Area median price: $137,000
• 3 bedrooms, 2 baths
• 1,360 square feet
• Attached two-car garage
For $139,900 in east Athens, you could buy this three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,360-square-foot ranch house on a nearly two-thirds acre lot, built in 1998 with custom cabinetry, a fireplace and attached garage.
In Athens, one of the "top 10 Main Street towns," people enjoy the downtown area with its walkable communities and outdoor restaurants, 100-year-old homes, music, boutiques and art galleries, says Bruce Azevedo, owner and broker of Re/Max Top Performers in nearby Watkinsville.
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Downtown Athens, within walking distance of the University of Georgia, also earned a spot on the "top 10 best college town" list. People enjoy the continuing education classes and cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs, says Realtor Pauline Juul of Prudential Blanton Properties. "In addition, there are two great hospitals, several parks and great shopping," she says. Athens is an easy drive to Atlanta and the mountains.
But living in walking distance of downtown and the University of Georgia will cost you more, with prices up to $600,000, Azevedo says. "If you want to feel like you're on the Riviera, I can put you downtown among the cafes with awnings and you're eating outside all day," Azevedo says. "They block the streets for bike races and music festivals. There's something for everyone."
Area median price: $672,500
• 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths
• 2,352 square feet
• Granite countertops
• Attached garage
• Lagoon water views
For $639,900, you could get this three-bedroom, 2.5 baths 2,352-square-foot townhome, with granite counters, a security system, Bose speakers and attached garage. On a lagoon, the home affords a water view from most rooms, and it's in a community with walking trails near a beach.
Homes at the median price in Carlsbad are typically larger and more expensive than retirees are looking for, says broker Tony Cannon of Keller Williams Realty. For substantially less -- $374,000 -- you could get a home more suitable for empty nesters: a two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,100-square-foot home with a patio, garage and a low-maintenance yard in a community with a pool and spa, on about one-eighth of an acre, Cannon says.
The weather and the beach are the main draws for retirees in Carlsbad, which ranks among the "top 10 beach towns."
"East Coast people come out here because the weather is nicer," Cannon says. "It's mild all year long. We get people from Canada, other parts of California, even Arizona and New Mexico. If you live within 5 miles of the beach, you don't need air conditioning."
Area median price: $175,000
• 4 bedrooms, 2 baths
• 2,272 square feet
• Double garage
• 2.3 acre lot
• Cathedral ceiling
• Large kitchen island
In Naples, the median price of $175,000 could get you into this contemporary four-bedroom, two-bath, 2,272-square-foot home built in 2002 on 2.3 acres, says Mark Weber, broker and owner of White Sands Realty in Naples.
Don't count on an easy walk to the beach or Old Naples at the median price. This home and others in the same price range are likely to be 30 or 40 minutes from the beach, Weber says. "A home in a great location about eight minutes from the beach goes for around $375,000 (used to be $840,000 in 2006). An older condo right on the sand with a Gulf of Mexico view goes for around $700,000 (formerly more than $1 million in 2006).
Ranked as both a "top 10 beach town" and a "top 10 art town," Naples' home prices vary, depending on proximity to the beach. High-end homes are going for about half of what they did in 2006, says Weber.
"Naples is very appealing to second-home buyers and northerners," Weber says. "We have extremely low crime to the point that many native Neapolitans still leave their doors unlocked when they take a walk. The palm-lined streets of Old Naples are home to outdoor cafes, boutique shopping and some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world."
Area median price: $204,000
• 3 bedrooms, 2 baths
• 1,997 square feet
• Two-car garage
For $207,000, you could buy this: a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,997-square-foot home built in 2000, says Eileen Dees, principal broker of Steve Scott Realtors. This single-level mountain-view home includes an attached two-car garage, formal living room, family room, a patio, and a one-fifth acre lot with room to park an RV.
Bend ranks among both the "top 10 four-season towns" and "top 10 mountain towns."
Active retirees in Bend enjoy downhill skiing at Mt. Bachelor, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, an antique car club and more, Dees says. Those who want to give back to the community can find the right volunteer opportunity through VolunteerConnect.com.
"Bend is a great family town and a wonderful place to retire," Dees says. "I have two friends who are in their late 60s who snowboard. We also have incredible nonprofit groups to get involved with. I've lived in Bend for 19 years and still love it."
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Area median price: $180,255
• 3 bedrooms, 2 baths
• 1,380 square feet
• Rock fireplace
• Two-car garage
This home is typical for listings near the median price, says Kim Cooper, broker at Select Brokers in Coeur d'Alene. The 1,380-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath ranch house was built in 1999 and has vaulted ceilings, a rock fireplace, open floor plan, patio, storage shed and two-car garage on a one-fifth acre lot.
In Coeur d'Alene, named a "top 10 lake town," the namesake lake has helped build the town's reputation. Along with water activities and beach, locals here enjoy wineries, art galleries, community theater and a casino.
"Coeur d'Alene is a place of four distinct seasons," Cooper says. "Each brings its own treasure trove of activities. With our multitude of lakes and rivers, hundreds of miles of trails and thousands of acres of national forest surrounding us, the opportunities for outdoor activities are endless. We enjoy the beauty of forested mountains by hiking or riding the trails. Yet, we are within 25 minutes of minor league baseball, hockey and Championship Arena football in Spokane, Wash., where we can also enjoy Broadway productions, symphony and a thriving art district."
As always in real estate, location is key. In the pricier towns, you can often move just a few blocks away from the trendiest, most desirable neighborhoods and save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, which helps immensely when you do your retirement planning.
A location near the grandchildren often trumps all other considerations.
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