Retirement: Shrink and grow rich - MoneySense

Retirement: Shrink and grow rich

Retiring to a small town can mean a six-figure payday.

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When Mike Evans retired in 2003, after living and working in Toronto for 35 years, he and his wife Heather decided they would like to move to a smaller community. Heather dreamed of a house on a lake; Mike wanted to be close to a nice-sized downtown. “We went on the Internet and discovered Peterborough,” Mike says. “I don’t think either one of us had been there before.”

Six years later, Mike, 66, has fallen in love with his new home town. He and Heather live in a house that backs onto water, and Mike, who used to put in 12-hour days at a demanding job at a bank, enjoys the leisurely pace of Peterborough, a 90-minute drive northeast of Toronto.

If you’re a city dweller who is close to retirement, it’s tempting to follow the Evanses’ lead. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or Calgary are wonderful places to earn a big salary, but once retirement comes, the charms of the metropolis begin to wane. Why not ditch the traffic and move to your own Green Acres? Especially if doing so can put a couple of hundred thousand dollars in your pocket?

Consider the numbers if you live in Toronto and decide to retire to Tillsonburg, Ont. This farming town two hours west of Toronto is becoming a magnet for big-city retirees, but still has small-town real estate prices. While the average house in Toronto sells for a hefty $385,000, the typical home in Tillsonburg costs a mere $170,000. Even after moving costs, you should be able to sell your Toronto home, buy in Tillsonburg and pocket $180,000.

Few of us can afford to ignore a six-figure payday, but experts say moving to a small town can be a shock. Crime is often higher than in big cities and winter driving on rural roads can be treacherous. Then there’s the challenge of finding a doctor. “We’ve had people tell us, ‘I’ve moved and can’t get a family doctor. I can’t even get on a waiting list to get a doctor,’ ” says Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy at CARP, the association for people over 45.

Another problem is isolation. “Frankly, some people in small towns have a negative opinion of people who move there from the big city,” says Lynn Biscott, a certified financial planner in Toronto and author of The Boomers Retire. It’s not easy to break that wall down.

Biscott suggests you test drive a small town before committing yourself. Rent a place in the town you’re considering — in November. Spending a month there in winter will provide you with a realistic picture of what life there islike, Biscott says.

If you do end up falling in love with the place, Evans has his own piece of advice: join a couple of clubs to make friends. When he and his wife moved to Peterborough they knew no one. “But our new neighbor told us to join the Rotary Club, which we did. Suddenly we knew 100 people,” Mike recalls. Then he became a member of the local United Church and the curling club. Heather joined a choir and together they signed up for a seniors group that teaches people to play instruments. Heather took up the trumpet and Mike, the tenor sax. “I like to keep busy,” says Mike. “Honestly I don’t think I have a spare moment most days.”

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