I love red Ferraris so much that I order one for my birthday every year. I even got one once (it was 3 inches long). But as much as I love Ferraris, I took the car out on the road before buying one. I bet you also tried the last car you bought. So why do so many people make a much bigger, life-changing decision without trying it on for size?
I’m talking about retirement and specifically relocation after retirement. It’s a common occurrence: According to an AgeWave study, 64% of retirees plan to move at least once during retirement. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College says it’s not a bad idea: Moving after retirement can improve psychological well-being, especially for those planning to move proactively. I don’t know how many of the retirees in that survey tried their new retirement destination before settling down, but I can tell you from my experience as a retirement planner that it’s critical to do a retirement dress rehearsal before making any major moves. I have seen many retirees who had a very different experience than what their plans led them to believe. In many of those cases, the reality did not live up to their expectations. Do more than thoroughly research the location and visit it multiple times: Rent a house for three to six months before you move in. You will learn much more about your new community, about how you and your spouse (if applicable) will fit in, and about unexpected factors that could have a major impact on your happiness in retirement. Here are eight areas to explore: Affordability. You’ve probably done your research on taxes, housing, and utilities, but there are almost always surprises when you move, and some can be really good surprises! For example, when a couple decided to return to the countryside in Louisiana, they realized that they could cut their cost of living by more than half. They also found that they preferred the slower pace of life in the country to their old life in the big city, burdened and infested with traffic. Their essay affirmed their dream in more ways than one, and they were able to make their permanent relocation decision with financial peace of mind. But many retirees discover additional expenses during their dress rehearsals. Unforeseen costs, like higher property taxes or property insurance, can really add up over time, even to the point where retirees risk running out of money. Discovering these expenses during a dress rehearsal can certainly change retirement plans. Community. People are happiest when they are socially connected, and it is difficult to learn about your new community until you are in the middle of it. You may find a large church or group of hikers who welcomes you with open arms, or you may find it difficult to enter as a newcomer and miss your friends “at home.” Distance from family. I met a couple who retired to Belize. During their “dress rehearsal” they lived near the beach, enjoyed the good weather, and spent less than they would in the United States. But during their retirement rehearsal they discovered that they missed their family more than expected and visits were difficult, costing more time and money than they had imagined. They had considered this topic before rehearsal, of course, but didn’t feel the impact until they had already moved to another country. Atmosphere. That couple in Belize also found out that they weren’t crazy about resort life all year long. They loved that lifestyle on vacation, but they needed to live it to find it was too much all the time. They ended up returning to the United States to live out their retirement years. The weather is another consideration. You can’t really know its subtleties until you live somewhere. The mild weather in your new beachfront home can come with chilling humidity in winter, and that brackish breeze you loved at first drives you crazy when you find it every day. And the environment is more than the climate and the lifestyle. The outdoor festivals you looked forward to may come with a huge increase in traffic, noise, and trash, and now you can’t escape by going home. Neighborhoods. Renting can be a great idea when moving to a new community because it allows you to sample a neighborhood before committing. You may find that your new neighborhood is not as quiet as you would like it to be, or that another neighborhood has a great park that you would like to visit regularly. I also suggest that you look at which neighborhoods offer the amenities you will need as you age, such as one-story homes and access to public transportation. Transport. Many people dream of moving to a quiet place in the country, but it could be a real problem if you need to stop driving (as many do at a certain age) and there is no bus, taxi, or Uber. While living in your new home during dress rehearsal, you can explore the area’s public transportation and walkability. Medical care. Once again, you probably investigated the availability of good medical care in your new hometown. But by living there, even temporarily, you can do some research on the spot: meet your doctors and dentists, consult specialists, and find out about their availability. The United States faces a growing shortage of doctors, and small cities and rural areas are especially hard hit. Culture. The feeling of a community — its social, political, civic and cultural engagement, etc. — can vary widely depending on the part of the country you choose, the size of the city or town, even the neighborhood. I think you can only get a real idea of the cultural aspects of your new home by living there. Read: Before moving to a new city when you retire, check out your local Walmart and 5 other hard-learned lessons. If you are thinking of moving out of the country, I highly recommend doing a dress rehearsal. You will learn not only about the aspects of your new home mentioned above, but also what it’s really like to live in a different culture. You may find a laid-back attitude about time that is perfectly suited to your laid-back retirement, or you may go crazy waiting a week to have your stove repaired. You may learn that the language barrier is more difficult or easier to overcome. You will find out how exchange rates affect your costs and how infrastructure (utilities, roads, even banks) works or doesn’t work. You will have the opportunity to experience health care in another country. And you will learn what it really feels like to be away from the culture you know. I have always believed that retirement should be like a second childhood without adult supervision. If that childhood involves flying kites on the beach in your new hometown, I think you should achieve that dream. But before you commit to a new place and a new way of life, I tell you to try it on to see the size. Also read: Do you want a happy retirement? Have at Least As Many Hobbies Ken Moraif, CFP®, CRPC®, MBA, is a senior advisor for Retirement Planners of America, an investment advisory firm based in Plano, Texas.