Barbara Corcoran has built her career on knowing where people will live even before they know it themselves. In “Nextville: Amazing Places to Live the Rest of Your Life,” the broker turns her incomparable real estate eye on baby boomers planning for retirement and predicts “the next big things” in real estate for that enormous demographic. Here's an excerpt::
I believe it's out there. Somewhere in this world, there's a place where you're meant to be. This book is about helping you find that very special place — where you can do what you've longed to do and become the person you've always wanted to be. Where you can begin the glorious next act of your life.
The urge to seek out the place where you belong is nothing new. Restless souls have been on this journey forever. It has made us explore, settle in new countries, build whole new worlds, and then try to find our way back to the old country again. It has led people out west to California and down south to Florida. It happens on a smaller scale, too. Within the city of New York, people are constantly moving. They move from Brooklyn to Manhattan, go uptown, then downtown, east, west, and then back to Brooklyn again. I've spent most of my life in the wacky world of real estate, and it's been downright mind-boggling to watch so much movement and so many territorial shifts. At first glance you might think that they're dictated by how much money people have and how much houses cost. But there's more to it than that. People can always find a bigger place in the town where they already live. They move to that "next place" because they're searching for something more — a place where they can do a better job of living.
The quest to find the perfect place takes on even more importance as you reach a certain stage in life. For some of us that stage is age fifty; for others it's forty; and today for many of us it's even younger. But I've found that the exact number makes no difference, because it's defined by your mind-set more than by a figure. It's the age when we each start to think, seriously think, about something more than today or tomorrow or even next year. It's the age when we start to think about the rest of our lives.
Many more people are thinking about this right now than ever simply because so many baby boomers are rapidly approaching the time in life we used to call retirement. Just think: every eight seconds, one more lively boomer turns sixty.
But our generation is approaching the next stage in life differently. As it turns out, we're just not the retiring types — never have been and never will be. We don't even like to use the word. "Retirement" suggests that you're on your way out, that your usefulness is over. But unlike our parents before us, we believe we're just getting started at this age. It's almost as though all of life before this was just a means to get us ready to go on to the next great thing. So instead of retiring, it's more like graduating.
But graduating to what? And where? These are the two big questions for all of us, and as we answer them in the coming years, there'll be another mass movement of people. Different people, different ages, different circumstances — but all with one thing in common: we need to find our next great place.
Where Do We Go?
Thirty years ago I arrived in New York City, a twenty-something Jersey girl hoping to find myself in the big metropolis. New York looked to me like a city that loved change, and it transformed me the moment I set foot there. New York would prove to be where I would discover my potential — the place I was truly meant to be. This was my first lesson in the power of place: by finding the right place, I could start to build the person I really wanted to be. This same lesson was reinforced many times in the years that followed because in my new job as a real estate broker I would help thousands of other people find the place where they truly belonged.
A dozen years later my little start-up company would become one of the most successful brokerages in the country, bringing me a ton of money and a lot of fun. But for me, the real measure of my success — the one thing I would always take the most pride in — was my innate ability to match up the right person with the right place based on his or her unique needs and personality. This, I learned, is the guts of the real estate business. I had to really listen as people told me where they'd been and where they hoped to go, and over time I came to see the clear connection between our dreams and the places we choose to live. I began to understand that places and dreams are always joined at the hip.
And so I truly believe in the transforming power of place. I believe that when you go to a new place — when it's the right place — you have permission to start over, to do things you couldn't or wouldn't do before. In short, you have an opportunity to meet the better you. It's never a cure-all, of course, because we often bring our emotional baggage with us when we move. But the new place at least lets you make a clean break with your old patterns of day-in, day-out living. It gives you a chance to shake your life up and reopen your eyes to see the world afresh.
I'm totally defined by where I am. When I'm in a place with energy and lots of color, surrounded by people I love, I feel I can accomplish anything! I also feel comfortable enough to do nothing at all. Place is always at the center of my life. Every one of my happy memories is tied to a specific place, and if I try to separate the experience from the place where I lived it, the memory simply dissolves when the context is gone. The same is true when I dream about tomorrow — my vision needs a frame in the form of a place, and without it, I can't picture my dream. So I believe that if you want to make a dream come true, you first need to find the right place.
