No less than the astute Conde Nast Traveler has named Santa Fe, New Mexico, bordered by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and home to artisans, the Santa Fe Opera and a blessedly temperate climate, as one of the world’s best places to retire.
In the same breath that the magazine praises the virtues of Belize and Ireland for one’s retirement, it says this about Santa Fe:
“The art scene in Santa Fe is thriving, helped by the easy inspiration of the nearby mountains and Santa Fe National Forest as well as the proximity of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Historic architecture, a friendly community of all ages, and warm days with low humidity round out the selling points for spending a comfortable retirement in the ‘Land of Enchantment.’”
U.S. News & World Report calls Santa Fe one of the best places in the U.S. to “reinvent your life with retirement.’’
CFP and ADPA Deborah Trouw, founder of Elevation Financial Group, Santa Fe, couldn’t agree more. Born and raised in England, Trouw married and moved to the U.S., spent 12 years in Chicago, and has lived in Santa Fe since 1999. Her husband, Frans Trouw, is a scientist based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, about 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe.
History at 7,200 Feet
“It’s interesting to live in a place where other people vacation. We have pretty fabulous weather year round. Lots of people move out here for retirement and we get families coming here, the kids who come here for education and the parents for work,’’ said Trouw. She said she works with 120 client families and has about $80 million in assets under management.
Santa Fe, founded in 1610 and the capital of New Mexico, has a population of about 85,000, making it the fourth largest city in the state and the one with the highest elevation — about 7,200 feet. It covers an area of nearly 53 square miles, but the heart of the city, where the historical landmark Santa Fe Plaza is located, is small, Trouw said.
“The great thing about Santa Fe is that it’s not that large, so even if someone lives on the far south side of the city, it’s only a 20- to 35-minute drive to the downtown plaza, which compared to most cities is nothing.
“I live in the northwest side for its great proximity to heading up to Los Alamos, where my husband works, so its location was a primary consideration to live there. But it’s only one mile to the Plaza area, so it can be walked,’’ she said.
The inner city’s five sections are the Plaza, Canyon Road, State Capitol, the Railyard and the Guadalupe District. Because of what Trouw called “reasonable’’ property taxes, steady construction of new housing, and a low income tax rate, Santa Fe is affordable for the retiree or semi-retiree with a $500,000 nest egg.
Living on a $500,000 or $1 Million Nest Egg
“I would say one could definitely make it work with a $500,000 (nest egg). It’s all about expectations and the size of the lifestyle that they want to have. I am assuming people would have Social Security as well as (the nest egg).
“Housing is an important part of this plan. We get people from the east and west coasts, and they have plenty of money in their pants, especially the ones without a mortgage. Some have been really diligent to get that (mortgage) loan paid off.
“If you want to live downtown, you are going to a find smaller house but we have some nice neighborhoods where you can get houses in the $350,000 range, at around 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. That part of Santa Fe is pretty vibrant, with accessibility to all sorts of things, like nice art and the community college. Some like the area that’s close to shops and near the highway to Albuquerque. You could get a nice three bedroom, two bath home in that area (for $350,000),’’ Trouw said.
Albuquerque, the state’s largest city where an international airport is located, is about 65 miles southwest of Santa Fe.
Zillow.com features a 4,850-square foot home for $665,000 in the Guadalupe District in the northwest area of Santa Fe, with six beds and five baths. South of The Plaza, Zillow.com shows a $360,000 house with three beds and two baths, at 1,134 square feet.
In The Railyard district, near the highway to Albuquerque, Zillow.com has a listing for a 2,490 square-foot-house with three beds and two baths at $465,000. And it lists a condominium for $166,000, with one bedroom and one bathroom at 614 square feet, near The Plaza.
“Retirees with nest eggs of $1 million have a large selection of housing in desirable Santa Fe neighborhoods …”
— Deborah Trouw
Retirees with nest eggs of $1 million have a large selection of housing in desirable Santa Fe neighborhoods: one, located in the art gallery-filled Canyon Road neighborhood, is listed at $1.195 million, with three bedrooms and four baths in 3,190 square feet.
Trouw said Santa Fe draws younger residents for its colleges, including St. John’s College; Santa Fe Community College and the Institute of American Indian Arts, which has created a market for lower-priced single family houses and rental units.
