Our big mistake; how we got our retirement location wrong

We built our dream home when we decided where to live

Your choice of retirement location can have a big impact on your mental and physical health as well as your wealth. We got it wrong and it impacted all of those. We were fortunate to be able to rectify our choice, but it took time and money and mental strength.

The lesson from our experience is that the best place to retire varies from individual to individual and from couple to couple. I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to take your time in making your choice (that is the voice of experience).

Our initial choice of where to live

We definitely had our rose coloured glasses on when we chose our retirement location. What a pity we didn’t have our choosing location checklist at the time. We fell in love with one of the most beautiful locations in Australia, but we really didn’t think about the reality of living there. Having said that, our choice is a popular location for many, it just didn’t work for us.

Our choice was the small township of Mallacoota, located on the Wilderness Coast in far East Gippsland, Victoria. Situated on the ocean, overlooking Mallacoota inlet and surrounded by National Park this world biosphere sounded idyllic, and indeed in some ways it was.

Sunrise was always beautiful at our retirement location
Sunrise was always beautiful at our retirement location

We moved quickly (are you hearing alarm bells now) to secure a north facing, sloping,  2 acre block with views over the inlet and out to the ocean and Gabo Island lighthouse. Whilst we purchased the land in advance and put a caravan on it, we did not build and move permanently until 2010. We had our dream house built, established fruit trees and extensive native and vegetable gardens and dreamed about self sufficiency and the good life. Yes we even bought a boat; you know all that fresh fish for free……

How a dream can turn into; well something else

Unfortunately a lot can change in a very short time. Not long after purchasing the land Rowan found out he needed a double hip replacement. Suddenly the 2 acre sloping block looked a lot less attractive; but ever positive we moved forward with our plans.

But of course not only did things change in our lives but they changed around us as well. I am the youngest of my family and my eldest sibling is 17 years older than me. I suddenly realised that not only was I getting older, but they were too and living so far away from my siblings was increasingly an issue. At best it was a 2 day drive to my nearest sibling and a much longer and more expensive trip to my most remote family members. Even for Rowan, it was a 4.5 hour drive to visit his son and family in Canberra. Of course this also meant we were remote from friends the outcome of which was that we had fewer visitors than we had hoped. Over time the impact of these factors began to really affect us.

Isn't this an idyllic retirement living scene?
Isn’t this an idyllic retirement living scene?

Other reasons this was not our ideal retirement living location

No doubt we both suffered from relevance deprivation syndrome, and fresh from corporate careers we felt we had a lot to offer our community. This could be considered arrogance, and there was undoubtedly some of that, but it was also a real desire to contribute in a community which relied heavily on volunteering to run many organisations and events. We knew we had skills and experience of value, what we didn’t reckon on was that those skills and experience might not be appreciated by more longstanding members of the community.

I became involved in a couple of different organisations and withdrew from each of them within around 12 months. It was at this stage that I decided my time would be better utilised focussing on my blog, and I am so glad I did.

Little did we realise that the level of antipathy towards newcomers could in some cases become really quite nasty. Rowan became a volunteer member of an emergency services organisation and, among other things, ran a very successful fundraising event which attracted national attention. Unfortunately the tall poppy syndrome kicked in and he was falsely accused of misappropriating funds. Can you imagine how we felt!  Despite two investigations finding that he was not in any way guilty of misappropriation, it was an awful time in our lives and impacted us until the day we left. Well actually in some ways we still bear the scars, but life in our new location is rapidly healing those.

Mother Nature was in her glory at our retirement location
Mother Nature was in her glory at our retirement location

Financial and health impacts of choosing the wrong retirement location

As you can imagine the stress of those accusations had a huge impact on our health, but that was not the only way in which our health was impacted. Yes we lived in a beautiful natural environment with lots of walking tracks, but opportunities for other exercise were somewhat limited. We both missed having a fully functioning gym and with my scoliosis I was in need of regular professional massage as well as yoga and/or pilates. Without full time services of that nature, it became difficult to maintain a routine that worked.

Over time we also found ourselves needing to leave town more often for health related services. When we first moved to Mallacoota there were 3 GPs. During our time there this was reduced to 1 (fortunately there are now 3 again). This meant getting an appointment locally was challenging and we were driving for over an hour to see a GP, as well as to access other services such as naturopathy and osteopathy. This was both time consuming and expensive.

Unfortunately, the financial impact was magnified for us when selling our home. We sold out of a relatively flat market and it took a lot longer than we hoped. In the end we settled for a lower price than we would have preferred. Fortunately, we had been able to purchase our current home several years earlier and had our tenants  cover the repayments, so we were not locked out of the market. But we did lose money on our Mallacoota home and at our time of life there is no way to catch that up again. Having said that we are totally delighted with our new retirement location in Noosaville.

A whinge or a cautionary tale?

We got where to live wrong but we learnt from it and moved on.
We got where to live wrong but we learnt from it and moved on.

Those who know me well would agree that I really am not a whinger so please be assured that I share our experience as a cautionary tale. It is way too easy to make the wrong decision about where to live and sometimes it can be too late before you realise your mistake. So please, hasten slowly, remove your rose coloured glasses and yes use the checklist . Benefit from our experience and once you find your ideal location take your time to enjoy every moment of it. Life is too short to be unhappy.

Of course there are many ways to make ‘a big mistake’, it doesn’t have to be your choice of where to live. Have you made ‘a big mistake’? What was it and how did you recover from it? Have you seen others make mistakes and wondered how they could possibly make such bad choices? What advice would you have given to us?

Older and Wiser