- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

Decades before other states caught on, Florida beckoned couples: Retire to the land where taxes are low, the weather is warm, and children and grandchildren like to visit.
Today, a thousand people a day move to Florida, many over age 50. But other states finally have seen the wisdom in drawing what has become known as the "turbo-tourist." That's an industry term for someone who spends not the usual $1,000 or $2,000 on a vacation, but $200,000 or $500,000 on a house and then plays host to an average of five visiting groups a year.
Now, communities from Arkansas to Maryland's Eastern Shore are attempting to reroute some of that migration by rolling out the red carpet to vacationers, tempting them with attractive, year-round communities and, finally, selling them on the idea of owning second homes to be used as vacation getaways until they can afford to retire.
"Tourism as an industry has become the birth mother of the relocation trade," says Patrick Mason, co-founder of the Center for Carolina Living, a Columbia, S.C.-based organization devoted to helping people relocate to North and South Carolina. "People spend a lot of time looking for the place they're going to end up. They don't want to make a mistake."
Indeed, it was on one of several annual visits to their vacation home in southern Anne Arundel County that Ken and Martha Moore of Philadelphia found their retirement destination, a community called Ginger Cove in Annapolis. Many summers spent paddling along the nearby West River where the Moores have a cottage made them comfortable with the area.
But it wasn't until they got to meet potential neighbors at Ginger Cove's open house that they put their names on a waiting list to buy an apartment there.
"We have friends who have bought retirement places in communities up here in Philadelphia who are always saying: 'You've got to come here. You've got to come here,' " Mr. Moore, 66, says. "But we've always spent part of our summers at West River. We have a longtime knowledge of the Chesapeake. We know we'll like living there."
Developers are working hard to make their communities attractive to an influx of older residents. They're building bigger clubhouses so there is always something going on to keep people busy. They're widening sidewalks from the traditional 4 feet to 8 feet to make way for heavy traffic from cyclists and walkers. They're wiring homes for the Internet so families can stay connected.
"A lot of these communities are for people over 50, but some are very, very family," says Cathy Norvell, media relations manager for the Vero Beach, Fla.-based Private Communities Registry, an alliance of 100 planned communities. "These communities are really looking at the whole retirement spectrum."
The retirement spectrum accounts for the fact that some retirees are looking for wider sidewalks to train for marathons, while others such as the Moores, who aren't moving to Ginger Cove until they are in their mid-70s, are buying access to advanced-care facilities in anticipation of future health complications.
"I know some people assume they're going to die quite quickly," says Mrs. Moore, whose 92-year-old mother was disabled by a stroke two years ago. "If that happens, we want to be somewhere where we can get care and where we know the people around us."
Vacations are an ideal time for couples to familiarize themselves with the various social, institutional, recreational and housing options available in the towns they like.
"People always ask me, 'Where is the best place to retire?' " says Christopher Cain, author of "The Coldwell Banker Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream."
"I can't tell them that because my hobbies and activities are vastly different from anyone else's," Mr. Cain says. But retirement surveys are quick to point out priorities. A retiree motivation study by the University of North Carolina at Asheville found that almost 100 percent of those migrating to the Carolinas ranked scenic beauty and climate as the most important reasons for their move. More than 60 percent said that recreational opportunities and cultural amenities were their most important priorities.
Locally, retirement and vacation destinations overlap, with Money magazine listing Annapolis, Arlington, Richmond and Williamsburg among the top 474 retirement towns. Such a list, with its accompanying Web site, helps visitors rank the importance of a number of factors, such as education, environment, health care, crime, access to the arts and transportation.
Publications such as "Where to Retire" and "Retirement Places Rated" also get attention from the mobile-affluent segment who are thinking about retirement.
"The research stage is so important. If you've settled on a place you want to buy, why not spend a couple weeks there a couple of times? Talk to the neighbors. Go to the restaurants. Play tennis. Get a feel for the place," Mr. Cain says.
He suggests "test driving" a retirement property by taking advantage of programs that allow potential buyers to "try before they buy."
For example, Brunswick Plantation in Calabash, N.C., includes two nights lodging, dinner vouchers and greens fees for a price of $99.95 for those willing to take a tour of the 1,000-acre community. Visitors to Hot Springs Village in Arkansas can stay for two nights and three days for $59.
"These are truly great travel bargains," Mr. Cain says. But he also suggests that vacationers be careful not to jump headlong into a huge investment.
"Don't buy with your heart," he says. "Buy with your head."
The author says that even veteran home and car buyers get starry-eyed on vacation and forget one of the most basic lessons of consumerism: Buyer beware.
"The biggest mistake people make is, they see the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico or wherever, and they don't think of the expense and commitment in-volved," Mr. Cain says. "They fail to think of taxes, schools, shopping, health care. With vacation property, they tend to get too emotional."

More info

Online
www.LiveSouth.com. Live South features detailed information on private and gated communities in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
www.PrivateCommunities.com. Lists details about retirement living in private communities in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington state, Wyoming, West Virginia, Belize and Jamaica.
www.RetirementResorts.com. Lists retirement resorts certified by the Association of Retirement Resorts International. Use this site to plan travel or investigate relocation and the purchase of a second home.
www.money.com/money/depts/ retirement. This site has compiled housing costs, tax rates, crime statistics and much more on 474 towns. Pick what's important to you to find your retirement spot.
www.carolinaliving.com. The Center for Carolina Living surveys 3,000 families a year about what they are looking for in a relocation and retirement spot.
Books
"Retirement Places Rated," by David Savageau, Hungry Minds Inc., 1999. This book is loaded with facts and figures about retirement destinations.
"The Coldwell Banker Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream," by Christopher Cain, Christopher Communications Inc., 1998. This book helps readers pin down reasons for wanting a second home.

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