Savannah, Ga.
Genuine Southern charm with the pleasure of seaside living.

Old Savannah is quiet, dark and deep. Its historic district, planned by city founder James Oglethorpe in 1733 as a grid of houses punctuated by parks (22 of the original 24 remain), is shaded by live oaks and Spanish moss and swathed in ivy and wisteria.

It is mysterious, elegant, enchanting-and mansions that were crumbling 30 years ago now sell for millions. Smaller homes too are being snapped up.

Outside the district, retirees are flocking to newer suburbs by the water or adjacent to golf courses. Homes in gated communities feature access to golf courses, tennis courts, walking trails, the Savannah River and the Atlantic. Prices in these subdivisions range from around $200,000 to $2 million or more. People living near the water look out over wetlands that are havens for birds (and alligators, but more on that later).

"I've learned more about birding during the six years I've lived here than in my entire life," says Pat Eilander, 58, a retired teacher who relocated in 1997 with her husband Albert, 60, a semiretired chemicals executive.

The Eilanders bought land in Savannah in 1992. They wanted to retire on the East Coast (where their children and grandchildren are) in a warm place on the water. Florida was Albert's choice, but after traveling there, the couple changed their minds. A conversation with a business contact led them to The Landings on Skidaway Island, a gated waterfront community with golf courses, tennis courts and a fitness center.

"In Florida, we found that a lot of people came down for a couple of winter months and disappeared," Albert says. "In Savannah, most people are there full time, so you can establish friendships that are like family." Adds Pat: "I found that many developers in Florida mowed everything down. Here, the developers made a real effort to preserve the trees."

The pair spent $100,000 on the land and about $650,000 on construction. Today, their house, with 5,200 square feet and a wetlands view, is worth approximately $1.2 million.

Savannah's retirees can enjoy the culture and night life of a sophisticated city and take part in a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, from repairing homes for the elderly through United Way to raising funds for the new addition to the Telfair Art Museum. There's even a magazine, Coastal Senior, that covers doings along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. The Memorial Health hospital system has highly rated cardiac and rehabilitative services.

Both the city and the state are on secure financial footing, but that comes at a price. Residents pay state income tax (top rate, 6 percent), sales tax (6 percent) and property tax (1.7 percent of an assessed value that's 40 percent of fair market value), which Pat Eilander says is comparable to what she paid in New Jersey. Though she loves Savannah, it's no bargain.

And the alligators? "They don't really venture away from their own lagoons until they get pretty big," Pat says. "Then the town takes them away."

Her tax dollars at work.

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