Bella Vista, Arkansas
Retirees Seeking Peace and Quiet, Reasonably Priced Homes, Mountain Scenery and Lake Recreation Come to Bucolic Bella Vista in Northwestern Arkansas
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Bella Vista (population 32,000) is nestled in northwestern Arkansas' lush Ozark Mountain foothills. It was founded as a planned resort and a members-only retirement community in the mid-1960s, but as word of it spread, families and singles began moving here, too (although even today 65% of residents are age 45 or better). In 2006, Bella Vista Village became an incorporated city, and it has been growing quickly ever since. Why? Reasons abound, but residents most often point to the scenic surroundings, bountiful amenities, outstanding outdoor recreation, quiet way of life, friendly neighbors, leafy neighborhoods and affordable cost of living.
In fact, the cost of living is 12% below the national average. Thirty-four percent of residents are college educated. Politics lean very much to the right. Racial diversity has not yet arrived. The crime rate is well below the national average. Bella Vista has grown by 14% during the last decade.
The median home price is $330,000, an 11% increase from the year before. Real estate comes in all shapes, types and sizes, making for an eclectic mix of neighborhoods.
Undeveloped lots are still for sale, so sporadic building continues. The primary builder throughout the years has been Cooper Homes because it is the company that started Bella Vista Village back in the 1960s, but other builders have made their mark here, too. A section is even reserved for mobile homes, and there are properties for lease. Bella Vista has its share of of part-time and vacation-home owners, as well as absentee owners with plans to build when they retire.
When it comes to taxes, Arkansas is a good place to retire. The state does not tax Social Security benefits and up to $6,000 in other retirement income, including private and public pensions, is exempt. Remaining retirement income is taxed from 0% to 6.6%, depending on the amount. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Bella Vista is .75%. The state offers a homestead exemption up to $425 to all homeowners. The annual taxes on a $330,000 home are approximately $2,475, without the exemption. Bella Vista's combined sales tax is 9.5%.
Bella Vista sits along Sugar Creek, and thanks to its lush 65 square miles and 36,000 home sites, thousands of which are still undeveloped, the community has a very rural quality. Most dwellings sit on a decent-sized, wooded parcel, some on hillsides. Every homesite adjoins a green belt or common property, creating a sense of privacy. RVs and boats must be stored out of sight. Tree frogs sing in the evenings, and the aroma of honeysuckle tickles the nose in early spring. Deer, raccoons, opossums and the occasional bobcat peacefully coexist with their human neighbors.
Even though Bella Vista now has a city government in place, the Property Owners' Association (POA) still manages the amenities, water services and trash pick-up services. Fire, police, road and infrastructure maintenance are are handled by the city. The POA charges a $40 month assessment. This is in addition to city taxes. Anyone who owns property in Bella Vista is automatically a member of the POA, and those who own property but have not yet built a home are still assessed $16 monthly. Some subdivisions may also impose HOA fees.
The monthly community-wide fee is used to maintain, operate and improve the vast amenities provided by the POA, all of which are private. Residents enjoy seven lakes (which range in size from 35 acres to 475 acres but do not allow motorized watercraft), a marina, six golf courses and a practice center, two putt-putt golf facilities, an RV park, the Bella Vista Country Club, five recreation centers with pools, numerous tennis courts, a gun range, extensive walking trails, public gathering areas, parks and pavilions. The POA presents special events and holiday parties, and there are dozens and dozens of clubs to join, including everything from bowling and investment planning to fishing and folk dancing.
All property owners are required to purchase a photo ID, and most of the recreation venues charge an additional fee (anywhere from about $3 for two hours on the tennis courts to $1,500 for a year-long, covered boat slip at the marina). There are also fees for things like tapping into the water system and registering a boat.
There are 15 churches and a public library, which has public access computers, wireless internet, a number of book clubs and an interlibrary loan program. Other businesses and retailers, however, are in short supply. There are a couple of grocery stores and four or five restaurants, but movie theaters, bookstores, more restaurants, gardening stores, hardware stores, banks and the like are found in nearby Bentonville (population 53,000) or in Fayetteville (population 87,000). There is, though, a Wal-Mart about six miles outside of Bella Vista city limits.
Mercy Hospital has a medical clinic (with a new state-of-the-art emergency room) in Bella Vista, but Northwest Medical Center, 10 miles away in Bentonville, or St Mary-Rogers Memoral Hospital, also about 10 miles away in Rogers, are where most people get their health care. Both are accredited by the Joint Commission and accept Medicare patients. For military retirees, Fayetteville, just down the road, has a VA hospital.
There is no Bella Vista senior center per se since the entire city is somewhat of a senior gathering in its own right with its dozens of clubs, events and activities. Something seems to be happening nearly every day (and weekends are particularly busy). The city also welcomes volunteers in a variety of capacities, which is always a good way to stay involved in the community.
This corner of Arkansas has four seasons. In summer, temperatures can reach above 90 degrees and usually do not dip below the mid-60s. Winter temperatures are in the 30s, 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 48 inches of rain and 10 inches of snow per year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Bella Vista comes in below the national average. The tornado risk is 190% above the national average. The sun shines 215 days of the year.
For all of its pluses, and there are many, Bella Vista also has some drawbacks. Fees for using the amenities can add up, and some residents feel that the POA wields too much power. The city is hilly, and roads can be slippery in winter. Many homes use propane for heating, which some people prefer while others do not. There is no public transportation within the city. Some long-time residents are not happy that children now live among them. Parts of Bella Vista are prone to flooding, and water damage has occured as recently as 2019.
Despite these downsides, Bella Vista continues to grow. Its affordable lifestyle, scenic setting and abundant amenities make it a great retirement spot!
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