I used some down time between tasks to take a brief vacation this past week. Nothing too ambitious: St. Augustine, Florida, a two- or three-hour drive from where Orlando, depending on the route you take. As I’m moving closer toward the end of my career, I’m starting to use my vacations as an excuse to scout potential places to retire. Even if I discovered that the location wasn’t a wise retirement spot, it was still fine for a brief visit.
Pros and Cons
Whether you’re looking at a place to stay or a new piece of equipment to acquire (computer, vehicle), you might find that a one-time rental is preferable to putting in the money for an “all in” for a permanent investment. Pros and cons should be weighed carefully.
In 2018, St. Augustine was named by Money Magazine as the best place to live in Florida. Among its better features are its climate, walkability (the old city perhaps a couple miles long), and attractive, eclectic mix of architecture, from 18th to 20th century. It’s situated on the Intracoastal Waterway, near an inlet to the ocean, and enjoys the subtropical foliage and offshore breezes that make Florida such a relaxing place to be. St. Augustine has a colorful history as the longest continuously occupied European settlement in North America (1565). St. Augustine’s touristy center features a variety of bars and restaurants to choose from, ranging from relatively inexpensive to pricey. The town also had a refreshing number of bookstores–more than I can find in Orlando!
However, Florida beach communities have their downsides, the primary one being the price of real estate on or near the coast. Even small homes near the coast or the historic district were well outside my price range while I’m working–and ideally a retiree wants to reduce expenses. Homes start becoming more affordable the farther one gets from things like the easily walkable historic district and the beach. And while the tourist district is easy to get around, more practical businesses like grocery stores are outside that area and require a car to get to. Fortunately, there’s a bus system, and I suppose a retired person could always use Uber or get groceries delivered if no longer mobile. Also, if you’re more ambitious and looking to travel or have family members visit you, the closest airport, Jacksonville, Florida, is an hour or so away, depending on traffic.
Then there’s the last, most unpredictable aspect of beach living in Florida: hurricanes, which I’ve written about on this blog on a semi-regular basis. They are stronger on the coast, where they can draw upon the energy of warm waters. It probably also didn’t help that while I was visiting I picked up a copy of Last Train to Paradise, which is a history of the building of the Florida East Coast Overseas Railroad and its eventual destruction by the strongest hurricane to ever strike the U.S. in 1935. And 2020 has been an exceptionally busy year for these types of storms.Beyond the cost of the land and building, insurance for hurricanes is also pricey. Assuming I could afford a home along the beach, would I want to run the risk of some storm tearing apart everything I own? Obviously people do it…I’m just not that much of a risk taker.
Looking at the actual and long-term costs, in my current situation St. Augustine is, as they say, a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. This is more of a reflection of my finances and tastes than the place itself. Others have differing views, and that’s why they live there. Still, these home-scouting vacations are useful because they help me make decisions I would otherwise try to make at a distance. The more I know, the better decision I can make.