The Florida Retirement Dream Is Dying as Seniors Get Priced Out of the Sunshine State

In Sarasota, Florida, an elderly couple is suing the county over approval of a 4,120-acre development that would create 5,000 homes for young families and interfere with their quiet retirement lifestyle. 

Once consistently ranked as America’s top place to retire, Sarasota has fallen in the past two years to the 18th spot in the U.S. News & World Report ranking. The culprit? Rising housing costs. 

Florida real estate agents say that Sarasota is not alone. Areas of the state once considered havens for retirees are seeing increased development and a wave of younger residents replacing the older crowd, not to mention a surge in ultra-luxury real estate catering to a new billionaire class moving to the state.

“It’s not the retirement community it used to be — at all,” said Lisa Morris, a Douglas Elliman agent whose listings include the area’s new luxury condos Rosewood Residences and The Owen.

As costs surge, older Americans are having an epiphany: Florida may no longer be the ideal retirement destination. Permanent Florida snowbirds are becoming no-go birds.

‘God’s Waiting Room’ No More

Instead, they’re seeking regions of the country where the weather and economic conditions are just as agreeable — only without the price tag. And local real estate developers are welcoming these Golden Agers with open arms.

Once nicknamed “God’s waiting room,” St. Petersburg is now among the top Florida metros experiencing rapidly growing demand and fast-rising property prices. Median prices in the area jumped 20% from last year, according to residential real estate brokerage Redfin.

Condominium buildings in the works include the 46-story tower Residences at 400 Central, 42-story Art House, 23-story The Nolen and 18-story Reflection. Across the bay, Tampa is in the midst of a high-rise building frenzy

“[The idea that] you can get a $100,000 condo on the beach is a misconception,” said Liane Jamason, a Corcoran Dwellings broker based in downtown St. Petersburg. “We do get calls for that. Sometimes we just giggle to ourselves. We’re not in that price bracket anymore.”

Developers Get the Message

However, in other parts of the country, developers are building with seniors in mind. 

In Belmont, North Carolina, there is a proposal for a community of 808 age-restricted units and 130,000 square feet of commercial space to be built by 2029, according to documents filed with the city.

Developer Toll Brothers announced the opening of a ​​Wake County, North Carolina, senior living community in October, shortly after its opened a similar community in Raleigh in August.

Empire Communities, which has built over 90 housing communities, also entered the state in 2021 with the acquisition of Shea Homes’ North Carolina Division. 

“Our 55 plus communities here — where there used to be just a couple — are booming,” said Wendy Dickinson, a Coldwell Banker agent who works in both North and South Carolina. “They’re selling very quickly.”

Older Americans who can no longer afford Florida are choosing states where their dollars go further, such as Pennsylvania.Thurtell/Getty Images

Beyond the Beach

Retirees are also looking beyond the beach. In 2021 the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors reported that 7% of the nearly 400,000 Americans who relocated for their retirement moved to Pennsylvania. Other top states, aside from Florida, were Virginia and Wyoming. 

Pennsylvania, with low property taxes and high-quality health care, swept this year’s U.S. News & World Report’s ranking — the same list that dropped Sarasota to No. 18 — claiming 7 of the top 10 spots.

Still, states that can replicate the warm weather and low taxes of Florida, and the lower housing costs, are a draw for retirees.

A 2023 report by personal finance platform SmartAsset found that Mesa, Arizona, welcomed nearly 5,000 new residents aged 60 and older in 2021 — more than double that of Henderson, Nevada, the second ranked city. 

In Austin, Texas, Coldwell Banker broker Laura Tomaszewski said that the change was natural and slow at first. Instead of grandparents moving off to Florida, they were following their children and grandchildren, who moved to the state due for work. However, one sale led to another and another. 

And developers have caught on there, too. The nearby Santa Rita Ranch, developed by Toll Brothers, added a senior living community to its 3,700-acre residential development. The Austin Business Journal reported that it could add over 1,000 homes for adults over the age of 55. The project is a first for the Toll Brothers in Texas. 

“The financial piece is key,” Tomaszewski said. “People want to afford where they’re going to live for the rest of their life.”

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