Best Places To Retire, According To Money Magazine

Bangor, Maine, Is Among Top 25

Geography of Frugality? Some of the Top 25, But Not All.

A little bit of Main Street in downtown Bangor, Maine.

A little bit of Main Street in downtown Bangor, Maine.

It’s a good thing my niece and her husband, along with my sister, have a signed contract to buy a wonderful 100-year-old house in Brewer, Maine. Money Magazine has named Brewer’s neighbor, Bangor, Maine, as one of the 25 best places to retire in the U.S. Do you think house prices might go up?

Money mentions Bangor’s “four-season” climate as one of the area’s attractions. But I’m thinking retirees will not stampede to enjoy the frosty, northern climate. More likely, retirees will consider some of the magazine’s Sun Belt recommendations. Bangor and it’s twin city, Brewer, just across the Penobscot River, will remain unspoiled by fame, is my prediction.

Some, but not all, of the cities recommended by Money could qualify for my “geography of frugality” concept. Here are the top five on the list of 25:

  1. Port Charlotte, Fla., home prices down a whopping 63 percent; price of an average, three-bedroom house, $170,000.
  2. Palm Springs, Calif., home prices down 44 percent; average three-bedroom house, $$250,000.
  3. Traverse City, Mich., home prices down 20 percent; average three-bedroom house, $250,000.
  4. Pinehurst, N.C., home prices down 27 percent; average three-bedroom house, $300,000.
  5. Surprise, Ariz., home prices down 48 percent; average three-bedroom house, $150,000.

Hmm, Port Charlotte and Surprise sound like good places to hunt for bargain-priced  housing, if you’re interested in the Sun Belt. But Pinehurst, where an average three-bedroom house is $300,000, doesn’t sound so frugal. Money Magazine provided the average price for three-bedroom houses for all 25 cities listed. Unfortunately, it  gave the percentage price decline only for the first five.

In Bangor, number 23 on Money’s list, the average price of a three-bedroom house is $165,000. My relatives snapped up their bargain house for less than $150,000. Bangor also has an international airport, a great bus system (I have this fantasy of saving money by living without a car), cultural attractions, and major regional medical facilities.

Then there’s the city of Philadelphia, at Number 10 on Money Magazine’s list. With an average three-bedroom house costing $375,000, Philly is way too pricey, in my opinion. I think I’ll investigate Surprise, Ariz., where prices are down a whopping 48 percent.

The Geography of Frugal Living: Maine

They don't build houses like this anymore. Stained-glass, ornamental woodwork, radiator heat and wallpaper. And that's just the entrance hall to this 100-year-old house in Brewer, Maine.  

They don’t build houses like this anymore. Stained-glass, ornamental woodwork, radiator heat and wallpaper. And that’s just the entrance hall to this 100-year-old house in Brewer, Maine.

The cost of living is not fair. Especially not the cost of housing. It’s all a matter of geography.

My niece and her husband, along with my sister, have acquired a charming old house, apparently in better-than-mint condition, at a price that would be unthinkable in most of the major metro areas of the U.S., even after the collapse of the real estate bubble.

A charming kitchen with new appliances.

A charming kitchen with new appliances.

The 100-year-old house is near Bangor, Maine. Outside, it looks like thousands of other old houses in New England. Plain white siding, pitched roof.  Kitchen, dining room, living room on the first floor; three bedrooms on the second floor; attic on top and basement below. Ordinary. 

Being 100 years old, the house is sturdily built, well-insulated, has beautiful hardwood floors and old-fashioned radiator steam heating. Most everything else inside has been replaced or updated, and there’s tasteful wallpaper on all the rooms. Everything, it seems, is in perfect condition. The house had been on the market 45 days. My niece snapped it up for less than $150,000. Eat your heart out, house-hunters in Boston, Washington, and San Francisco.

The "barn door" and steps to an inlaw apartment.

The "barn door" and steps to an inlaw apartment.

So we have here a two-story, three-bedroom house in great condition. Plus, an attached in-law apartment (currently rented for $600 a month) and a garage/workshop that looks like a small barn. Off-street parking in the driveway, a small upstairs deck and a medium-sized first-floor deck. And finally, a really big, beautiful, green, flat backyard, with gardens. Thanks to my niece, Dawn, for the great photos.

Pretty nice apartment, rents for $600 a month.

Pretty nice apartment, rents for $600 a month.

If there’s a downside to all of this, consider that the green backyard will be covered with deep, white snow all winter. The house is located, after all, in northeast Maine.

The far-north location, formidable winters, and reasonable price are what this Maine house has in common with the mobile home in North Dakota that I mentioned in a post last week. Maybe if you want to live simply and frugally, it helps to go north.

It is worth noting that the Maine house, though very reasonably priced, is not dirt-cheap like the North Dakota mobile home. The big difference is in public services and convenience. The isolated, small town in North Dakota is nearly “Off The Grid.” Population 75, in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t get a cell phone signal.

Even an old-fashioned bathtub. I guess it's 100 years old, just like the house.

Even an old-fashioned bathtub. I guess it's 100 years old, just like the house.

In Bangor-Brewer, Maine, my niece is definitely “On The Grid.” Bangor may be far away from everything else in New England, but it’s big enough to offer all the city services, and small enough that you’re never far from where you want to go. Library, churches, schools, stores, an international airport, a symphony orchestra and opera house, a minor-league baseball team. What more could you possibly need?  I nearly forgot the Eastern Maine Medical Center in downtown Bangor, and the University of Maine eight miles down the road.

I knew I should have paid more attention in geography class. You can buy a house at a reasonable price and live in civilized comfort, if you know where to look.

Big backyard. Green in summer, white in winter. Great pictures, Dawn.

Big backyard. Green in summer, white in winter. Great pictures, Dawn.