Although 85 percent of those who retire don't move, almost 100 percent of them think about it, however briefly. The prospect of a fresh start in a new location may be the first and most powerful fantasy of those anticipating retirement.
For some, the fantasy becomes a pleasant reality. "Some people get here and find a new life," says Joseph Bressie of Madeira Beach, Fla. "They take advantage of what the area has to offer, and they do things they never had a chance to do before."
"There's so much to do, and the weather doesn't keep you home," says Marjorie billingham of Sun City, Ariz. "It was 80 degrees here and 22 below at home the week I bought my garden apartment. I've never found it a bad move."
For her the now setting offers another advantage: a winder circle of friends. "When you're a widow, it's like being a fifth wheel," she says. Most of my friend at home were married. Whih the single people I knew, there just wasn't enought to do."
Those who do transplant themselves to a retirement community find certain social skills important.
"You have to be gregarious -- very friendly and outgoing, one resident f a florida retirement village says. "If you always wait for other people to take the initiative, you'll do a lot of waiting."
But being gregarious can bring another challenge: an overload of activities. "People find there's almost too much to do," Mrs. Billingham says. "You have to learn to say no far more often here than you do up North."
For other sun-seeking retirees, the hoped-for advantages, economic and social , never quite materialize. Some discover they have merely traded high heating bills for high air conditioning bills -- and long, cold winters for long, stifling summers. "Four months of July is a bit much," one transplanted Midwesterner says soberly.
A few lament the intellectual barrenness of an all-play-and-no-work environment. "I miss conversation about what goes on in the world with people who don't think you're stuffy if you have ideas or have an interest in exchanging ideas," a retired teacher in Florida says.
"It's lazy life," another woman admits, drawing up a chair to join a poolside gathering. "The highlight of the day is mail. That, and waiting for your grandchilder arrive."
Some transplanted retirees have more serious dissapointments
"A lot of people move hastily," says Maria Vespeir, assistant professor of anthropology at Tampa's University of South Florida. "They don't look carefully enough at options. They turn 65, and they come down here because they think it's the thing to do. They make snap judgments about buying, and then they're stuck. The difference in prices is just enough to make it very hard to go back. Many have been constrained by finances -- or just plain embarrassment. You tell people, 'We're moving to Florida.' You really can't go back without losing a lot of pride."
The best approach, according to many retirement counselors, is a gradual transition. They suggest several extended visits (including off-season months) before making a final decision and a permament move. Some also recommend a two-step approach: adjust first to retirement and then, a year or so later, to a new setting.
"We didn't really cut all our ties all at once," says Catherine Saurer Smith of Madeira Beach. "I think that's important if people can manage it."
Even those who make a successful move find the transition takes time -- and patience. "Uprooting and moving are not easy for the first six months to a year ," says Gerard Svendsent, vice-president of Del Webb Corporation in Sun City, Ariz.
Yet despite the challenges and adjustments -- not to mention the increasing cost -- of moving, developers -- optimists by profession -- expect the popularity of retirement communities to increase.
"If the economy turns around," Mr. Svendsen says, "retirees will cintinue to seek sunnier climes" -- ever-hopeful pilgrims looking for their own new world. For further reading: Over 50: The Definitive Guide to Retirement, by Auren Uris. New York: Chilton Books, $17.95; Bantam Books, $9.95 paper.
An encyclopedic reference book covering a wide range of retirement planning topics. The Prime of Your Life: A Practical Guide for Your Mature Years, by Joseph Michaels. New York: Facts on File Inc., j.95
The nuts and bolts of retirement planning, offering information and advice. The Best Years Book: How to Plan for Fulfillment, Security, and Happiness in the Retirement Years, by Hugh Downs and Richard J. Roll. New York: Delacorte Press $ 14.95.
A friendly, practical guide, as reassuring and optimistic as its title. The $100,000 Decision: The Older American's Guide to Selling a Home and Choosing Retirement Housing, by Robert Irwin. New York: McGraw-Hill, $14.95.
Discusses the ramifications of the one-time tax exclusion -- recently raised to $125,000 -- available to Americans 55 and older who sell their family homes. Retirement Edens: Outside the Sunbelt, by Peter Dickinson. New York: E. P. Dutton, $14.95; $9.25 paper.
Pinpoints the best retirement spots in the northern two-thirds of the US, rating them as to cost of living, climate, housing, recreation, culture, and health facilities. A companion book to Sunbelt Retirement (Dutton, $8.95). The discount Guide for Travelers Over 55, by Caroline And Walter Weintz. New York: Dutton, $5.75.
State-by-state, country-by-country listings of travel discounts on lodging, transportation, sightseeing. Getting Ready for Retirement: A financial Planning Primer, by John Dorfman. New York: New York State Consumer Protection Board. (Available by sending 69 cents in postage stamps to Retirement, New York State Consumer Protection Board 2 World Trade Center, Room 2525, New York, N.Y. 10047).
A clearly written, 25-page guide to financial planning for retirement. Emphasizes the need for personal savings and stresses the importance of starting early. The Star-Spangled Retirement Dream: Why It's Going Sour and What You Can Do About it, by James Golin. New York: Scribner, $12,95.
A timely, often disturbing analysis oif America's retirement system.Shows how to analyze individual retirement needs. Invest for Retirement, by David H. Rubenstein. New York: The Free Press, $12.95 .
A conservative approach to investing, tailored for the mature investor.m