“There are lots of rental options here because new building is going on at the moment, and renting is a great way to come and explore a new location before making a (permanent) housing choice. Indeed, many who come to live here either visited over the years, or some set up a little bit of a second home, with the view that they will move out here, and make it permanent,’’ she said.
Trouw said that rental costs start at around $1,500 a month for 1,200 to 1,300 square-foot homes.
Trulia.com in early July featured a 1,476-foot house with three bedrooms and two baths for $2,800 monthly. Apartments.com listed one to two-bedroom apartments for $1,630 to $2,205 monthly.
Despite increased construction in the city, the outskirts of Santa Fe remain quiet and largely rural, Trouw said, but there are housing options that are within a 30-minute drive of the city.
Low Property Taxes
Realtor.com shows 1.5 acre to two acre lots in the area of Tesuque, about six miles from downtown Santa Fe, that are priced from $279,000 to $339,000. A 2,996-square foot house, with four bedrooms and four baths, is available for $795,000, and a 13,799 square foot house, with six bedrooms and 5.5 baths, is selling for $7 million in Tesuque.
Social Security income is taxed in New Mexico, but property tax is still a bargain, especially for retirees coming from the Northeast. The property tax rate is 0.56% of appraised value, making Santa Fe the 17th lowest of New Mexico’s 33 counties. For instance, annual property taxes on a home valued at $282,000 would be about $1,580.
However, the Santa Fe sales tax, at 3.31%, is combined with the New Mexico sales tax of 5.13%, for an overall sales tax rate of 8.44%.
“Most retirees will find Santa Fe’s property tax quite reasonable. I just looked over the real estate pages and saw a house selling for $1.8 million, with $8,000 in property taxes,’’ Trouw said.
Once ensconced in the city, retirees can partake of outdoor activities. Trouw said hiking, bicycling and walking are major leisure activities in Santa Fe. The famous Santa Fe Opera, which after a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, reopened July 10 with a production of “The Marriage of Figaro.’’ The spectacular, opera-air opera house is seven miles north of The Plaza.
The Lensic Performing Arts Center, an 821-seat former vaudeville house and single-screen movie theater located in The Plaza neighborhood, presents live music and theater, plus feature and documentary films. It’s operating at 50% capacity due to the pandemic.
“We have lots of small theaters, as well and live performances. And of course, there are the many galleries and various museums. Most of the galleries are on Canyon Road,’’ Trouw said.
Santa Fe has nearly 30 museums of various sizes and concentrations, including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, named after the world-renowned artist who lived and painted in Taos and other areas of New Mexico.
A Real Sense of Community
Trouw said the city offers other activities and volunteer options for retirees.
“I have clients who sing in various choirs, and I know people involved in ham radio, and there are many volunteer options available. We have many non-profits. Santa Fe is a community with people who are very comfortable in their lives and others in need, so we have groups that are made up of volunteers such as Kitchen Angels, which cook and deliver meals to people in need of help.’’
Santa Fe has public and private golf courses, and a local professional baseball team, the Santa Fe Fuego. Professional baseball is also available in Albuquerque, as is professional soccer, a sport that is growing in popularity, said Trouw, who grew up with the sport in England.
Health care options include two medical centers in the city. “We have two competing organizations which I think is a good thing in terms of care. We also have an increasing number of urgent care types of business, which serve as a go between primary care and hospital emergencies,” said Trouw. “And we have lots of complementary therapies here, such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine.’’
Should transplants feel the need to get away from Santa Fe now and then, there is the international airport in Albuquerque and the Santa Fe Regional Airport which offers direct flights to places such as Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Dallas, and connector flights to farther-flung American locations and international destinations.
Trouw said despite Santa Fe’s many charms, those who do want a getaway usually head for various cruises in Europe or vacation in Hawaii in January and February. She said road trips are popular with residents who want to see more of the mountain states.
“For lots of people who move out here, their family is not here, so a primary part of their travel is to go where the kids are, and that has to get factored into their retirement spending.’’
In a four-decade career in journalism, Eleanor O’Sullivan has reviewed many books on best practices for financial advisors, has written for Financial Advisor and the USA Today network, and was movie critic for the Asbury Park Press.