Understated Elegance, a Bit of a Collegiate Atmosphere, American Colonial History and Plenty of Golf are Just a Few Reasons Why Retirees Come to Welcoming Williamsburg, Virginia
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Williamsburg (population 15,000) is located in southeastern Virginia, and combined with Yorktown and Jamestown, is part of the state's Historic Triangle. Originally Middleton Plantation, a 1632 fortified settlement, Williamsburg was named Virginia Colony's capital in 1698 after Jamestown burned down. It soon became a center of pre-Revolutionary War activities, and today, the restored, 173-acre Colonial Williamsburg central district, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, drawing nearly 600,000 visitors per year. Costumed re-enactors stroll through leafy grounds, 80 original 18th-century structures and dozens of reconstructed buildings vividly bringing Colonial America to life.
In contrast, the western residential neighborhoods where tourists rarely venture are quiet, prim and home to professionals, families and retirees seeking understated elegance combined with a collegiate flavor (the College of William and Mary is located here). Nearly 25% of residents are age 45 or better. The crime rate is well below the national average. Locals lean to the left politically, and nearly half of them hold at least a four year college degree. The city is racially diverse and has grown by 30% within the last decade or two. Residents from families that have been here for generations have a unique Tidewater accent, inherited from early English settlers.
The cost of living is 14% above the national average, and the median home price is $310,000. Homes come in all shapes and sizes, including stately, original Georgians and Colonials, as well as newer residences built to look as though they date from the 1700s. Williamsburg also has a number of master-planned developments. Colonial Heritage is a 55+ community with town homes, carriage homes and single family homes priced from the high-$200,000s. Governor's Land at Two Rivers is a private golf community with exquisite residences from the mid-$400,000s. Kings Mill is a resort development on the James River and has homes starting around $100,000. The most well known of all of Williamsburg's planned communities is probably Ford's Colony, often noted as the best planned development in the U.S., with three, award-winning 18-hole golf courses and properties priced from the high-$200,000s.
When it comes to taxes, Virginia is a mixed bag. Social Security is not taxed, and, depending on income, people age 65 and better may deduct up to an additional $12,000 in retirement income, with some restrictions. All other income is taxed at rates between 2% and 5.75%. Long term care insurance premiums are deductible. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. The annual taxes on a $310,000 residence are approximately $2,480. The state sales tax is 4.3%, but another 1% is added at the local level. Prescription and non-prescription drugs are not taxed, but food for home consumption is taxed at 2.5%.
Adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg, Merchants' Square is a wonderful 18th-century retail village with more than 40 restaurants and shops, including Talbots, Williams-Sonoma and Wythe Candy & Gourmet Shop. Here residents mingle with tourists, enjoying summer evening concerts and quaint outdoor cafes. Other shopping venues include a large selection of outlet stores, another reason tourists come to Williamsburg. Even Colonial Williamsburg, which never closes, is a pleasant place for an evening stroll. The locals say that Christmas is truly magical with horse drawn carriages and homes tastefully decorated for the season.
In addition to its cozy charm and rich heritage, retirees are attracted to Williamsburg for its golf. Twenty or more public and private golf courses are within a short drive, and Golf Digest has named the area as one of the top fifty golf destinations in the world.
Preppy College of William and Mary, with 8,600 students and chartered by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1693, has a large presence here but is not known as a party school. Attending its football and basketball games is a stimulating way to spend an afternoon or evening, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, formerly the Christopher Wren Association and sponsored by the college, offers classes to people of all ages who have a desire to continue academic learning. Fourteen hundred people, mostly mature adults, belong to the Association, and the membership fee is $135 or $50 per semester. Classes are taught by current and retired College of William and Mary professors, as well as others, and include such titles as "The End of Colonialism and the Cold War," "Greeks in the Western Mediterranean" and "Fall in Love with Italian Opera." There are no tests or grades, but these classes are not for slackers.
The Williamsburg Winery, the Williamsburg Botanical Garden and Busch Gardens Williamsburg ensure that there is always something to do. The Williamsburg Regional Library is a gem, with concerts, a bookmobile, lectures, workshops, book discussions, public computers and even books. Camping and hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains and boating on the James and York Rivers are further fun diversions. Virginia Beach is an hour east. Snow skiing is just three hours away, and the cultural amenities of Washington, D.C. are just two hours to the north. A dozen military bases are within a short distance, making Williamsburg popular with military retirees.
Williamsburg Area Transit Authority provides public bus service and connects with the more extensive Hampton Roads Transit to provide adequate coverage of the area. Para-transit is available, and there is a trolley (but it is geared more for tourists). The Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport is 20 miles away. Richmond International Airport is 50 miles away.
The Historic Triangle Senior Center is managed by the College and offers fitness programs, socials, boat trips, museum outings, bridge games, dance classes, art classes, health screenings and more. The Peninsula Agency on Aging offers non-emergency transportation to anyone age 60 or better and to the disabled.
Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center has 145 beds and is accredited by the Joint Commission. It is award-winning for patient safety and specializes in heart care, nephrology, minimally invasive surgery, cancer care and orthopedics. This facility is patient-centered and all rooms are private with overnight accommodations for family. It accepts Medicare patients. For military retirees, Hampton, 27 miles away, has a VA hospital.
Summers are hot and humid with temperatures in the 80s and 90s. Winters are relatively mild with temperatures usually in the 30s and 40s. The area receives about six inches of snow and nearly fifty inches of rain annually. On the comfort index, a combination of humidity and temperature, Williamsburg ranks below the national average. The sun shines 210 days of the year. Both the air quality and the water quality are above the national averages.
Williamsburg has a few drawbacks as a retirement spot. Tourists come by the bus load (but with a little inside knowledge, they can be avoided). Traffic is sluggish, particularly near the center of town. Dining options are not overwhelming, and most restaurants cater to families and kids. Nightlife is practically non-existent.
Yet despite the downsides, retirees who live in Williamsburg seem to love it. Its history, collegiate flavor and quiet affluence create an appealing place to call home. It may not be a perfect place, but many people think that it comes close.
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