Lessons to Learn Before Moving at An Older Age

Our friends talk of moving as we age—downsizing, finding  a home on one level, relocating to be closer to their children and grandchildren, escaping the cold and shoveling snow, fleeing high real estate taxes, and more. 

We may not be sure where and when we will go, but we know how to assess our needs and make the transition when we do, from prior experience and conversations with friends and family who’ve done so. 

Here’s what we learned from our last moves, for Barbara 12 years ago this month (July) to a village where she knew nobody, and for Margaret three years ago to a big city where she had family but had to make new friends. 

The following lessons mastered could apply to a move to almost anywhere at any time. 

Make new friendships. These require time to percolate and to nurture to become more than acquaintances. Don’t assume because you have one good conversation, meal and exercise or painting class, you’ve found a lifetime buddy. New friendships are very different from those that began in childhood. Take it slowly, try it out, be patient. You may not want to go beyond superficialities and that’s fine. Or, it might not be a match. 

Carefully choose where you live.  Do your research. It should suit what you like to do most or be near people you care about greatly. Make your list of pros and cons. Like quiet? Go for the country or a small building and hope nobody pounds the drums above. Prefer noise and bustle—settle where there are more people nearby and more buildings and houses. This might mean a big city and that can be pricey. Like to walk? Have someplace that suits you. Perhaps you opt for a warmer or temperate climate in a place where there are parks, trails and sidewalks lined with shops with big windows and interesting contents. There’s a reason why people put “location, location, location” at the top of their lists. 

Prioritize your quotient for how much work you want to tackle or can handle when you buy a house or apartment. If the house is available at too good a price, it may translate to “needs tons of work and money”. If it seems in excellent shape, go for it but be sure that the look and layout also appeal. And get it inspected by someone you find, not by someone recommended by your real estate agent. Barbara thought her house was on the one-year remodel plan; turns out it needed more, and she’s now still making tweaks after 11-plus years. Decide you don’t want to do any work or not sure about the location? Consider renting as Margaret has done especially when moving to a new location. 

Pick a place where you find amenities nearby. That may mean a pool, bookstore, gourmet food store or grocery, library, university, painting class, pickle ball courts, museum, symphony hall. The sky’s the limit. More people today who, as they age, don’t want to drive as much or at all. They may want a walkable community so, check out the neighborhood before you move and decide if you want these amenities within walking or driving distance, or if you’ll need to take a cab, Uber or bus. 

Don’t forget spirituality in your life. And what kind? Is it a state of mind? Will a church or temple be your calling or is it yoga class or meditation? Try out different possibilities; you don’t have to commit right away or forever. It took years for Barbara to find the right synagogue; and a shorter time for Margaret to find one. She tried services at five different places that are in proximity to her new apartment until she found the right fit. 

Decide if inn-keeping is in the cards. Do you want to be able to house family and friends regularly and have a place for them to stay—a separate bedroom or comfy sofa bed in your home office and an extra bathroom if you don’t want them sharing yours? Playing inn keeper is fun initially but it’s work—cleaning, laundry, chef and more—and costs more for that extra square footage. It’s no hanging offense if you don’t want others sharing your quarters. Be honest. It’s why God invented B&Bs and hotels and why Brian Chesky started Airbnb. It can prove less expensive in the long run even if you pay all or part of the cost. 

Mix and match your friends of all ages for it adds spice. Who wants to live around only old people at our age with more talk of ailments as the clock ticks down? Not us. We like seeing all stages of life, from older to younger, much younger and children and babies. We need that energy, and they need (or we think they need) our wisdom and gray hairs. 

Shop local. It helps you become part of your community. We both like to support our neighborhood shops, restaurants and service providers, whether big ones like Zabar’s or small ones like a tiny coffee shop with good pastries and a restaurant with the best tuna burgers and fries. It’s far more fun buying from an area purveyor, knowing their name, about their family and them knowing you than from the behemoth Amazon where you’re just a number and an algorithm. But does this opportunity exist in your area? Usually yes in some forms. It’s also nice to be able to feel secure in using a local doctor rather than rushing to a medical center hours away, same goes for hair stylists, day-spa providers and other service people. 

Research if your new community is welcoming to outsiders getting involved. There are all levels of involvement. In some communities you have to live there 50 years to feel accepted. Since we’re on the clock, we don’t have the luxury of time. Dig in. Read local  publications. Go into the stores and walk the streets. Try to talk to people in your community. Join clubs, churches/temples, gyms and take classes or attend seminars. Vote in local elections. Ask locals about opportunities to get on boards, run for local office, tutor at a local school, or dish out food in a soup kitchen. Barbara volunteered at one point at a nonprofit bakery but then lack of sales ended the need for her. Margaret has found more than her fill of opportunities to help New Yorkers from tutoring to feeding families at holiday time and working in a food pantry on a weekly basis. It’s a great way to meet new folks and become part of a community.  

 Remember three rules of settling in.

  1. Don’t criticize too much. Observe, take note, and make positive suggestions at some point. Locals don’t want to hear outsiders bashing this and that all the time.
  2. It’s expensive to move and takes lots of work, but you don’t have to stay forever. Leases don’t have to be renewed and houses can be sold if they’re not the right fit for any reason, including dollars. The caveat is that in this market finding another home in either case may take time.
  3. View moving as an adventure rather than a chore. If you don’t like your decision, consider new options, again.


  • Merri M Rosenberg

    Excellent and thoughtful—really helpful

  • Audrey Steuer

    Points very well taken and presented.

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