Personal Finance

Some retirees are rethinking Florida, post-Irma

Key Points
  • Florida loses ground as one of the best places to retire, particularly in the hurricane's aftermath.
  • Georgia, Arizona and the Carolinas look more appealing to soon-to-be retirees.
Here are the best (and worst) places to retire

Sammy Musovic was planning to buy a condo in Miami's Coconut Grove or South Beach at the end of the year, leaving his Manhattan restaurant business to his two sons.

"I was going to retire and go to Florida, but now I'm definitely reconsidering," the 55-year-old Musovic said after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Florida. "I want to feel comfortable and enjoy myself, I don't want to feel like I'm in danger."

The Sunshine State — which benefits from an overall low cost of living, extensive availability of health-care facilities and recreational activities, including golf, museums and beaches, as well as no personal income tax — consistently ranks among the best place to retire. (Texas has also been considered a top retirement spot, in part because it also has no income tax.)

Of course, that also has to do with the weather, which aside from hurricane season, is generally balmy and beautiful.

But the devastation from Hurricane Irma, fresh on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which plowed into Houston late last month, has some retirees and soon-to-be retirees like Musovic second-guessing their decision.

Fort Lauderdale whipped by Hurricane Irma

Over the last decade, Florida has been the most attractive destination by far for seniors, as measured by average annual net migration for the 55-plus set, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. But it's been steadily losing ground to states like Georgia, Arizona and the Carolinas.

And still, most American retirees are deciding to stay put, and those who do move usually don't go far, according to Rodney Harrell, director of AARP's Livable Communities program. (According to Brookings, less than 1 percent of Americans make an interstate move.)

"These weather events could have a real impact," said Karen Smith Conway, an economics professor at the University of New Hampshire, citing the increased cost of living, particularly with regard to insurance in the storm's aftermath.

Past experience has shown us there will be a short-term blip; the question is how short is short.
Jon Rork
an economics professor at Reed College

According to Conway's research, Louisiana's in-migration was greatly impacted in the post-Katrina period. "We saw a big dropoff in their migration in the five years to follow," she said. "I would think there would be a similar dropoff after Irma."

Comparatively, after a series of hurricanes pummeled the Sunshine State in 2004-2005, including Charley and Ivan, there was an uptick in the number of retirees moving to south Georgia, "We saw a shift away from Florida," said Jon Rork, an economics professor at Reed College who also studies retirement migration.

"Past experience has shown us there will be a short-term blip; the question is how short is short term," Rork said.

"What we did see after 2004-2005 hurricanes is that property insurance rates went up and it did get more expensive here relative to the Carolinas or Tennessee," said AARP's Florida state director, Jeff Johnson.

The impact from this particular storm remains to be seen, Johnson said.

"My hope is, as we rebuild, leaders of the state are thoughtful about how we do it in a way that makes Florida even better for people of all ages — whether you are 8 or 108."

More from Your Money Your Future:
Would-be snowbirds come home to roost as over 80 percent of retirees age in place
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