Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

I want to retire on the beach in Hawaii and have a budget of $1 million or less. Is this doable?

We are new empty nesters in our mid-50s and are ready to retire. Where can we buy a move-in-ready beach house with room for guests, in Hawaii or someplace similar, for $1 million or less? 

Dear Empty Nesters,

Congratulations on this new era of your life as empty nesters approaching retirement. That’s a lot to achieve by your mid-50s, and a lot to celebrate. That’s all great news. 

Now for the bad news. 

A beach house that’s big enough for guests, that’s move-in-ready, in Hawaii or someplace like it, for under $1 million? You’re going to need a bigger budget. Or different parameters.

The median sales price for single-family homes on O’ahu remains above $1 million, ending the year at $1,050,000, according to the Hawaii Board of Realtors. The median sales price for a condo was $508,500, a 0.3% decrease from the year before. And that’s for all the homes on O’ahu — not just beach homes. A median price, of course, means that half of homes sold for more than that amount and half sold for less.

If you adjust your parameters, you might be able to buy a home in a beach town, but a property on the beach for $1 million is out of reach. Even in locales far from the Hawaiian paradise —the Jersey Shore, for example — beachfront homes go for millions. A humble 1,225-square-foot beachfront cottage in Stone Harbor, N.J., that will be knocked down recently sold for $10 million.

So where can you move to get a beach vibe on your budget?

The MarketWatch “Where Should I Retire” tool came up with several suggestions of places in Florida and North Carolina where you can live in a beach town, if not directly on the water. One suggestion was Fernandina Beach, Fla., which we’ve written about before. Other top suggestions are below.

Vero Beach, Fla.

The median home-sale price in Vero Beach was $392,000 in December, according to Realtor.com, which has the same parent company as MarketWatch. The range of homes in Vero Beach is vast, ranging from as high as a $60 million beachfront mansion down to more modest, inland homes selling for a few hundred thousand. 

Still, Vero Beach gets you a town boasting 26 miles of beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. In 2023, Southern Living Magazine named Vero Beach the seventh-best small beach town in Florida for its “unspoiled beaches, saltwater lagoons, and protected wildlife refuges.”

Vero Beach also offers a downtown area featuring galleries, boutiques and restaurants, along with opera, ballet and theater, as well as the McKee Botanical Gardens. The town has become popular in recent years with snowbirds and boasts the fourth-largest concentration of wealthy households in the U.S., according to Vero Beach Real Estate.

Nags Head, N.C.

The median sales price of a home in Nags Head, N.C., was $875,000 in December 2023, according to Realtor.com. Your $1 million budget could actually get you on the beach or close to it in Nags Head, depending on your taste in homes and your appetite for storm-related risk.

Nags Head is part of the Outer Banks, a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and southern Virginia. With that come the downsides of tourist season and hurricanes, but also the bonus of beach life. Nags Head is home to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which has the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast, boasting great views of the ocean.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse is a landmark of Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Outer Banks boasts five lighthouses, wild horses on the beach in Corolla, four seasons of weather and swimmable water temperatures due to the Gulf Stream. If you don’t like Nags Head itself, you can explore other Outer Banks towns. Be sure to visit during all seasons so you get a sense of whether you might want to call the area home.

There are plenty of shops and restaurants, although some close down in the offseason. About 37,000 people live year-round in Dare County, N.C., a number that that swells exponentially during tourist season.

Readers, where should our beach lovers retire?

Looking for ideas on the best place for you to retire? Email HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com

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