Finding Yourself First
Landing the perfect place isn't easy. It's a process that calls for some honest thought and heartfelt emotion. Over the years in my real estate business, I saw that whenever people approached a real estate decision from a purely logical viewpoint, the decision was never a good one. The happiest people were always those who had an immediate, visceral reaction to a place and trusted it. They'd arrive, look around, smell the air, and say, "This is for me." And the funny thing is, when I'd asked them earlier to describe their ideal place, they'd described something totally different from the place they ended up falling in love with. That's why smart real estate brokers often say, "Buyers are liars." It's not that buyers intend to mislead, but they're often dead wrong when they try to predict where they'll live or what they'll choose. I feel that if you want to find the place that really gets your juices going, you need to discover what inspires you. You need to get in touch with what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable.
In short, you need to know yourself before you can find the right place.
This book aims to help you get in touch with your true feelings about where you really want to live. To do this, I developed a few tools, including my own "Where to Live Happily Ever After" quiz. I tried to keep the assessment simple because I, for one, was never able to pass a long test in school. I think my little quiz will help you begin to discover where you really belong.
We searched high and low and found lots of real-life people happily living their dreams in their dream spots. I listened carefully to how each of them got there and soon discovered that all these happy people could be divided into eight different groups, each group motivated by something different. That's how I landed on the organization of the book — chapters built around eight different types of people. Each chapter addresses a particular passion or way of living, and within that chapter I've chosen the surprisingly best places to pursue that dream. The places span all regions of the country and also include some overseas options. It's a different way of looking at the world — instead of picking places by region or weather, I picked the places that match up with what's in a person's soul. It's not that I don't like palm trees as much as the next guy, but I think if you're looking for someplace to live the rest of your life, there are more important things to consider. Like, What am I going to do with my time when I get there?
Thinking Outside the Hammock
Past generations didn't really examine this question too much when they thought about retirement. When my dad suggested to my mom, "Let's move down to Palm Bay where Marion and Gregg are," my mother began packing and that was that. My father was focused on escaping after years of hard work to a haven in Florida where they could both relax and play a little golf, and that was as far as their thinking went. But our generation is living longer and we also want to live larger. When it comes to retirement, we're thinking way outside the hammock.
Florida can be a wonderful place — my parents live there and love it, in fact. But it's their dream place, for their generation. Our generation has new dreams and needs new places to bring those dreams to life.
To me, Florida is as much a symbol as a real, live place. It symbolizes the conventional — a predictable approach to retirement. For so long, it was the place to retire, and its popularity has taken its toll on the state through the years. These days, Florida has too much traffic and not enough water (the drinkable kind, that is). Many areas grew too quickly, with buyers overpaying for real estate. Now take a drive through onetime Florida hot spots and you'll see a FOR SALE sign on too many blocks. People are leaving for a number of reasons, one of them being their concern about the next big storm and the exorbitant cost of home-owners' insurance that protects against hurricane damage. Some older retirees leave because Florida doesn't provide for some basic needs, like easy transportation; the state has actually been losing a growing number of people over seventy-five of late, some of whom are returning to northern states that provide better senior services. Meanwhile, younger boomer retirees tend to steer clear of Florida simply because it's seen as "too old" or — as my parents affectionately call it — "Heaven's waiting room."
The biggest problem of all is that retiring to Florida seems too predictable. "Boomers tend to want to make a distinctive personal statement in terms of where they choose to live," says William Strauss, whose book Generations studies the differences between age groups. "For the most part, they have no interest in following the same path as their parents."
As we researched this book in partnership with boomer Web sites such as What's Next (whatsnext.com) and real estate sites such as Trulia (trulia.com), surveying countless boomers along the way, we discovered interesting patterns in what people want today as they move toward the next stage of their lives.
And we hit on a major rule for many of them: Retirement today is about doing, not resting. Consider the fact that two-thirds of boomers say they intend to keep working, at least part-time, throughout their so-called retirement. With these people in mind, I devoted chapter 3 to great places to live and start a new business or career. For boomers who don't plan on working, there still needs to be something to focus on, something to soak up all that energy. So in this same chapter I also picked some amazing places to pursue a variety of passions.
We also found that many of our new generation of retirees want to stay connected as they enter the next phase of life. Numerous people we surveyed stated that when it comes to choosing the right place, the most critical factor is the people who would be surrounding them. They're looking for a lifelong support group they can count on. Personally, I've always been afraid of ending up in a place with people who don't know or care about one another — it would be my idea of a miserable life. Lots of people seem to share my fear, and this explains the growing trend of people creating their own small retirement communities with a circle of friends or even something larger. In chapter 4, I explore this new trend and show you all kinds of fascinating modern retirement communities now forming around the country. They run the gamut from four ordinary boomer women sharing a house to new twenty-first-century communes where you don't have to be a hippie to join. I've even thrown in America's best nudist colony just for the fun of it.
