WE BEGAN IN 2019 to think seriously about what we wanted our retirement to look like. My husband had retired in 2018. I was aiming to leave my job in 2022. We were hoping to have a plan in place long before my final day of work.
Our first step was to decide where we wanted to live. We were both eager to escape the Pacific Northwest, so we zeroed in on a couple of potential destinations. We spent a few weeks during the summer of 2019 investigating our choices.
Our initial pick was St. George, Utah. We quickly discovered we weren’t alone in our love of the southern Utah climate. Over the past decade, St. George has consistently ranked as one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the U.S. Knowing our retirement budget would be modest, we realized we needed to find a location where housing was more affordable.
Sun City West, Arizona, an age-restricted community located just outside of Phoenix, was next. The desert climate appealed to us. The cost of homes was lower than in many other parts of the country. The question we had: Would we enjoy living in a retirement community?
Our doubts didn’t last long.
On our first trip to visit Sun City West in June 2019, my husband and I both commented on how easy it felt to be there. The community—which encompasses 12 square miles—consists of 17,000 single-story homes. Within the city boundaries are all the various amenities you’d expect to find in a small metropolis.
Sun City West is home to three grocery stores, a gas station, a full-service hospital and a variety of restaurants. There are also numerous banks and credit unions, three fire stations, two hardware stores and several churches.
The one thing conspicuously absent? Schools. With a median age of 75—and a minimum age of 55 to purchase a home—residents of Sun City West have no need for an educational system. As a result, property taxes are significantly lower than in surrounding areas.
Two days after we arrived for our initial visit, we began looking for a home to buy. With only a handful of houses for sale, and many eager buyers, we found ourselves in a market that favored sellers. We bid—and lost out—on two homes. A few days later, we flew back to Portland, Oregon, and continued our search online.
Two weeks after returning to Portland, we found a fully furnished home in our price range. We quickly made an offer and, within a month, we were absentee homeowners. Although we made a few extended visits to our new home in 2020 and 2021, we didn’t become fulltime residents until April 2022.
In the year since moving to Sun City West, we’ve become convinced an age-restricted community was the right choice for us. What have we learned over the past 12 months?
We made a good decision to buy when we did. The average price of a home in Sun City West was $272,000 in mid-2019. Three years later, they peaked at an average $408,000. If we’d waited to buy until I retired in 2022, we would have been priced out of the market.
Relocating has helped us financially. The cost of living in Phoenix is some 18% lower than Portland. Our Arizona property taxes, for a 2,000-square-foot home on a 10,000-square-foot lot, are $1,200 this year. That compares favorably to the nearly $4,000 property tax bill we had on our much smaller Portland home.
We aren’t as social as we thought we’d be. One of the draws of Sun City West is the ample opportunity for social interaction. With more than 100 chartered clubs, there’s something to do every waking hour. Prior to retiring, both my husband and I imagined joining at least a couple of the clubs to explore new interests. But since we’ve moved down, we find ourselves with little time for extracurricular activities. Training our dogs, working out, going for walks and riding our bikes keep us busy.
Our community is designed to help seniors age in place. The homes in Sun City West were built with an older population in mind. The open floor plans allow residents to negotiate their home using a variety of mobility aids. The gravel- and rock-filled yards are generally maintenance free. Most of the homes are single-family residences, but there are duplexes, townhouses, apartments and condominiums as well. Several assisted living facilities are located within the city’s boundaries.
The entire community is designed to allow residents to age in place and maintain their independence for as long as possible. Since moving down, we’ve learned about several nonprofit organizations that provide free or low-cost assistance to residents who need it. My husband and I appreciate knowing we can likely stay in our home for as long as we’re physically able.
We don’t miss commuting. One hesitation I had about moving to a suburb of Phoenix was dealing with the traffic. Having commuted to my job in Portland for several years, I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with all the cars in the fifth largest metropolitan area in the U.S.
But since moving, we’ve discovered there aren’t many times we need to leave our immediate area. Most of the services we require are located within—or just outside of—our community.
It’s apparent there’s a tradeoff when it comes to buying items locally. We may pay slightly more for purchases made at the stores within walking distance of our house. But we save the time and aggravation that comes with battling big city traffic. We also feel it’s important to support our local retailers as much as possible. Many of the local stores go out of their way to employ residents who want or need a job.
Kristine Hayes Nibler retired in 2022, and she and her husband now live in Arizona. She enjoys spending her time reading, writing and training their four dogs. Check out Kristine’s earlier articles.