The Terrifying Thought of Retirement

Be careful what you wish for…you might get it.

All your working life, you dream of the time when you can retire – no work stress or commitments, no calendars and meetings dictating the flow of your days. All the time in the world opens up to do all those things you would do if you weren’t working: take up a new hobby, learn a new language, see the world.

There is no magical calendar date when you “are retired.” In fact, you get to pick the date. But the only way to pick that date is to do A LOT of homework and planning. To be honest, I’ve spent more time planning the path to retirement than I did planning my career path through college.

The closer I get to retirement, I am surprised by the rising terror in my guts. At the beginning, retirement started to look like a great abyss. Can we afford to not work? How will we pay the bills? Have we saved enough? It’s a big revelation to see just how much a regular job provides a sense of order and security.

It’s been four years since we started seriously evaluating options. Every day, we get closer to cutting the security cord to our regular jobs. We’ve consulted professionals, we’ve done our homework online and on the ground. We have ridiculous spreadsheets that chart our finances, and our priorities for all of that available time. And, we have settled on a landing pad – a home in the Four Corners region – ready and waiting for us: Mancos House. We are closing in on our retirement launch date: this blog contains notes from our journey.

I’ve never parachuted out of an airplane before, but this is what retirement feels like to me. The planning and preparation can only go so far: it’s a leap of faith to step off the edge and trust that the chute will open. But, what a ride!

Shopping for a Home

Property shopping is a roller coaster ride: thrilling and stomach-churning.

“This house is beautiful!! How much are they asking??”
“Jeeze, why did they put that there? What would it cost to fix it?”
“Wow, this looked way better in the pictures. Next?”
“Yeah, I dunno…how many more do we have on our list to visit?”

Those online real estate sites are great for sifting through vast amounts of information, allowing you to narrow in on price range, location, size, features, etc. We probably used them for about two years, watching the real estate markets in locations we had identified in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, mostly west of the Continental Divide.

In 2017, we took a road trip, visiting six different real estate agents. We made appointments ahead of time, clearly stating that we were not in the market to buy, but to assess what might be available within our proposed budget. Some meetings were less than 45 minutes; others spent the better part of the their day driving us around.

This scouting trip helped us get the vibe for each community on our list. How does it feel? What’s in the local market: a freezer case of full of frozen pizza and tater tots, a decent fresh produce selection? Are local farmers, bakers, and salsa makers selling wares? Are there galleries, live music, community festivities? A library? In other words, is there some “there” there?

Despite our stated intentions to these agents, we found some properties that we fell in love with. Until we found a serious flaw. A home near Ojo Caliente had beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces with a view. But, no garage. Another home outside Cortez had sprawling shade from mature willows in the front yard. But, two dozen cows 20 yards from the kitchen window. We weren’t worried: we found that we could find an appropriate retirement home in a favorable location at an acceptable price. And we have time to find the right one.

After much discussion, we determined that we were circling in on Montezuma County, Colorado – the northeast corner of the Four Corners.

The following summer, we spent a week in Montezuma County. We shopped at the markets, visited the local sites, and cruised 1,000 miles of roads, to better understand different locations in the county. We now have a designated agent: Liz Bohm with Blue Sky Homes and Land. Liz showed us homes that we had identified from our online research, as well as a few Liz had identified. We didn’t fall in love with any properties on this trip, but we definitely got a better feel for the range of options.

Early in 2019, we sold our home in Monterey County, and decamped to our much smaller home in Santa Cruz. With the sales proceeds starting to burn a hole in our pockets, we took a four-day scouting trip with Liz. Now we can get a little more serious about our search.