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VOL. 126 | NO. 18 | Thursday, January 27, 2011

Forbes: Memphis Near Top for Retirement Bargains

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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In the past Memphis has been named in top 10 lists for murder, obesity, lack of education and lower standards of women’s health.

But the latest top 10 ranking has the city smiling all the way to grandma’s house.

Forbes.com recently named Memphis No. 2 in its list of Best Places for Bargain Retirement Homes. Based on factors such as state property tax, state income tax, cost of living, price per square foot and “peak to trough” single-family home price change, Memphis was a close second to Oklahoma City.

Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis rounded out the top five. In all, 50 major American cities were ranked.

“I was very surprised about that,” said Lisa Burks, Realtor with RE/MAX on Track, who has worked in the Memphis market for 15 years.

“But talking with people over the years, they’re getting a lot for their money versus where they lived before. I’ve actually had people come from the north and out west and the Midwest too and they talk about how inexpensive things are here.”

One of Burks’ most recent clients, Eva Yules, moved to Germantown in July after retiring as an insurance broker in New York City. She left behind a 900-square-foot high-rise apartment near Lincoln Center for a five-bedroom home with pool and was still able to afford renovations to the kitchen and living room and weekly help with the yard.

“I could not have this house in New York for under a million dollars,” Yules said.

Yules wanted to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren who live in Oakland, but a number of other factors made the Memphis metro area a wise choice.

“I know that I want to do volunteer work and I think the medical facilities here are wonderful,” she said. “I have nothing but wonderful things to say about every place I’ve been to from the dentist on down, even the vet.

“We have season tickets for The Orpheum. … We go to see the Children’s Museum, which is delightful, and we like the Botanic Garden.”

She said she has to learn to drive for the first time since parking fees in New York were prohibitive, but the traffic here is nothing compared to what she’s used to.

David Tester, affiliate broker with Marx-Bensdorf Realtors, a 12-year real estate veteran in Memphis, also did a double take when learning of Memphis’ ranking, but he said it tells Memphians that they perhaps need to readjust their collective self-esteem.

In terms of numbers, the Memphis metro area is stacked.

“The No. 1 (reason) without question is affordability of our real estate relative to other parts of the country,” Tester said. “We’ve had less of a pricing adjustment than some areas. Hand in hand, the elderly population wants stability and I think our market tends to be more stable than high-density, high-demand areas.”

Meaning that if the real estate market were to plunge again in the next 10 years, Memphis property values would likely not decline nearly as much as larger cities on the coasts.

Forbes found that Memphis has a price of about $78 per square foot, which is half the cost of Miami and one tenth of Boston. The absence of a state income tax was also noted in the ranking.

“I don’t think (home values in Memphis) will change that much,” Yules said. “I am definitely living on a fixed income, but the cost of living here is much, much cheaper than in New York all the way around, especially food costs.”

Add to that a moderate year-round climate and relatively less expensive utility bills.

But if that is true of other Southern cities, Tester said there are reasons that make Memphis somewhat unique, like low population density over the expansive eight-county metropolitan statistical area.

In essence, Memphis offers more lifestyle amenities than smaller cities like Jackson, Miss., or Hattiesburg, Miss., which has the bonus of being closer to the Gulf Coast, or even without the extreme urban issues of Atlanta.

“Another factor is that such a large percentage of our housing options are relatively new, maybe less than 10 years old, which means less maintenance, less renovation and more current functionality and design trends,” Tester said.

He mentioned developments specifically oriented toward retirees like Porter Farms in Collierville, which includes single-story quadra-plexes of 1,500 to 1,800 square feet, with attached two-car garages, common green spaces and small patios with “just enough space to plant some flowers and tomatoes.”

Also, Memphis has easy access to health facilities including world-class hospitals and heart and cancer centers, as well as physicians’ practices, hospices, health clubs and moderate to high-end retirement communities.

And yet, Memphis has no beach.

No problem, said Yules. She can afford to get herself to a beach when she wants it, but not until she gets back from her trip to France next month.

“I’m getting to do things I didn’t get to do, which I couldn’t do,” Yules said.

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