The U.S.'s richest retirees are spurning Florida's sun in favor of Seattle's rain and the company of Steve Ballmer.
Hunts Point, Washington, a Seattle suburb with more than 150 days of rain a year and about 400 residents including the Microsoft Corp. chief executive officer, had an average household retirement income of $200,431 in 2010. That puts the peninsula town at No. 1 in a Bloomberg Rankings list of 37 places with the wealthiest older residents.
"Most of the homes are on the water or near the water," said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Seattle-based Zillow Inc. "It's right across the bridge from Seattle, it's near Microsoft, and of course it's a very pretty place."
Small, private spots such as Hunts Point that provide easy access to cities along with an island or country ambiance are among the favorite places for the nation's wealthiest retirees, according to the ranking. Older residents of the top-ranked enclaves are flush for retirement, with incomes from pensions, savings and investments averaging more than six figures before Social Security. The list includes four cities in Florida, home to one of the world's biggest retirement hubs.
Bloomberg's list, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, ranks places with at least 100 residents, a retirement income averaging at least $75,000 and median home values of $500,000 or more.
"We have a group of people who have prepared extremely well," Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity near Palo Alto, California, said of retirees. "They have a few million dollars in their retirement accounts. They're going to have a lot of flexibility."
In Hunts Point, where retirement income is nine times the national average, about 21 percent of residents are 65 or older. Almost half of the homes have at least an acre on Lake Washington, and it's one of 23 towns on the list with median housing values of more than $1 million. Hunts Point is designated a "Tree City USA" by the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit educational group in Nebraska City, Nebraska, for its forests, which combined with the shoreline provide privacy.
The Village of Bannockburn, Illinois, No. 5 on the Bloomberg list, has more than six miles of equestrian and pedestrian trails and is 26 miles north of Chicago. About 13 percent of its population is at least 65 and the average retirement income is $129,256.
"It seems like you have suburban areas all around and then you enter a country setting," said George Fenton, a 57-year-old retiree who lives in Bannockburn. "It's very wooded with tremendous amounts of greenery. The lots are very large and the infrastructure is fantastic."
Fenton, a former executive for a general contracting firm, said he owns about an acre and a third in the village and plans on staying despite the Chicago winters because of the surroundings and easy access to both the city and O'Hare International Airport.
Barton Hills Village, Michigan, ranked No. 4, offers the "ambiance of privacy without isolation," according to the town's 2010 master plan. It's set among hills on the Huron River overlooking Ann Arbor, which is home to the University of Michigan, and has three stone-pillar entrances known as the Lower Gate, Upper Gate and West Gate.
Three of the places in the top 10 are small villages within the Town of North Hempstead on New York's Long Island. The area, once home to "The Great Gatsby" author F. Scott Fitzgerald, offers residents a marina and a less than 30-minute trip to Manhattan by express train. Harbor Hills, Kings Point and Great Neck Estates each had average retirement incomes of more than $114,000, and median home values topping $1 million.
Most retirees don't move, and the majority of those who do stay within 20 miles of their old homes, according to the latest data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. They want to remain in their own homes and near to their family and friends as they age, said Stanford's Carstensen. And they may continue to work part-time or come in and out of retirement if they're able, she said.
"If you look at the boomer generation, they're the healthiest, best-educated people in the history of our country," she said. "I think we're going to see a lot of changes associated with them."
Many of the 78 million baby boomers born in the U.S. from 1946 to 1964 are at or approaching retirement age.
The group may have better prospects than future generations whether they live in wealthy or more modest communities, according to Anthony Webb, a research economist at the Center for Retirement Research. They're more likely to have traditional pensions in which employers guarantee income through retirement while younger workers are shifting to depending on 401(k) accounts that require managing one's own lifetime income, he said.
"The current retirees are living in somewhat of a golden age of retirement," Webb said.
Many older workers are far from affluent, according to a July report by the Center for Retirement Research. The typical household headed by a 55- to 64-year-old had $120,000 in combined 401(k) and individual retirement account savings in 2010, which would buy about $6,900 in annual income through a joint-and-survivor annuity.
The four Florida communities on the list include the Village of Golf in Palm Beach County, which ranked No. 2 with a golf course called the Country Club of Florida and a mean retirement income of $158,418. The gated community of Orchid, which is No. 7, features an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a beach club, and had retirement income of $126,397.
The richest places on Bloomberg's ranking didn't see an influx of people over age 65 who moved from out of state in the previous year, as many aren't primarily retirement communities, the data show.
A separate ranking comparing places with higher-than average household retirement income that attract the most out- of-state retirees moving in showed Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, at the top. The town had a 1.4 percent increase in 2010 in out-of-state retirees and average retirement income of $43,291.
The Villages in Florida, one of the world's biggest retirement hubs, saw a 2.9 percent increase in residents age 65 or older in 2010 from other states, according to Census Bureau data compiled by Bloomberg. The town of about 35 square miles, located between Jacksonville and Tampa and with 39 golf courses, had an average retirement income of $30,608, ranking it 18th out of the top 20.
The second ranking included areas with at least 10,000 residents, with 10 percent or more age 65 or older as of 2010. Bloomberg ranked them by the percentage of elderly residents who moved there in the prior year from out of state and by the highest mean retirement income excluding Social Security, weighting both factors equally to determine the order.
--With assistance from Jennifer Prince in New York. Editors: Josh Friedman, Christian Baumgaertel
To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Collins in New York at mcollins45bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christian Baumgaertel at cbaumgaertelbloomberg.net