How the Web-savvy retiree picks a new hometown

Your household goods are packed up and loaded on the moving van, and you're ready to go. You take a final nostalgic look at your neighborhood, but soon you're heading for your new home with a peace of mind you never expected.

Among all the uncertainties that accompany relocation, there's one thing you didn't have to worry about: a significant lifestyle change. You know that the neighborhood you're moving to meets your expectations and won't be much different from the one you've left behind.

Is that really possible?

Andrew Schiller thinks so. He's a geographer and demographics specialist who has developed an Internet database that he says helps helps identify cities and even individual neighborhoods by their characteristics.

This site, www.neighborhoodscout.com, enables retirees, second-home buyers, and those relocating to describe their "ideal neighborhood and find real neighborhoods that best match [their] personal criteria in any area of the country," says Dr. Schiller.

It includes data from the Census Bureau, the Federal Housing Authority, the Department of Education, the US Geological Survey, and even the FBI.

Matching the amenities of your current neighborhood with one in another part of the country is done by typing in your address or ZIP Code, and then the same for the area to which you wish to relocate.

Individuals may also locate an "ideal neighborhood" by building a profile using criteria ranging from the cost of homes and rentals to schools, education levels of residents, language, and special character considerations. The latter includes values such as artsy/funky, walkable, and quiet. Depending on how close people want to live to a metropolitan area, they can select a search radius from five to 75 miles.

There's only one catch. Once someone has used the site to search for a neighborhood, a company called MobilityScout, a moving and relocation services partner of NeighborhoodScout, contacts him by e-mail. But in the experience of this reporter, MobilityScout's services can be declined without much effort.

Schiller says his interest in what makes one place different from another started in childhood when he would travel with his family from their home in Maine to visit relatives in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Later, he became intrigued by lists such as "The Best Places to Live in America."

"Many of the places [such articles and books] listed were not right for me," he says in a phone interview. "There are best places for each person and family." Most people have definite likes and dislikes when it comes to the community in which they live. Someone else's ideas of what's important in a town or neighborhood may or may not jibe with theirs.

This is especially true of those who are getting ready to retire. Many retirees are still anxious to head somewhere warm. Getting away from cold, snowy winters is a priority. But many others, after thinking over the options, are deciding to stay close to home. They prefer to stay close to family and friends.

In fact, a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that a majority of baby boomers and seniors are retiring not too far from where they currently live.

"Finding a great place to retire that combines the excitement of a dream retirement locale with the comforts and advantages of being close to family, friends, and community, is the ideal solution for three out of four of today's retirees," Schiller says.

Retiring near your current home doesn't necessarily have to be dull, he adds. "There are these hidden gems where you can get that excitement, where you can move to a wonderful and fresh place and still have all of the things you wanted by staying close."

Schiller recently used the website's database to compile a list of the top spots for retiring near the nation's 10 most populous metro areas. He used criteria he feels are important to many people 50 and over who are planning their retirement: communities that offer a combination of safety, peace and quiet, an educated and vibrant blend of seniors and other age groups, striking scenery, and diverse options for housing - all within 75 miles of the city center.

Two towns were located for each metropolitan area: One is called a top choice and one, which is considered a "best value," is less expensive. (See box.)

"These 20 towns vary in price and character, from the shores of Cape Cod and Michigan City to the country-club estates of Fort Worth, to the small-town feel of Newtown Square, Pa.," says Schiller. "But all are absolutely beautiful places to retire..."

Best places to retire

These are NeighborhoodScout.com's top choices for retiring near large cities. Both towns meet the criteria likely to be important to seniors, but one town is less expensive.

Boston

Top choice: Sandwich, Mass.

Best value: Hancock, N.H.

New York City

Top choice: Point Lookout, N.Y.

Best value: Jamesbury, N.J.

Philadelphia

Top choice: Newtown Square, Pa.

Best value: Willow Street, Pa.

Washington, D.C.

Top choice: Kensington, Md.

Best value: Boyce, Va.

Detroit

Top choice: Farmington, Mich.

Best value: Warren, Mich.

Chicago

Top choice: Michigan City, Ind.

Best value: Plymouth, Ind.

Dallas-Forth Worth

Top choice: Ridglea Estates (Fort. Worth, Texas)

Best value: Lindale, Texas

Houston

Top choice: Willis, Texas

Best value: Bellville, Texas

San Francisco

Top choice: Tiburon, Calif.

Best value: Martinez, Calif.

Los Angeles

Top choice: Duarte, Calif.

Best value: Yucaipa, Calif.

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