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graphic Best places to retire
Roanoke, Virginia
Southern charm with all four seasons in a setting that attracts even Floridian retirees back north.
May 5, 2003: 11:44 AM EDT

In Roanoke, there's such a preponderance of a particular brand of retiree that local real estate agents have given them a name: halfbacks.

At first, we feared some ageist slur. But no. Ask local agents what it means, and they'll explain simply, "They're people from the North who retire to Florida and then come halfway back."

As it happens, that's pretty much the way it went with Don and Arlene Whalen, both 65, who started out in New York and New Jersey before moving to Boca Raton, Fla. But when it came time to retire in 1998, they bucked the trend and moved north. "We'd always felt that Virginia was a very civilized place to be," explains Arlene. "The pace is very laid back. And we like the seasons."

Even though Roanoke's population tops Boca's (95,000 vs. 75,000), Roanoke feels quieter to former Floridians, who remember towns full of snowbirds each winter and college kids each spring. And the setting, resting in a valley surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, is hard to beat. The nearby hills and the Appalachian Trail make for great hiking, and there are 17 golf courses as well.

Blue Ridge Mountains  
Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall.

And for a relatively small town, there's a surprising amount of activity. "Tonight we have tickets to see Cabaret," says Trudy Randolph, 57, a retired librarian who moved here with her husband Jim, 63, in 1998. The Randolphs are volunteer ushers for a local theater and big fans of the Roanoke Symphony.

Downtown Roanoke is home to several museums and the Historic Roanoke City Farmer's Market, which dates back to 1882. The opera and symphony both perform in a newly refurbished concert hall. Plans are under way for an 1897 railroad office building to be converted to 87 luxury apartments (with 10-foot ceilings, arched windows and rents from $500 to $1,200) to appeal to both young professionals and retirees looking to live downtown, near the cultural centers and restaurants (though some newcomers long for more variety in the food scene).

Roanoke, Virginia
graphic
Population: 94,542
Nearest big city: Charlotte (152 mi.)
Sunny days a year: 217
High July temp: 85
Low January temp: 26
More statistics

For homeowners, low property taxes are a big plus. "When we got our first property tax bill for the year," says Trudy Randolph, who lives in a 1940s colonial-style house, "we thought it was for the month."

The Whalens live just outside the city limits in a 3,800-square-foot ranch-style house on 3 acres, which they bought in 1998 for $212,000 (a recent appraisal priced the property at $250,000). Property taxes: a mere $1,700 a year. "We can't even see our neighbors," says Arlene, who wanted vegetable and perennial gardens, as well as a large porch. To the Whalens, both native New Yorkers, Roanoke feels like the genteel countryside -- which is exactly what they wanted. "As my husband always says," explains Arlene, "we're Northerners by birth, Southerners by choice."  Top of page




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