By CATEY HILL
For the more than 36 million Americans who will turn 65 in the coming decade, the best cities and towns to retire in now have a much higher bar to clear: They can't just be great places -- they have to be affordable. Each week, SmartMoney.com tours a different state to find less-expensive alternatives to the most well-known golden year destinations.
While Nevada might conjure up images of bright lights and winning big at the craps table, it's got a lot more to offer than gambling. The range of living options is vast -- from the mountain spots high up in the Sierra Nevadas to the hot dry areas of the Mojave Desert where Las Vegas is located. And despite being landlocked, there are plenty of options for those who need to be by the water, including Lake Mead in the South and the Humboldt River in the North.
Retire Here, Not There: State-by-State
Forget your parents' retirement destinations. These less-known gems offer lower prices and peppy economies.
Even better for retirees: Nevada has no state income tax and no inheritance tax. And thanks to the housing crisis -- for 60 consecutive months (or 5 long years), Nevada has had the highest foreclosure rate of any state -- experts say there are plenty of deals on real estate for those looking to relocate. Many of the state's southern towns also offer plenty of retirement communities to choose from, and sunshine nearly year round, says William Duncan, a financial planner at Duncan Financial Planning in Henderson, Nev.
Nevada does have its drawbacks. If you're tempted by gambling, which is legal throughout the state, this might not be the best place to rest your nest egg. Residents also add that in many areas of the state, there's a notable lack of cultural attractions -- likely because there simply aren't enough people to support them. Nevada is the ninth least densely populated state in the country. Furthermore, some areas of the state can get pricey. Consider posh Kingsbury, near Lake Tahoe. The cost of living is 49% higher than the national average and the median home price is more than $469,000, according to Sperling's Best Places.
But big ticket towns like Kingsbury are the exception, not the rule, in Nevada. Here are four less-expensive retirement havens in the Silver State.
Mesquite: For the golfer
By the numbers
- Population: 16,750
- Median home cost: $186,800
- Cost of living: 5.7% higher than average
- Unemployment: 13.3%
If your dreams of retirement look something like this -- 18 holes of golf, followed by a quick dip in your community's pool and a relaxing cocktail on the patio -- then advisers say Mesquite is worth a look. This small town has seven golf courses of its own, including Wolf Creek, which Golf Digest called one of the best golf courses in America, and is located just 35 minutes from famed golf town St. George, Utah. Retirement living is varied in this town including retirement community Sun City--Mesquite, which has a golf course, two pools and tennis and boccie courts for active seniors. Indeed, retirees account for half of Mesquite's population, says Anne Miranda, the executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce.
On the downside: Travel into and out of Mesquite isn't easy. The nearest airport is the St. George Municipal Airport, in neighboring Utah, about a 35-minute drive from Mesquite. And the airport doesn't offer many flights, so you may have to drive to Las Vegas more than an hour away.
Still, residents say there's plenty to do in Mesquite beyond playing golf. The annual Mesquite Senior Games includes in a variety of sporting competitions from pickleball to softball. Or you can enjoy one of the cultural attractions in the area including the arts center, which has classes and a fine arts gallery, the community theater or the Mesquitos Dance Troupe. The area also has a new, full-service hospital.
Carson City: For the skier
By the numbers
- Population: 55,132
- Median home cost: $245,200
- Cost of living: 16.7% higher than average
- Unemployment: 13.2%
Boulder, Colo., has long been touted for its great skiing and hiking, along with lots of bigger city attractions. But Nevada's Carson City boasts all that -- and at a much lower cost. Indeed, Carson City is located between the best of both worlds. Thirty miles to the west is Lake Tahoe, which offers some of the best skiing and hiking in the U.S. Head 30 miles north and you'll hit Reno, with its restaurants, casinos and shows. "Reno is a plus to us," says Ronni Hannaman, the executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. "We get those big city amenities without the big city hassles like traffic."
But Carson City is more than just a launching pad to Tahoe or Reno. Friendly residents and the small size make becoming part of the community easy, says Hannaman. The arts community here is thriving, with a volunteer symphony and jazz band. The Brewery Arts Center offers classes and events throughout the year. There is also a modern hospital and two cancer centers in the area.
Retirement experts warn, however, that if you're planning on working during your golden years, Carson City may be a challenge. Like the rest of the state, the economy is suffering. Unemployment is 13%, far higher than the national average. And the cost of living is still nearly 17% higher than the national average.
Elko: For the outdoors lover
By the numbers
- Population: 16,887
- Median home cost: $135,600
- Cost of living: 4.3% lower than average
- Unemployment: 7.9%
Elko is a top producer of gold in the U.S., and its economy is humming along smoothly right now because of it (there's lower-than-average unemployment.) But this true western town nestled near the Humboldt River has more than shiny metal. The picturesque Ruby Mountains, about 25 miles south of Elko, are the main outdoor attraction, with lots of hunting, camping, bird watching and hiking opportunities, says Sarah Minard, an administrative assistant with the Elko Chamber of Commerce.
The town itself offers an intriguing mix of western cowboy culture and Basque roots. The annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in January celebrates western rural life with poetry, music and film. Every July the town hosts the National Basque Festival, complete with Spanish food and wine and often a running from the bulls ceremony. Many of the Basque people came to Elko as sheep herders and ranchers around the late 1800s and early 1900s. Plus, "it's a small, friendly town," says Minard. "People feel very welcome here." On the flip side, the tiny size and remote location means you don't have a lot of restaurant and shopping choices. There is a regional airport in Elko but many travelers find they drive three and a half hours to Salt Lake City for more direct flights.
Henderson: For the arts and culture enthusiast
By the numbers
- Population: 251,942
- Median home cost: $258,500
- Cost of living: 17.2% higher than average
- Unemployment: 12.4%
Located five miles from Las Vegas, low-key Henderson is just a short drive from the excellent restaurants and entertainment that Sin City offers. But as the second largest city in the state, residents say it still has plenty to see and do in its own right, while still retaining a small-town feel with lots of green space and low crime.
Henderson is well known for its cultural events. There's a multi-day arts festival in May and the William Shakespeare in the Park theater celebration in October. The Pavillion hosts world-famous musicians and artists year-around, says Bud Cranor, the director of communications for the City of Henderson.
Furthermore, the city boasts 54 parks with 65 miles of walking and hiking trails. Plus it's just minutes away from Lake Mead, a large lake created by the Hoover Dam, which offers boating, swimming and fishing galore. There are also 10 golf courses in Henderson, and many more in Las Vegas. With temperatures in the 60s most of the year, you can play nearly year around But keep in mind, summers can be scorching. Henderson is in the desert, after all.
The biggest downside to Henderson is its cost, which is cheaper than some towns near Lake Tahoe but is still 17.2% higher than the national average. In addition, the Las Vegas area economy was particularly hard hit by the recession and housing crisis and has been slow to recover. Unemployment remains high. But there is a silver lining for retirees. Home prices are down 11% in Henderson as compared to last year, according to Zillow.com. Advisers say even less-expensive housing alternatives can be found in nearby communities like Paradise and Sunrise Manor.