Affable Port Charlotte, Florida Entices with its Low Key Lifestyle, Easygoing Pace and Affordable Cost of Living
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Situated on pretty Alligator Bay and Port Charlotte Harbor along the southwestern Florida coast, Port Charlotte (population 58,000) is primarily a residential community. It is about 25 miles northeast of Fort Myers and for much of its history it was a very rural place with just a smattering of farms and ranches. Even today it retains much of that country flavor. Unpretentious and low key, it has a mature demographic (55% of residents are age 45 or better) and appeals to people who are seeking an affordable, waterfront lifestyle in a warm, sunny climate. RVers and "snowbirds" enjoy it here, too, and they add to the population each winter. The crime rate meets the national average, and most residents lean to the right politically.
The cost of living is 5% below the national average, and the median home price is $175,000. Housing is a mix of newer condos and older single family homes, many from the 1950s and 1960s when the city started to grow. Rental prices for a one bedroom apartment start at around $1,300 per month. Port Charlotte has 165 miles of canals, and nearly half of residences are located on one. It should also be noted that much of the newer construction has come about because this area was hard hit by Hurricane Charley in 2004. Today, no buildings are taller than three stories high.
Florida is a tax friendly state for retirees, although sales taxes are high and real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. Still, there is no state income tax, and retirement income is not taxed. And when it comes to real estate taxes, permanent residents receive a $50,000 homestead exemption each year. People who are age 65 or better with an income of less than $28,448 annually and a home with a value of less than $250,000 may receive another $50,000 exemption. In Port Charlotte, the annual taxes on a $175,000 home are approximately $1,895.
Port Charlotte, Florida
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Port Charlotte is big enough to have some cultural amenities, but the main draw here is the water recreation. Charlotte Harbor is Florida's second largest open water estuary, and with so many canals and so many homes with slips along the canals, boating is a way of life. Sailing is particularly popular as Charlotte Harbor has been named by SAIL Magazine as one of the top ten places to sail in the world.
Fishing is also world-class, with barracuda, tarpon, redfish, snook, cobia and grouper all in excellent supply. However, there is no classic Florida beach because the land at the water's edge is covered with homes or belongs to Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park (which has hiking trails and is a prime spot for birdwatching). Port Charlotte Beach Park does have a strip of sand, picnic tables, tennis courts, a fishing pier, a boat launch and a dog park, but the nearest oceanfront beach is in Englewood, about 20 miles to the west.
When not on the water, residents may be found at Charlotte Players, the community playhouse, or at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County, which has Friday night dances, card games, theater performances in a 500-seat theater, a thrift store, computer classes, day trips, a restaurant and much more.
The Port Charlotte Town Center is a shopping mall with national retailers (J.C. Penney, Macy's and Dillard's) and more than 100 specialty shops. There are also two Walmarts. Dining options are plentiful and include mid-level national chain restaurants, locally owned diners and seafood grills, pizza places and more.
The Port Charlotte Public Library has two branches, and they have book discussion groups, a film series and free wi-fi. Residents enjoy seven golf courses, with another dozen in the surrounding area. Port Charlotte is also the spring training home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Rays.
Port Charlotte County has a Dial-a-Ride service available to the general public. It is a curb-to-curb service and requires advance reservations. The cost to ride is $1 to $2 one way. Sunshine Ride, also offered by the county, provides rides to people age 60 or better (or who are disabled) and makes stops at health care appointments, shopping destinations and other "life-sustaining" venues. The cost to ride is $1.
Fawcett Memorial Hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission and is a Primary Stroke Center. It has won national recognition for its excellence in emergency medicine, general surgery, stroke care, pulmonary care and more. Medicare patients are accepted. The hospital also has a strong volunteer program. For military retirees, the city has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Bay Pines, 70 miles away.
The group Senior Friendship Centers provides noon congregate meals and group activities at Charlotte Towers, an independent living community. Reservations are required. Charlotte County also provides services to older adults, including home delivered meals, some household chores, classes, counseling, legal services and more.
Summer temperatures usually top out in the low-90s. Winter temperature highs are in the 60s and 70s with lows in the 50s. Average rainfall is 50 inches per year with the usual summertime afternoon showers. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Port Charlotte is below the national average. The sun shine 265 days of the year. The air quality meets the national average.
Port Charlotte does have a few drawbacks. Night life is quiet. The tornado risk is 60% above the national average. On average, this area is brushed by a tropical storm or hurricane every two and a half years. Hurricane insurance is expensive. Locals complain about traffic caused by winter vacationers and "snowbirds."
Yet even with these issues, people want to live here. This affable waterfront city is not affluent and it is not booming, but it has received national attention as a great place to retire. After Hurricane Charley, the community came together, rebuilt and today is stronger than ever. Port Charlotte is great spot for anyone in search of a mellow, affordable Florida retirement.
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