,000.

Valdosta, Ga. (pop. about 81,000). Another affordable town/city that is becoming popular among retirees, Valdosta is located in South Georgia. Valdosta State University offers a great learning-in-retirement program. Arts and recreation events and facilities, as well as the healthcare found at two area hospitals, are considered to be outstanding. Hahira is a popular golf-cart community. Average home price is about $108,000.

Morganton, N.C. (pop. about 51,000). Morganton, located between Charlotte and Asheville along popular I-40 is a charming foothills town with a great downtown. With a history in the manufacture of hosiery and furniture, Morganton is now diversifying by attracting retirees. Nearby Lake James is one of the most pristine you’ll find anywhere. The foothills location means a more moderate average temperature in the summer and winter. Average home price is $114,500.

Seneca, S.C. (pop. about 30,000). Retirees have found the Lake Keowee area through a large master-planned community called Keowee Key. However, several upscale communities have also located in this growing foothills area, which boasts three lakes, nearby Clemson University and all the services you would expect in a regional shop- ping hub. Prices of homes have risen, and the average home price is now $152,782; but the lifestyle in South Carolina’s “Golden Corner” continues to be a popular choice.

Natchez, Miss. (pop. about 33,000). The Civil War-era architecture in this charming south   Mississippi town is stunning and draws tourists from across the country. Natchez promotes itself as an affordable retirement destination, as Mississippi does not tax qualified retirement income or Social Security. Retirees are also attracted to outdoor activities and the restaurants and shopping that the strong tourist trade helps support. Average home price is $92,000.

Other towns and communities worth a look: Savannah Lakes Village, McCormick, S.C.; Robson Ranch, Denton, Texas; Tellico Village, Loudon, Tenn.; Sun City Carolina Lakes, Lancaster, S.C. (near Charlotte, N.C.); the Shoals area of northern Alabama; as well as Fayetteville, Ark.

Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in January-February 2007 Issue.

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