Sea change or tree change: how to decide where to retire


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Deciding where to retire can be a challenging task. There are many issues to consider, such as should you remain in your current home or location or move, and where will you go and will you find your ideal spot? Mistakes can be financially and emotionally costly.

Taking the plunge and moving from a city when you retire is a big leap. The reasons are many for retirees wanting to escape to the country or the coast.

For some the chance to escape the pollution, congestion, crime and a noisy or changed neighbourhood are motivating factors.

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Others may have had employment that has taken them away from their old home so retirement will enable them move back to their preferred location.

Some people want land around them to grow produce, either as a hobby or a business and have the attitude of "If I don't do it now I never will". The "l" word, lifestyle, is a big motivator for many.

Climate is an important factor too, with many opting for milder climates. Those who experience poor health in their current location may also be motivated to move.

Interestingly, veterinarians say that you should also think of your pets when you are planning a move. A shaggy dog from Melbourne, for example, may not adapt as well to life in the tropics and older pets may also find some difficulty in navigating the new surrounds.

Visiting a potential area at different times of the year is important, and not just in fine weather. It is also equally important to check out the area when there are few people around and the weather is at its worst.

Visiting an area at different times of the day may also be of interest. One couple bought their dream block of land to build on only to find that the noise of trucks on a nearby road at night was too much.

Many retirees move to trade down, and selling in their current locations allows them to release funds for investment, travel or hobbies. But not all retirees are able to do this, particularly if they live in an area that has had little economic growth and future opportunities look bleak.

The opportunity to spend more time with family is an attractive option for many. However, a word of caution: in these times of a mobile workforce it may mean that the family will move several times. Will you move to be near them each time?

One couple we met on a research trip decided to retire to Port Douglas because they "had nice holidays there".

After 18 months they discovered that it was too hot, so they moved to Port Macquarie. The husband adapted to his new home really well and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, the camaraderie of new friends and leisure pursuits. The wife said she found it difficult to settle. So the next move was further down the coast to Merimbula.

But the story doesn't end there, as although they like the NSW south coast the pull of family back in Melbourne is strong. Unfortunately, property in their preferred suburb (their old one) has rocketed in price, making it unlikely they will be able to return.

Fitting in with the locals may be more challenging than some people realise. Move to an area popular with tourists and you may find that you are only one of a few permanent residents in the street. On weekends and holidays you could find that people just want to relax and don't want to socialise with locals. One retiree said she felt like a de facto security service for the holiday houses in the street.

Will you fit in? One way of finding out is to subscribe to the local newspaper for at least 18 months before you make a decision. Reading through the local news should enable you to identify the community issues, the types of sport, recreation and culture available and what makes the area tick.

How to make a decision

Will a move be right for you? No one can definitively answer that but making a checklist of "essentials" and "wants" may help.

If you have a partner it's important for you both to make a list to compare. Perhaps you will find that you have all you want where you are, or close by, so the search becomes a little easier.

Anecdotally we have found that people who make successful moves have moved no more than 200 kilometres, or two hours' drive.

Living relatively close to where you used to live allows you to return to favourite service providers (for example, hairdresser, mechanic, medical professionals) and also in times of celebration or crisis.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as people who are used to moving to a new community during their working lives, or people who move to be closer to family and friends.

We've met quite a few retirees who live on Bribie Island, in southern Queensland, who comment on the friendliness of the place. One person who had moved from interstate said: "A lot of us have moved from different areas, so we have all been new residents and have made an effort to get to know people."

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Count the costs

Moving can also be an expensive business. As well as the financial cost (real estate agent fees, legal fees, removal expenses, stamp duty, furniture replacement), there is the emotional cost, particularly if you have lived in one home for a long time.

It can be very tiring sorting out what to take and what to leave. It's said that unpacking is harder than packing.

Also, how much does it cost to live in a new location? Areas popular during the holidays may put up the prices. We have heard of people receiving a "locals" discount.

