Wed. Jun 1st, 2022

One of the most stressful decisions of my life was deciding where to retire and find my forever home. I’ve moved quite a bit in my life — 33 times to be exact. I grew up as a military brat, served in the Army for 12 years, and then served as a military spouse until my husband retired from the service. The travel bug bit me at a young age. I can remember a few months before we would move as a child and my mom would say, “I have the go bug, I am tired of living here.” I am not sure if that was true, but she always made each move sound so exciting. With four sisters, there was always someone to hang out with, so we never missed friends. It continued that way when I was in the Army, every two or three years I would get that itch to move again. I met my husband during one of my many moves and moving continued once we were married.

The idea of settling down in one place and never moving again was agonizing for me. What if I made the wrong choice? What if I didn’t like where I moved? Would I have the itch after a few years to move again? My husband’s last duty station in the Army was Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. It is the most requested duty assignment in the Army, and we had wanted to live here forever. Once here, it just felt like home more than anywhere else we had ever lived. We fell in love with the darling small town of Steilacoom and when we had the opportunity to purchase a home with a view, we took the plunge. A view was something we wanted, either mountains or water and this one had both: the Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains.

Sunset views almost every night.
Peggy Cleveland

The Places I’ve Lived

I have lived on both the east and west coasts of the United States as well as the north and the south. Military assignments took me to South Korea and West Germany (just Germany now). San Diego, the city of my birth, was my home more than once. The second time we lived on Coronado Island not far from the Hotel Del Coronado well before it became the expensive enclave it is today. Rhode Island was my home as a child where we lived in a historic home built in 1810. Ironically, my husband had an assignment in Rhode Island where we also lived in a historic home. My international abodes were on military bases, but I took every opportunity to travel and explore the area and culture. I enjoyed living in Arizona twice, but it was a locality I did not want to live in forever.

You would think living in all these places would make it easier to decide on a retirement destination but it made it much harder. With so many great choices, how could I choose just one? It was incredibly stressful as we drew closer to that retirement date.

Deer in neighbor's yard, Washington.
Peggy Cleveland

What I Learned About Houses Each Time I Moved

By the time my husband and I retired, I knew exactly what kind of house and features I wanted. Each move allowed me to try a variety of houses before we picked our forever home. After living in new homes we had built, as well as historic houses, we knew we wanted something in between. New homes just aren’t as well built, but historic homes require lots of maintenance. We settled on a home built in 1949 but had all the major upgrades such as a new furnace and windows already replaced. After living in houses with 3,500 plus square feet we knew we wanted a smaller cottage, something that would be easy to maintain once we got older. After having a jetted tub we rarely used and was cleaning constantly, we knew that was a feature we did not want.

Neighborhood walking trails in Farrell's Marsh Park.
Peggy Cleveland

What Surprised Me About Our Final Destination

Much of my life was spent living in sunny climates with hot summers and temperate winters. As I grew older, I was surprised how much the heat began to bother me and how much warmer the temperatures were. Places I lived as a child with highs in the low 90s now regularly had temperatures soaring into the 100s. When we chose Washington state as our forever home, I was surprised how much I loved the mild winters and the grey, rainy weather.

How We Finally Chose A Place To Retire

This is actually our first retirement. Serving in the military my husband received full retirement after turning 50. He had job opportunities and connections in Washington which made it easy to make a transition to a civilian job. My writing career also began to take off in this area, so it made an easy choice for us. We were able to move off the military base into our forever home before he retired making the process very easy for us. Although the taxes are high in the state, we have military benefits such as tax-free shopping on the military base which mitigated those negatives. Our home has incredible views, the community is welcoming, and we have a wonderful coffee shop just a short walk from our home.

What I Would Have Done Differently

I would have spent more money and time on our home inspection especially because it was an older home. We are pretty savvy about the home buying process having been through it so many times, but we made the mistake of using our realtor’s inspector. He missed quite a bit and because of his relationship with our realtor, his loyalty in the process did not belong to us. I would 100 percent pay to have a plumber inspect the plumbing, as that has been our biggest expense in the home. Pay to have a camera look at the pipes. With the real estate market so hot right now, many people are waiving an inspection to get the home they want but it is just not worth it. You could be setting yourself up for huge expenses down the line.

Toasting wine glasses with neighbors.
Peggy Cleveland

Tips For Someone Looking For A Retirement City

Begin the conversation with your partner (or yourself, if single) years before you plan to retire. One of the first questions we had was did we want to move near our family as neither location was one we were super excited about? Do you like where you live now? If you have never lived in an area you might want to try it out before committing to it 100 percent. Often, a place you loved on vacation may not be the garden spot you think it is to make your home. My 81-year-old mother has what she calls her “square.” This is the area surrounding her home and it has everything she needs: a grocery store, shopping, her doctors, and church. She can access it all without driving.

When coming up with your questions, think about the answers now and again when you are 80. Do you plan to stay in this home or move again as you age? Can the home become handicap accessible if needed? Seeing my parents and those of my friends as they age, the number one thing everyone seems to want is to stay in their home. In my parents’ case, the retirement home on the water with a large, labor-intensive yard was not feasible as they got older. I think it would have been a lot easier for the children if my parents knew that ahead of time and planned that when they got older, they were going to move to a condo.

We are very happy in our “forever” home and semi-retirement. There was a lot to think about before taking the leap. The key to success is to allow yourself plenty of time to plan and don’t rush into a decision.

More retirement help and information:

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