Where to Buy a Retirement Home for Under $600 a Month

US News

For Americans looking to buy retirement property, the historic real estate crash has created all sorts of opportunities. Home prices in 20 major metropolitan areas have declined roughly 28 percent from their 2006 peaks. Meanwhile, government efforts to ramp up demand for homes have significantly reduced mortgage costs for borrowers. Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates stood at 4.37 percent for the week ending September 16, only slightly above the 39-year lows reached two weeks earlier.

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Taken together, lower home prices and cheap mortgage rates have made home buying much more affordable than just a few years ago. And given that real estate values in many traditional retirement spots--like Florida and Arizona--have fallen even harder than the national average, Americans who are ready to embark on the second half of their lives are in a particularly favorable position. To that end, U.S. News has compiled a list of 10 places where retirement home buyers can purchase property for less than $600 a month.

[See Why Homeownership Can Still Pay Off]

In putting together our list, we obtained median home price data from the National Association of Realtors for 159 metropolitan statistical areas throughout the country. After subtracting a 20 percent down payment, we plugged the remaining figure into a mortgage calculator using a 4.37 percent rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage. We then looked for places that would make desirable retirement destinations and whose monthly mortgage payments totaled less than $600. Please note that these monthly payments only reflect costs for mortgage principal and interest, which will represent the majority of a homeowner's monthly housing expenses. It does not, however, take into account expenses for taxes, insurance, and utilities, which can vary significantly from one place to another.

1. Phoenix

With more than 200 golf courses, many miles of outdoor trails, and all sorts of museums and art galleries, the Phoenix area has long been an attractive retirement destination. Home prices in Phoenix doubled from 2002 to 2006, but dropped 51 percent as the real estate bubble deflated. The bust, however, has helped make the area's real estate market more affordable for would-be retirement home buyers. The median home price in the Phoenix area stood at $145,000 in the second quarter of 2010, up 11 percent from a year earlier. Buyers that put 20 percent down--or $29,000--on a median-priced Phoenix home will have monthly payments of roughly $579 for mortgage principal and interest.

2. Las Vegas

Few American cities have seen home prices swing as wildly as they did in Las Vegas over the past 10 years. After nearly doubling from 2002 to 2006, real estate values in Sin City have since plummeted by 57 percent. But the area's glitzy casinos, abundant golf courses, and 320 days of sunshine a year continue to make life enjoyable for retirees. The median home price in the Las Vegas area was $142,000 in the second quarter of 2010, a slight increase from a year earlier. After making a 20 percent down payment--of $28,400--buyers will have monthly payments of $567 on a median priced home in the Las Vegas area.

3. San Antonio

This city has 300 days of sunshine a year, more than 50 golf courses, 21 distinct parks, and a calendar packed with festivals and events. History buffs can check out the Alamo, where Mexican and Texan troops staged their legendary battle in 1836, while art enthusiasts can visit one of the 63 local galleries. The median home price in San Antonio was $148,000 in the second quarter of 2010, a decline of roughly 3 percent from a year earlier. Buyers who put 20 percent down--or $29,600--on a median-priced San Antonio home will have monthly payments of roughly $591.

4. Greenville, S.C.

Greenville is tucked into the foothills of South Carolina's lovely Blue Ridge Mountains. Its 39 parks, minor league baseball team, and 14-acre zoo make this city of 62,000 an attractive spot for active retirees. The median home price in Greenville increased 7 percent, to $150,000, from the second quarter of 2009 to the same period this year. After making a 20 percent down payment--of $30,000--buyers will have monthly payments of $599 for principal and interest on a median-priced home in Greenville.

5. Boise, Idaho

With a population of 206,000, Boise, Idaho is a wonderful retirement spot for art lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Residents can explore the 25-mile Greenbelt river path in the fall and head to the nearby mountains for skiing come winter. Boise State University offers continuing education programs and plenty of sporting events. Meanwhile, the city has a full menu of museums, theater groups, and other performing arts offerings. The median home price in the Boise area was $140,000 in the second quarter of 2010, a decline of roughly 13 percent from a year earlier. Buyers who put 20 percent down--or $28,000--on a median-priced home in the Boise area will have monthly payments of around $559.

6. Corpus Christi, Texas

Along the Gulf of Mexico in the Southeastern portion of Texas lies Corpus Christi. The community of 287,000 residents is located just outside the Padre Island National Seashore, an undeveloped, 130,000-acre playground of sand dunes and beaches. Visitors are permitted to drive along its shoreline or toss a fishing line in the water in the hopes of landing a saltwater catfish. The median home price in Corpus Christi increased slightly, to $136,000, from the second quarter of 2009 to the same period of 2010. After making a down payment of 20 percent--or $27,200--buyers will have monthly payments of around $543 for a median-priced home in Corpus Christi.

7. Tampa, Fla.

Whether it's boating on the bay, bass fishing in the Hillsborough River, or scanning for dolphin from its white-sand shorelines, the Tampa area has plenty of activities to offer retirees. Like many other markets in Florida, real estate values in Tampa have tanked in recent years, plummeting 42 percent since July 2006. The median home price in the Tampa area was $141,000 in the second quarter of 2010, a slight increase from a year earlier. Buyers who put 20 percent down--or $28,200--on a median-priced, Tampa-area home can expect to make payments for mortgage principal and interest of about $563 each month.

8. Columbia, Mo.

With 102,000 residents, Columbia, Mo., is the home of the University of Missouri. On account of Columbia's affiliation with the university, area residents can enroll in continuing education programs and cheer on the Tigers at football or basketball games. The median home price in the area was $147,000 in the second quarter of 2010, a slight increase from a year earlier. Buyers who make a down payment of 20 percent--or $29,400--on a median-priced, Columbia-area home will have monthly payments of about $587.

9. Tucson, Ariz.

With 350 days of sunshine a year, Tucson residents don't have any excuses for staying indoors. Retirees can hike through the five surrounding mountain ranges, explore a nearby cave, visit a Native American archaeological dig, or check out the Center for Creative Photography. The median home price in Tucson declined 14 percent, to $150,000, from the second quarter of 2009 to the same period of 2010. Buyers that put 20 percent--or $30,000--down on a median-priced Tucson home will pay roughly $599 a month in mortgage principal and interest payments.

10. Ft. Myers, Fla.

Located along the southwest coast of Florida, Ft. Myers is another affordable spot for retirement property in the Sunshine State. The median home price in Ft. Myers has increased 12 percent, to $94,000, from the second quarter of 2009 to the same period of 2010. After making a down payment of 20 percent-- or $18,800--buyers will have monthly payments of about $375 on a median-priced home in Ft. Myers.

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