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With remote work flexibility, some people opt to relocate ahead of their retirement

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If you are thinking of relocating when you retire, there are several things to consider before you make the move.

One of them may now be whether you should do it before you leave the workforce.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are working remotely — and may be for some time to come. Several companies have added the option for employees to work from home for the rest of their career, including Twitter, which has said its employees can keep working from home "forever."

"The pandemic was unexpected, working from home was unexpected, but nonetheless many companies realized that workers can be just as productive working from home," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

"We may begin to see a boost in people buying retirement homes before their retirement."

Right now, the evidence is anecdotal, with demand rising in vacation resort areas, he said.

If you are going to relocate, you should be relocating for reasons that are going to make you happy.
Barbara O'Neill

Of those who have already entered retirement, 38% have moved to a new home, according to the 20th annual Transamerica retirement survey, released in September.

When choosing where to live, retirees' cited proximity to family and friends (61%), affordable cost of living (55%) and access to excellent health care and hospitals (46%), the survey found.

Whether you want to fully move ahead of your retirement, or buy a vacation home with the intent to use it full-time once you retire, you'll need to do some homework before you pack your bags.

Scope out the area

In addition to family, cost and health care, retirees also look at the weather. Florida, which also doesn't have a state income tax, comes to mind for many, but it isn't the only warmer state retirees are flocking to.

There has been a general migration to Arizona, Nevada and Texas, as well, Yun said.

Miami Beach, Florida
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You can find a lot of information online about the area you may want to make your new home, but nothing beats giving it a trial run first. Consider extended visits if your work allows.

"You will get a pulse on the community," said Barbara O'Neill, an author, distinguished professor emerita at Rutgers University and CEO of Money Talk: Financial Planning Seminars.

"You want to find out about things like hospitals, social services, entertainment venues, [and] closest airports."

O'Neill did just that while she was working at Rutgers. She took a sabbatical and spent three months in Gainesville, Florida, in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, she did it again while working remotely. She's since left Rutgers and is living and working in Florida, about 30 minutes away from Gainesville.

Make a budget

Come up with a pro forma budget that has your best estimate of your income and spending after you leave your job, suggests O'Neill, whose latest book is titled, "Flipping a Switch: Your Guide to Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life."

Research the cost of living in the areas you are considering. Part of that is housing costs.

Housing affordability is a big reason people move when they retire, Yun said.

In particular, people from areas with expensive housing, like the Northeast and California, can find larger homes at much cheaper prices in other states. If they've paid off their homes, or close to it, they may be able to pocket a profit after buying their retirement home.

Retiring with $1 million: How much money you'll have in your monthly budget
Retiring with $1 million: How much money you'll have in your monthly budget

While prices are already rising, they may go higher the longer a person waits, he said.

"It seems like demand will remain solid for the upcoming years because the Fed has clearly made its intentions known that we will have a low-interest-rate environment," Yun said.

The mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed loan is 3.01%, as of Sept. 21, according to Bankrate.

However, just because demand may remain strong and prices may rise, you should be financially comfortable about making that retirement home decision, Yun advised.

"One wants to never overstretch their budget," he said.

Watch out for taxes

Retirees tend to flock to lower-tax states, especially those with no state income tax, like Florida, Tennessee and Texas, Yun said.

Yet it may not be that simple, especially if you are still working.

You can only have one official domicile, and it is where you spend most of the year. It's where you register your car and vote.

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Those who have bought a house in a low-tax state but still spend much of their time at their first residence can expect to be audited if they claim the low-tax state as their primary residence, warned Ed Slott, CPA and founder of Ed Slott & Co. in Rockville Centre, New York.

He had one case where the IRS did a three-year residency audit, which included a request for records of where the subjects spent each day, each year.

If you move out of state but are still working, you'll still be paying income tax in your employer's state. For example, if you are living in Florida, but your company is based in New York, you'll have to file taxes as a nonresident to New York.

If you relocate to a state that has income tax, there's a chance you can get caught up in being double-taxed, Slott said.

How this couple retired at 29 years old
How this couple retired at 29 years old

Some states have agreements that the resident state will give credit for the income tax paid to the state where the job is based, as New Jersey does for those commuting into New York. However, now that the pandemic has opened up remote work, people are moving farther away and they could wind up in a state that doesn't have such an agreement, Slott said.

Also, if you wind up working side jobs, you'll have to pay taxes to your new state of residence.

When checking out your specific tax situation, be sure to include your current state of residence. Many even high-tax states, offer huge tax benefits for seniors, Slott said.

"You might be surprised at how low state taxes are when most of your income is from Social Security and retirement accounts," he said.

Making the decision

After doing your research, make up columns or a matrix listing the pros and cons of staying and the pros and cons of moving, O'Neill said.

In addition to financial reasons, remember emotional ones, as well. In the era of Covid-19, a move to Texas may be too far from family members who don't want to travel by plane.

On the other hand, living in year-round warm weather allows for safer outdoor activities.

"If you are going to relocate, you should be relocating for reasons that are going to make you happy," O'Neill said.

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