Thursday, December 10, 2015

An Answer to "Retire Where?"

Chris DeMuth Jr. recent published an article in Seeking Alpha titled “RetireWhere?” in which he suggested three fairly typical locations for retirement: Wyoming, Puerto Rico, and Dominica. He justified those choices largely in economic terms. Unfortunately he completely ignores the vast array of "soft" quality of life factors as well as a number of very real issues that older persons, retired or not, must must deal with.

East Passyunk, Philadelphia, PA

What? Inner city Philadelphia? You bet. We’re fairly young (about to be) retirees.  East Passyunk and the Passyunk Square area are the closest things this side of Paris to pure bliss for us. Why? Let me enumerate the ways:


Living in a city comes with absolutely free walkability. There’s no need to own a car, pay for gas, insurance, maintenance, and so forth. This alone is an enormous financial advantage. If a place is too far to walk, Philadelphia has a very good public transit system. In the rare instance we happen to need larger or more flexible transport we can use ZipCar or a similar service.


We’re both avid “foodies” and East Passyunk is a nationally recognized hotbed of high quality eats. Some of our favorites in the area include Le Virtu and Brigantessa, Laurel, P’unk Burger, and Stargazy a recently opened authentic English pie shop (complete with eels). Bing Bin Dim Sum is a high concept “dim sum” joint serving innovative dishes you’ll never see in an actual Chinese restaurant. You can read more about the area restaurants in this recent article:

If we’re willing to walk a little further we come to Philadelphia’s Italian Market and the really wonderful Monzu cooking up great Sicilian style food. A few blocks away is Pho 75, a great Vietnamese joint. A short bus ride brings us east to City Tavern, Zahav, the original Han Dynasty location, Morimoto’s first restaurant, and many more.

We can take the Broad Street Line a couple stops north for Vetri, Jose Garces’ Volver and many more. Two more stops north and we’re in Chinatown. Another stop brings us to Spring Garden and the excellent restaurants in that area including  Osteria, Alla Spina, and many more.

And heck, let’s not forget Pat’s and Geno’s, the great Cheese Steak emporiums facing each other across E. Passyunk Ave.  I’m pretty sure you can’t get a real cheese steak in Puerto Rico.

The Arts

At this point it should come as no surprise that we also happen to enjoy the arts. Nearly everyone has heard of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (if only from Rocky). Then there’s the Rodin Museum, The Barnes Foundation, The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology are the most well known. On Bloomsday (or any other day) we can wander over to the Rosenbach Museum and Library to O.D. on everything Joyce. All are a short bus or subway ride from East Passyunk.

What’s that? You’re interested in music? Well, there’s the Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Curtis Institute, The Wilma Theater. and The Academy of Music all within about 3 blocks on Broad Street. Over on Chestnut there’s the Prince Music Theater and on Walnut Forrest Theater and Walnut Street Theater, the oldest playhouse in America. For those interested in something louder, The Trocadero and the Electric Factory present wildly varied acts.  And those are just the big names!

Movies? Yes, we have movie theaters here in Philadelphia. We like to go to the Cinemark theaters near the Penn campus because there are also a bunch of good restaurants in the area including another Han Dynasty. 


Philadelphia is located in the middle of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor so we have frequent and reasonably fast train access to Washington DC, Baltimore, New York, Providence and Boston. We can take a SEPTA train to PHL for direct flights to places we like to visit like Paris, Rome, and Las Vegas.

If you live in Wyoming and want to visit Paris, well, first you have to drive to CPR, then fly to DEN, then to a real airport like ORD, EWR, or IAD and finally to CDG – 16+ grueling hours. Me? I can hop the train to PHL for the 7h 25m flight to CDG.


For groceries we’ve got Chinatown, Reading Terminal Market, Italian Market, several chain grocery stores, and a number of seasonal farmer’s markets within walking distance or a short transit ride. Then there are the specialty shops like Czerw’s for all kinds of Polish sausages, several traditional bakers, local cheese makers and so forth. Craft Beer? We got it all over the place. And we also happen to have Philadelphia Distilling, makers of Bluecoat Gin, arguably the best made in the US. (Plus you get a $3 credit when you bring back your empty bottle.)

Of course we’re living in a major city, so we’ve got department stores like Macy’s and all the national chains. Wherever we happen to shop we’ll be a few steps from great dining.

Health Care

Philadelphia is a regional hub for health care. We’ve got the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Hahnemann University Hospital, Temple University Hospital… all minutes away. In Dominica you’ll have to make your way to Princess Margaret Hospital in Goodwill, Roseau at the south west side of the island.

OK. So what’s It Cost?

The houses we’re looking at are in the area of 1,100-1,300 sq. feet with prices for a fully renovated home in the $250,000 to $300,000 range. Many have roof decks with great views of the city skyline. We’ll have about $100,000 in equity from our current house (in the first ring suburb made famous by Kobe Bryant) so we’ll be financing a relatively small amount. We expect to have monthly PITI payments in the $1300-$1500 range. This number isn’t random; if we have no other income than our two social security checks and small annuity Mrs. C. is vested in, we’ll still be able to live comfortably (though international travel will require considerable planning).

As for utilities mid-block row houses are extremely inexpensive to operate with combined gas and electric bills in the $125/month range (less than half what we’re paying now) and water/sewer about $40.

Maintenance consists principally of keeping an eye on your roof every 20 years and occasionally shoveling a little snow off your 15 feet of sidewalk. East Passyunk has several very active civic associations that sponsor recycling clean outs, home tours, community gardens, zoning hearings and so forth.

Where does Pennsylvania actually end up on the retiree tax chart? Quite high. According to this infographic from Kiplinger's Pennsylvania is number 11 on the list of "15 Most Tax Friendly States For Retirees":

My Conclusion

There’s simply no way we could even consider living someplace like Wyoming. Puerto Rico and Dominica are probably great places to visit, but live there? Not a chance. We want to have all the cultural offerings of a major city steps from our front door, friendly neighbors who are active in the community, and easy access to the rest of the world. If (when) we become ill, we want to get to the hospital quickly and get world-class care once we arrive.  

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