The desire to be connected is leading lots of boomers back to the city, creating the new species called the "ruppie." I know it sounds silly, but it's short for "retired urban person." And the movement does make sense. Many of us spent our youngest and most exciting years (so far, that is) in a city environment; it's the site of our happiest memories. Now we have the money to go back and enjoy the city in ways we never could before. I call this "living young," and chapter 5 profiles some of the hottest up-and-coming cities and exciting neighborhoods. I also take a look at the new booming popularity of college towns as retirement destinations. College towns have every amenity you could want, but their most precious resource is youth —and youth, it turns out, is highly contagious.
Another pattern in boomer retirees is the growing hunger to feel useful and live a life that has a larger purpose. Many people who were successful in business and have loads of money expressed a need to contribute to something bigger, something with social meaning. They're boomers coming into full bloom as caring, responsible, and engaged members of society. Two chapters are dedicated to these powerful souls — one with places to "live green," in an eco-conscious way (chapter 6), and the other focusing on the perfect places to help other human beings or endangered animals (chapter 8).
Yet others dream of disconnecting. This, too, is characteristic of our generation, which has learned to live with too much media noise and far too much daily pressure. With our busy, plugged-in lives, we've not had enough time to get away from it all. And so for every person who longs to connect, there are two who dream of disconnecting.
Some of the places I've picked for this book are pretty far-flung — spots in Africa, in Alaska, in New Zealand. They might have been out of reach for past generations, but today more than a few of us are willing, able, and unafraid to travel far afield in pursuit of our dreams, no matter how far out. The whole idea of pursuing some kind of exotic retirement was once an indulgence of the rich, but that has slowly changed. Today lots of us can afford to retire in a distinctive way and in a far-off locale — and often it actually costs a lot less than where we are living now. For these romantics among us, I've dedicated chapter 7 to the notion of escape, with a touch of adventure. This is for the brave souls willing to trade comfort for the challenge of getting lost in something completely different and totally exotic.Zoomers, Ruppies, Huddlers, and BoomerangsIn the not-too-distant past, most retirees tended to go with the flow and their migration to the sun belt followed a predictable pattern. But all of that is changing, according to demographers and retirement experts studying the movements of the boomers. Our new generation of retirees is moving in several directions, not just one. In particular, there are four types of new retirees really shaking things up.
The "Zoomers." They are so dubbed because they zoom to far-off places that would've been way off the radar of yesterday's retirees. According to Bob Adams of the Web site Retirement Wave (retirementwave.com), a growing number of retirees are now opting for countries such as Panama and Nicaragua, where two hundred thousand dollars can buy a beautiful home with an ocean view. Having traveled throughout their lives, many boomers are more comfortable living abroad than their parents would've been. And with airport transportation so accessible and the Internet helping to make the world a smaller place, "people now feel as if any place on the globe is within reach," says boomer expert Mark Gleason of the What's Next Web site. Hence, it's no longer so far-fetched to dream of retiring to Panama City — not only can you get there fairly easily, but your family and friends can and will come visit. Add in affordable amenities (such as movie tickets that cost two dollars!) and the fact that many countries are bending over backward to attract American retirees by offering perks and discounts on everything from medical costs to taxes, and you begin to see the allure of the zoomer retirement option. But perhaps above all else, retiring abroad is a bold lifestyle statement — a way to ensure that your "second act" in life is completely different from the first.
The "Ruppies." "I've been in cities all across the country and in all of them, there's a growing movement back downtown that's being fueled, in part, by empty-nesters and retirees," says John McIlwain, a housing expert with the Urban Land Institute. These back-to-the-city retirees have been dubbed "ruppies" (retired urban people) by the urban planner Kyle Ezell. So what's driving people downtown? Not their cars, that's for sure. One of the big attractions is that in a city you can walk anywhere and do anything. And the fast-paced lifestyle is a way to stay young even as you age (see chapter 5 for more details).
The "Huddlers." According to gerontologist Maria Dwight, many of today's retirees are hungry for human contact and a sense of community. "It's something that many of them have missed out on, living in the suburbs," she says. As they seek out some way to gather and bond with like-minded souls, boomers are either joining prebuilt communities (such as the "active adult communities" that are springing up from coast to coast) or creating their own communities from the ground up.
