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We want to retire to a fun lake house, but we also want city amenities. Our budget is $450,000. Where should we go?

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We’d like to retire on a lake, but not in a small town since we both love the symphony and the amenities a city offers (Costco and good healthcare). We also want to be within an hour of a good-size airport since we love to travel. 

We’re both from the Southwest and humidity doesn’t bother us. But we’re not huge fans of snow. Four seasons is fine as long as there isn’t much snow and the sun comes out regularly. We hate winter inversions. 

We’d like a fun lake house for us, but also to entice the kids and grandkids to come see us. We have no idea where each of their families will land and don’t want to chase them around the country, hence the close airport. Gainesville, Ga., is beautiful and fits the bill, but we know there are other places we’ve yet to discover. We’re now exploring Bella Vista, Ark., and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Our house budget in retirement would be no more than $450,000. 

We’re under no delusions that we will be in the lake home forever. It will be 10 years of go-go, 10 years of slow-go, and 10 years of no-go. The lake home will be for the go-go years. Then we will sell it and probably rent.

Any suggestions where to retire?

Thanks! 

Alec

Alec,

No surprise that great lakefront homes are pricey in the best of times. Lake communities overall have been in demand during COVID; prices have jumped and bidding wars have been common, even if the home isn’t directly on the water. 

You’ve got some great ideas (though Bella Vista is hardly snow-free). I’ll suggest a few others. The MarketWatch “Where Should I Retire” tool can give you more.

One word of caution: pick the place because you love it, not because you want the kids and grandkids to visit and you need the space to host them. They may have other ideas for how to use their limited vacation time, and even long weekends may be difficult during the school year. And don’t forget the demands from the other grandparents!

At least talk to your adult children first. And recognize that you’re the ones who are more likely to have time to travel. 

Another option: rent a big lake house and boat once a year and get everyone together that way.

I’ve offered lake suggestions in previous articles (this one focuses on Texas, for example, while this couple also stressed cultural offerings). I hate to repeat myself, so here are some other ideas:

Lake Wylie, South Carolina

iStockphoto

Lake Wylie has about 12,000 residents so it may seem small, but you should see it as a suburb of Charlotte and all the big-city amenities you’d expect in a city of nearly 900,000. Downtown Charlotte is about 20 miles away and across the state line, with a Costco along the way. Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte is the third-best hospital in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report. And the Charlotte airport is an American Airlines hub.

For when you want music but no big-city traffic, Lake Wylie is also a similar distance to Rock Hill, South Carolina and its symphony.

The town meets your weather criteria, given that it has just a trace of snow on average and average winter highs around 50. Average summer highs are near 90.

Here’s what’s on the market now, using listings from Realtor.com (which like MarketWatch is owned by News Corp.)

If Lake Wylie isn’t quite right but the Charlotte area appeals, consider the Lake Norman area, suggested here. If you want other South Carolina options, consider Clemson(suggested here) Columbia (suggested here) and near Lake Murray, or near Greenville, suggested here.

Huntsville, Alabama
We want to retire to a fun lake house, but we also want city amenities. Our budget is $450,000. Where should we go? 2

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.


iStockphoto

This city of 200,000 is nicknamed Rocket City because of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and more space history. The website Livability.com put it at the top of its best cities for STEM workers in 2018.

What might matter more to you is that it is home to Alabama’s longest continuously operating professional orchestra (among many cultural offerings) plus the Huntsville Hospital that ranks second in the state, according to U.S. News. The cost of living is about 11% below the national average. And there’s a Costco in town.

Huntsville has its own airport. You can also drive two hours to airports in Birmingham, Nashville and Chattanooga; the Atlanta airport (a Delta Airlines hub) is 3 ½ hours away.

Average summer highs here are around 90, while winter highs average in the lower 50s. You may get a couple inches of snow every year.,

While you’ll find homes near water in and around Huntsville, if you’re willing to drive a bit further, you should look around Guntersville Lake (created by a dam on the Tennessee River). No symphony, but you will find free concerts organized by the local arts council.

Here’s what’s on the market now in Huntsville and around the lake, again using Realtor.com.

Tulsa, Oklahoma
We want to retire to a fun lake house, but we also want city amenities. Our budget is $450,000. Where should we go? 3

Courtesy Visit Tulsa

This Art Deco city of 400,000 on the Arkansas River is my wild-card pick. I know, Oklahoma isn’t the first place you think of for a lake home, but when Livability.com put Tulsa on its 2019 list of 100 best places to live, it described it as “an affordable, under-the-radar cool city that’s home to a historic downtown and an unbelievable arts scene that rivals cities twice its size.”

In a city this size, the symphony (and more, at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center), Costco and the airport are givens. Still to come is the Bob Dylan Center (opening in 2022), a museum  backed by a wealthy local that will have more than 100,000 items created and owned by the singer, just down the block from the Woody Guthrie Center, honoring a folk singer from Oklahoma. The same philanthropic billionaire is a driving force behind the city’s new $465 million, 66-acre riverfront park, the Gathering Place

The cost of living is more than 11% below the national average.

As for the lake house, start your search with Keystone Lake west of city limits. 

Tulsa does have more snow than my other choices with an average of about 6 inches a year. But it boasts of more sunny days than the U.S. average. Temperatures average a high in the upper 40s and low 50s during the winter and mid-90s in the summer. I’m glad you’re good with heat and humidity.

Here’s what’s on the market now in Tulsa and across Tulsa County.

Where should Alec and his wife retire? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

More from MarketWatch’s “Where Can I Retire?” column

My husband wants to be by the ocean, but I lived through Katrina and love lakes — where can we (semi) retire and rent for $2,000 a month?

‘I really need more sunshine and a bigger body of water’ — where can I retire on $40,000 a year?

We want a $250,000 home within an hour of the mountains or the ocean — where should we retire?

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