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How to find a place to retire

Millions of people retire every year, and they have to live somewhere. The question for many is: Where?

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Retirees have a lot of options. They can stay in the current home, move to a more-suitable dwelling nearby, move far away or even live a nomadic life. There is no such thing as a perfect place to live in retirement, but there's a method to finding a good match. Here are four pieces of advice.

1. Realize that your needs might change
Just as people switch careers during their working lives, they often go through more than one phase of retirement, says Andrew Schiller, founder of NeighborhoodScout, a search engine that helps people figure out where to relocate. He says a 62-year-old and an 85-year-old have different sets of needs, "and because of that, this isn't just a decision that people make once -- and each time, their criteria are a little different."

For a lot of white-collar people, entering retirement is like slipping into a cold swimming pool: They do it in increments, getting accustomed to the change, rather than plunging in headfirst. These retirees gradually scale back their work hours, easing into full retirement.

"They know they can stay in touch with their computer and cell phone, and work anywhere they want," says Tom Kelly, co-author of "Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How To Buy, Rent and Profit From Property South of the Border."

2. List your values, likes and dislikes
Even if you plan to stay in the same place after you retire, it's a good idea to draw up a list of what you want in a community. The list might give you a newfound appreciation of your town, or it might convince you to start looking around.

Numerous books offer rankings of cities based on categories such as climate, crime rate and availability of medical care. They can give you ideas, but you should come up with your own list of criteria, advises Warren Bland, author of "Retire in Style: 60 Outstanding Places Across the USA and Canada."

In his book, Bland scores cities on 12 factors. "Proximity to a Talbots store" isn't one of those dozen criteria. But his wife, Sarah, couldn't bear to live in a town without one of the specialty women's clothing stores. "People can start out with the 12 criteria that I have, for example, and make their own ratings when they visit," Bland says.

Bland, a geographer at California State Univeristy, Northridge, spent about one to four days in each of 90 cities while researching the book and its forerunner, which described 50 affordable places to retire. One of his highest-rated cities is Portland, Ore., and the Blands might retire there, when they move from Los Angeles, for good. But they don't prefer Portland just because it scores high. It's more complicated than that. They like it because of "the combination of factors like absence of bad things and the presence of good things that make it special."

The Blands like, among other things, Portland's public transit system and the hilly landscape. Others might not care about public transportation and prefer flat land to hills. That's why you have to come up with your own criteria and rankings.

Schiller says, "You might want to consider other things like the tax bite, safety from crime, how fast-paced or slow the area is and if it matches or maps onto your value set. All those are important aspects to be included beyond just affordability, beach and sunshine."

Next: Don't automatically move to your favorite vacation destination.
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