Selling your home and moving is a major life event. Could you "try before you buy"? Could you rent, or think of a house swap or house sitting? Some retirees take their "wheel estate" to their preferred area and live in their caravan to find out what life is like.

Key issues to think about

One of the most important issues to research before moving are the medical facilities, which can vary greatly from area to area.

Ask how many doctors and specialists live and practise in the area. Is there a hospital? How long do you have to wait for an appointment?

We were researching a location and came upon a medical waiting room. One local told us the visiting specialist had 90 patients in a day and many of them had been waiting some months to see him. Another local in a remote location had the motto: "If you have a pain, get on a plane."

The security of a location is also important. Stopping by the local police station often gives you an insight into what is happening in an area. Does the crime rate soar at certain times of the year? What sort of issues do the police face and is the police station staffed at all times? In some parts of Australia there are special initiatives for seniors, such as volunteers who will assess the safety of your home.

Check to see if there is Neighbourhood Watch. Ask the co-ordinator for their views on safety in the area.

Would you prefer to have a significant number of people around your age? Look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics website to get an idea of the number of people in each of the age groups in your preferred area.

Increasingly we see people wanting to continue to do some paid or volunteer work in their retirement. Are there opportunities for casual or part-time work in the new location? Does the council support small businesses or profitable hobbies? Are you allowed to work from home? Having a reliable internet and phone connection is essential.

Another issue to look at concerns transport. If you don't want to drive, or are unable to, are there alternatives such as bus, train or taxi and is there an airport nearby? Having an air service is not only important for leaving the area and welcoming guests, but it's also important for medical evacuation.

What types of properties are available? Look around and see if half the town is up for sale. What is the turnover? How long have the homes been on the market? If you had to sell, would it take a long time? Are there retirement villages and nursing homes?

Will you have grandchildren and other visitors? It's worthwhile taking time to investigate what activities and events are on offer. Will they appeal to your visitors, and is there a cost involved?

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Checklist: what to consider when choosing where to retire

Health facilities

Check out the medical facilities and the number of doctors and other professionals in the area. Ask for a copy of the health service's annual report, speak to the hospital manager, director of nursing, doctors, and retirement and nursing home managers.


Speak to the local police and Neighbourhood Watch and ask about crime in the area and innovative programs.

A good read

Subscribe to the local newspaper for at least 18 months before moving. It will give you an idea of the community issues and social, sporting and recreational opportunities.

Local feel

Chat with the locals. What are the good and not-so-good things?


Visit the information centre and ask about the area. Often the volunteers are retirees who have moved there.

New resident kits

Check with the council if it has kits with information about the services and facilities.


Check with the Bureau of Meteorology. Consider weather patterns in the area, and find out if it gets four distinct seasons, dry heat or humidity, and if the environment will affect any allergies.


Look at the public transport options - for yourself, as well as visiting friends and family.

Small business opportunities

Find out if there are reasonable prospects of finding employment, and if you are allowed to run a small business at home.


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Jill Weeks is the co-author of several editions of Where to Retire in Australia and Retire Bizzi, and is the author of 21 Ways to Retire in Australia.
Chris H
August 29, 2017 9.30pm

Rent money is dead money but spending 6 months or a few months in the prospective location might provide useful insights. For active people in their working life you should remember you'll probably want to be active in retirement. Whilst figuring out a potential business or hobby opportunity now might be great if you can do it perhaps all you need is the infrastructure or space around you to enable you to try a few things as you get closer to retirement. A 2 bed apartment on the beach might not provide opportunities for developing a craft or trade based activity if that's the coin you seek. Equally 10 acres of luscious meadow might be a burden for someone who want to run an online IT enterprise from their spare bedroom.
I travel frequently and have been compiling a gallery of stuff I've seen in different places that I think I might be able to turn my hand to in a creative way. I need the shed space and the equipment, and an opportunity in context to show off what I might make if its good enough, or even sell. It gives me scope for location as a result.