Real Estate

We Want To Retire in the Carolinas or Virginias in a Walkable Town

We are looking to retire in a few years and are looking through the Carolinas and Virginias. We would like a town that isn’t too large or too small. It would be nice if there were some cultural facilities such as a theater and museum and if it were walkable to restaurants and stores. We like the Appalachian Trail. I also like homes with character.

We went to Harpers Ferry and although very nice, not quite what we were looking for. We are going to Asheville in October.

Any suggestions are welcome.

Eileen

Eileen,

As you’ve discovered, a place can look good on paper but still not be quite what you want. And when a place does look right, I hope you’ll spend some time to make sure by pretending this is your new day-to-day, rather than experiencing it as a tourist.

Only you know what not too big and not too small means—and that’s quite a difference between Harpers Ferry and Asheville, both in size and budget. I’ll be curious about your reaction to Asheville, but while there, look at both Hendersonville and Brevard, which have been suggested in MarketWatch’s “Where Should I Retire” series.

I’ve also previously spotlighted other communities that might appeal: HarrisonburgRoanokeBlacksburg and Lexington in Virginia. The AT doesn’t go through South Carolina, but I’d flag Greenville. If you’ll extend your search to Tennessee, look around Knoxville (the city might be too big for you) or Cookeville.

I’m listing a few other options below. Remember that walkability to restaurants and stores is more about the neighborhood than the town or city as a whole. Given that you also want a house with character, focus on older neighborhoods.

Finally, you make no mention of your retirement budget and how much you can spend buying and fixing up that house. If you haven’t already, take some time to assess your finances. Be conservative; the stock market won’t always be your friend.

Staunton, Virginia

Staunton, VA
The American Shakespeare Center in downtown Staunton, VA

(Getty Images)

Here’s a smaller, walkable town in the Shenandoah Valley within an hour of mountains. Staunton, home to 25,000 residents, has a number of historical districts (watch for free walking tours) and is home to a small, private liberal arts school in Mary Baldwin University.

The city’s theater hub is the American Shakespeare Center and its Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater. History buffs might appreciate the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. You’ll also find live music festivals all summer long.

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Watch: A Look at the Hottest ZIP Codes in America for Real Estate in 2021

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When you want something bigger, go 40 miles east to Charlottesville (suggested here) and the University of Virginia campus. If you’re thinking about the beach, the Atlantic Ocean is about 3 hours away.

Winter highs average in the 40s, though you will have snow. Average summer highs reach the mid-80s.

Median home prices are around $235,000. Here’s what the housing market looks like, using listings on Realtor.com, which like MarketWatch is owned by News Corp.

Salisbury, North Carolina

Salisbury, NC
The Plaza Hotel building in Salisbury, NC, is now used for apartments, offices, and retail. 

(Getty Images)

What caught my eye about this city of 35,000 in North Carolina’s Piedmont region is its numerous historic districts, including the downtown area. That should make it easier to find a home with character.

Salisbury also has two theaters and its own symphony. High Rock Lake, a reservoir that’s the second-largest lake in the state, is just outside of town. Big-city amenities (and the airport) are in Charlotte 45 minutes away.

Average summer highs are in the upper 80s. Winters are mild, with minimal snow and average highs in the lower 50s.

The median list price for a home in Salisbury is $215,000, according to Realtor.com. Here’s what the housing market in Salisbury and across Rowan County looks like.

Abingdon, Virginia

Abingdon, VA
The Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus and Abingdon, VA, in the summer

(Getty Images)

Given your love of the Appalachian Trail, look at this town of around 8,400 with a downtown that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. You can follow the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail about halfway to even-smaller Damascus, an AT trail town.

The tourist office boasts that Abingdon keeps appearing on lists of the artsiest small towns. For culture, start with the Barter Theater and the William King Museum of Arts. Chat with working artists at the Arts Depot.

Only you can decide whether this town is the right size or too small. Nearly a quarter of its residents are retirees, another factor to consider.

Average summer highs get into the mid-80s; average winter highs are in the 40s, but you’ll get snow days too. The median list price for a home is around $232,000, according to Realtor.com. But small towns mean fewer home choices, too. Here’s what’s on the market now.

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