The "Boomerangs." When it comes to retirement, many are of two minds — they want to go chase the dream, but they also want to stay close to family and roots. One solution is the "boomerang" lifestyle, wherein people opt for just a part-time slice of retirement paradise — second homes, time-shares, house swaps, fractional ownership of villas or ship cabins — allowing them to go away and then come back. If that brings added complexity to life because there's more than one place to look after or multiple mortgages to pay off, that's nothing for the boomers. "They're used to juggling complicated lives," says Gleason. "Why should their retirement be any different?"
Not all of us need to venture far and wide to find the place of our retirement dreams. Many of us, in fact, feel that the best place we can ever be is the place where we already are. This is part of a new trend that is running parallel to that of people venturing farther away for retirement; it's called "aging in place." And there are lots of compelling reasons why people decide to stay put in retirement. Wanting to be near family is usually first, but there are other factors having to do with friends, work, or just the fact that we're already living in a place we absolutely love and can't imagine leaving. And so chapters 9 and 10 of this book offer ideas on how we can stay close to our roots yet still get a juicy slice of another world on a part-time basis. This is the "boomerang" lifestyle, where we venture out to find our far-off dreams but always come home to our base. And if we're determined never to leave our house, there are ways to turn the house itself into the ideal place for our retirement — by retrofitting and adapting it to suit our evolving needs throughout the next stage of life.
So, everyone belongs somewhere. Each of the chapters in my book speaks to the soul of a different individual. You'll find yourself within these chapters, and I expect you'll find yourself in a few of them. I'm convinced the right place must fulfill our deepest desires — a sense of purpose, a need to feel connected, and so on — while also satisfying our practical needs, such as good medical services, safety, and walkability. In other words, each place must be highly livable. After all, this is not another vacation — it's your life. I kept this firmly in mind as I gathered and picked my favorite places around the country and the world. In all, one hundred places made it into the book, in brief mentions, mini profiles, or longer profiles. Each has something unique to offer.
How We Discovered Such Surprising PlacesSmart real estate brokers and agents from around the world proved to be our best resources. Some are old friends, but many emerged from the in-depth surveying we did both online and in person. I asked them to part with their own best-kept secrets, and real gems emerged. The most valuable suggestions always came from realtors — like me — because real estate people just can't visit a place without thinking about buying there. And when we discover a true gem, we're too generous and not smart enough to keep it for ourselves. It's just not our nature. Our realtors were the perfect scouts for this kind of project because it's at the heart of what they do. We relied on a global network of them, in cities and small towns across the United States as well as in foreign remote or exotic spots such as Nova Scotia or Dubai. They shared tips about little undiscovered oases. They guided us to enclaves that few people know about. They were able to point us to destinations you don't see in every travel guide. They proved slightly ahead of the curve in terms of figuring out the next great places to live, the ones that are still emerging.
Their expert input was critical for me because I didn't want to round up the usual suspects when it came to choosing the best retirement spots. I wanted places that would surprise you — even if I picked a well-known city, you might never have thought of it as a great place to retire. But if many of the places seem slightly off the beaten path, that's not just because I wanted to be different. The truth is, I feel places that are on the beaten path have already lost their magic because they've been overrun.
People's dreams and passions come in so many different colors, and I wanted this book to be a big Crayola box with enough crayons for everyone. You might find some of the places undeniably offbeat and quirky: Retiring to a funky trailer park in Austin? Living on a narrow boat in the English canals? Well, people are doing it and having the time of their lives. And there's no reason you shouldn't know about the full range of possibilities and at least consider them. Some places in the book are more demanding and are intended for the brave of heart. I know, for instance, that not everyone is prepared to bear the hardships of living in no-frills Malawi. But for a few of us, that is precisely the place where we belong.
Because there are so many near and far options available today, I've really tried to narrow them down to the very best. I hope the places in this book give you some answers. But more important, I hope the book succeeds in sending you on a quest to find the perfect place, intended just for you. In the pages that follow, I've created some tools to help you start that journey. So turn the page to chapter 2 — and maybe it will be the beginning of the best chapter of your life.
Excerpted from "Nextville" by Barbara Corcoran and Warren Berger. Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Corcoran Inc. Reprinted with permission from Springboard Press. All rights reserved.