We’re looking for a balance of culture, food and wilderness in neighborhoods with $300,000 homes – so where should we back down?

We’re retiring in about three years. I will be 67 and my wife will be 62. We don’t want to have to shovel snow or worry about big piles; but we want to be out and about during the day and evening all year round.

We can rent, but if we decide to buy a home our budget will be about $300,000 in cash from the sale of our existing home. Other than that, our budget will be around $8,000 per month.

We plan to spend a few years exploring areas before making a decision and finally settling down. We seek a balance between cultural, dining and wilderness areas. Add scenic views and some distance between neighbors (not isolation) to complete the package.

Can you suggest a few options for us to explore? Not too hot and not too cold.


Dear Frank,

What a wonderful combination!

Of course it all depends on what you mean by that. When you think of wilderness, do you think of bears and moose and the like, or state forests and other protected areas, including wildlife sanctuaries and state parks, for hiking? Are these restaurants white-tablecloth places for special occasions that need a larger population to thrive? Or just local spots? Are you familiar with places that are used to dealing with snow and there’s no shortage of people to hire to shovel, or do you prefer those who get snow so infrequently that they struggle with the roads to vacate when it happens?

And will you compromise on space to afford the space you want?

However you define your criteria, you have so many great opportunities in the US and its 3,000+ counties that you might wisely spend a few years exploring them. Consider testing your shortlist in the weather you find least comfortable to be sure you are doing well. A wrong move is an expensive mistake.

Finally, think about how you’re going to find your community, whatever you choose — that’s more important than the landscape, this person discovered.

Plus: Choosing a retirement home is about more than low taxes – avoid these 5 costly mistakes

I’ve already suggested many places along the Blue Ridge foothills in Virginia that you might want to check out: Roanoke, Blacksburg, Harrisonburg, and Lexington. In North Carolina, Asheville, Hendersonville, and Brevard have surfaced, as have lakes near Charlotte. In Tennessee, there’s Johnson City, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, just for starters.

The MarketWatch retirement tool also flagged Carbondale, Illinois and Athens, Ohio, which were also suggested in previous articles.

Not keen on repeating myself, here are three fresh suggestions to get you started. You can find all Where should I retire? columns here.

Tacoma, Washington

The Tacoma waterfront is in the foreground; Mount Rainier is in the distance.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Aberdeen, Washington area popped up on the Where Should I Retire tool, but I figured this other gateway to the Olympic Peninsula might suit you better. They would be closer to both Mount Rainier and Seattle. And Tacoma, with a population of 220,000, has its own cultural offerings, including three theaters that house eight arts organizations.

Average summer highs are around 75 and low humidity; Winter highs average 45. Instead of snow, however, there is rain in winter.

As you may know, Washington State does not tax income. The downside is that Tacoma (state, county, and city combined) sales tax is just over 10%.

While the median home price here is above your price target, Tacoma’s size means there’s quite a variety of properties on the market. Or venture beyond the city limits and look across Pierce County to get a little more space between neighbors.

Here is what’s on the market in Tacoma right now Using listings on (which, like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp.).

Not quite right? An option at the other end of the state – but with snow – is the Spokane area suggested here. If you are intrigued by tax arbitrage, you can pay no state income tax in Vancouver, Washington, which is suggested here, and easily shop across the river in Oregon, where there is no sales tax.

Oakridge, Tennessee

The Obed National Wild and Scenic River Visitor Center is half an hour from Oak Ridge.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

This option takes you across the country and to a city of 31,000 people about 25 miles west of Knoxville. That should give you a little more space between neighbors, while a city of 190,000 people within a short drive gives you the culture and choice of restaurants – including a restaurant run by a James Beard winner.

Oak Ridge was part of the Manhattan Project during World War II when 100,000 people invaded an area not marked on maps. It still likes the nickname “secret city”.

You’ll like that the area only gets about 10 inches of snow on average each winter. But — and there’s always a trade-off — it rains 51 inches, well over the 30 inches or so that the contiguous US averages and more than places with rainy reputations like Tacoma or Portland, Ore.

July highs average in the upper 80s; in winter, daily highs average in the mid-40s, but average lows are below freezing.

For your outdoor fix, start with Loan Mountain State Forest west of Oak Ridge. Melton Lake Parkwith 173 miles of shoreline, is on the eastern edge of town.

The Chamber of Commerce boasts that the The cost of living here is 8% below the national average. Tennessee has no income tax, but the downside is a hefty 9.75% sales tax.

The average listing price for a home according to Realtor in April 2022 was $284,900, so within your budget. Here is what is on the market now.

Montrose, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is outside of Montrose.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

This option on the western slopes of Colorado offers you breathtaking scenery. Start with Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park just outside of town. Then there are the San Juan Mountains to the south, Curecanti National Recreation Area to the east and then several national forests.

This is the smallest of my three options: Montrose has about 20,000 residents, and about as many others live in the rest of the 2,200-square-foot county. So you can find space between the neighbors if you wish. You will also find many other retirees; 25% of the city is 65 years or older. The downside is that you may have to drive to Grand Junction, which is an hour away (and suggested here) for some of your cultural and dining options.

Montrose scores with more than 300 days of sunshine. You’ll get only modest amounts of snow — about 20 inches a year — and almost no rain. Winters will be on the cooler side, with average highs in the upper 30’s. Summer highs average in the upper 80s.

I’ll be honest – Montrose might be over budget for you depending on how much space you need. Real estate prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic, although this city is still considered affordable by Colorado standards. Here’s what’s on the market nowto

Dear readers, where should Frank and his wife retire? Please leave suggestions in the comments section for all to see.

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Brian Lowry

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