You really didn't expect Baby Boomers to flock to those staid retirement communities in Florida and Arizona, did you?
The generation that defined so much of American culture also demands more when they call it quits, and some are beginning to discover that college towns offer some really good — and low-cost — places to retire these days.
"Historically, it was always Florida and Arizona," says Coldwell Banker President Budge Huskey. "It seems as though for many people, the attraction to what their passion is now outweighs the typical retirement option. Instead of retiring to Florida and the warm weather, many retire to a college town, or a ski village because they love skiing. The traditional patterns are changing."
"To be sure, most people who retire stay in the houses they have lived in for years," says AARP spokesman Nancy Thompson. But Baby Boomers especially have been an extremely mobile and adventurous generation. And they are finding that you don't have to spend $500,000 for that dream retirement home and spend the sunset years playing golf.
"The retiring generation is not ready to give up," says Charles Upchurch at Coldwell Banker Upchurch Realty in Athens, Ga., home to the University of Georgia. "They are retiring to college towns."
Mike and Helene Krupa just closed on their dream retirement home in Athens. They moved from southern New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia, where they had lived for 20 years. Now both kids are in college.
"I didn't want to live in Florida with the higher heat and the hurricanes," said Mike Krupa, 55. "We wanted to live someplace with moderate temperatures. And we were looking for a college town that had the kind of things we like. We like to play tennis. We like to jog. We like to go to the theater. And we like to walk downtown."
Helene says she's also looking forward to auditing classes. "We will definitely use the resources here," she says.
There were other amenities, some of them unexpected. Their property taxes dropped 50 percent for a home the same size as their previous home. Homeowners insurance dropped 40 percent. Their health insurance also dropped. The only thing that increased was auto insurance. Reason: all the inexperienced drivers around them, according to their insurance company.
Carl Parks, 65, and his wife, Barb, retired to Athens in 2009 after living 25 years in Alexandria, Va. He worked in government affairs, and she worked in marketing for Geico insurance.
Parks did attend college at the University of Georgia (1964-69), but the couple looked at several college towns before they moved to Athens.
"We live right by the campus, which we love," Parks said. "A block from our house you have the baseball stadium, the tennis complex and the track. We have season tickets to just about every sport they have here."
Which brings us to another benefit of college towns. You get to see major college sports for a fraction of what you pay for pro sports in major cities. Imagine paying $10 to see two college powerhouse baseball teams duke it out.
Thus, other affordable college towns such as Ann Arbor, Mich. (University of Michigan); South Bend, Ind. (Notre Dame); Gainesville, Fla. (University of Florida); and State College, Pa. (Penn State) offer exactly what Boomers are looking for these days: cheap homes, a reasonable cost of living, livability and lots of culture and sports.
In fact, says the AARP's Thompson, there are developers building retirement communities affiliated with universities in college towns — many times giving the residents full access to university facilities.
One such company is Kendal, a non-profit company that develops relationships with major universities, then builds retirement communities that often include university faculty, and sometimes even retired presidents. Kendal has built retirement communities in Ithaca, N.Y., home of Cornell University, and Hanover, N.H., home of Dartmouth.
"It's a lifestyle that values continuous learning," says Judith Braun, director for affiliate services at Kendal. "They want to continue to be involved, continue to take classes and continue to learn."
"Baby Boomers may end up redefining what retirement means," Huskey says. "They are looking at being active, being around friends and kids. They want to do what they want to do."