Retirees Seeking Peace and Quiet, Affordable Homes, Pretty Lakes and Mountain Scenery Come to Bucolic Bella Vista in Northwestern Arkansas
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Popular Bella Vista (population 28,000) 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 68% of residents are age 45 or better). In 2006, Bella Vista Village became an incorporated city, and it has been growing quickly ever since, more than doubling in size during the last decade or so. Why? Reasons abound, but residents most often point to the scenic surroundings, bountiful amenities, outstanding outdoor recreation, quiet way of life, friendly neighbors, safe 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 median home price is $158,000, and home prices run the gamut, from the $70,000s to more than $1 million, ensuring something for every pocketbook. Not only does real estate come in all price ranges, it comes in all shapes, ages, types and sizes because originally only lots were sold and homeowners chose their own home designs.
Undeveloped lots are still for sale, so sporadic building continues, making for an eclectic mix of neighborhoods. 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 at retirement time.
When it comes to taxes, Arkansas is a great place to retire. Social Security is exempt from taxation as is up to $6,000 in military, civil or private pensions. Other income is taxed on a sliding scale from 1% to 7%. The state sales tax is 6.5%, but prescription drugs are not taxed. Food is taxed at just 1.5%. Real estate taxes are some of the lowest in the country, with property assessed at no more than 20%. The annual taxes on a $155,000 home are approximately $1,020. All households are eligible for a tax refund of up to $350 regardless of income or age. The taxable assessed value of homes of residents 65 or older is capped at the previous year's value unless improvements are made or the property is sold.
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 $24 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 a $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), six golf courses and a practice center, 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 $3.50 for two hours on the tennis courts to $1,350 for a year-long, covered boat slip at one of the marinas). 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 45,000 and the headquarters of Wal-Mart) or in Fayetteville (population 85,000). There is, though, a Wal-Mart about six miles outside of Bella Vista city limits.
Mercy Hospital opened a new $13 million dollar Bella Vista health care clinic in 2013, but the nearest hospital, Northwest Medical Center, is 10 miles away in Bentonville and is a 128-bed acute-care facility. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts 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 90 degrees but they 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. The water and air quality both meet the national averages.
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 are somewhat slippery in winter. Many homes use propane for heating, which some people prefer and others do not. There is no public transportation within the city. Some long-time residents are not happy that children now living among them. Parts of Bella Vista are prone to flooding, and damage has occured as recently as 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
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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