I've been thinking a bit about retirement, and where I'll live when the time comes.

As with many others, within shuffling distance of the front porch rocking chair, the question of how I'll be able to afford several years of enforced idleness is beginning to weigh heavily.

At the end of a wonderful camping trip around Bar Harbor, Maine, late last summer, I had seriously thought about retiring to that part of the state. Prices in Bar Harbor are high, but I could buy a nice place outright using all the equity in my present house.

Then I began taking an in-depth look at the weather forecasts in Bar Harbor between October and May. After enduring another bitter winter in the Middle Atlantic, California, especially San Francisco, is looking more and more like a reasonable destination.

Yes, I know, they had a lot of rain in much of California this winter -- so much so, that the plots of some of my favorite television shows featured the occasional shower.

When compared to the snow, freezing rain, and raw, damp, gloomy days of the Northeast Corridor, having a couple of months of on and off rain with daytime temperatures in the 50s, is not so bad.

Looking at today's prices in the Bay Area, however, the best I think we could do would be a nice apartment within walking distance of Union Square.

That would provide us with a base of operations for traveling, which is how we are planning to spend retirement. We can spend two weeks in Venice, or finally see Australia, and then have San Francisco to come home to.

"Where do you live?" we're asked. "San Francisco," we reply, and the person making the inquiry says "Wow!"

My family has been making the trek toward California for the last couple of generations, so it seems to be a logical destination for our retirement.

My aunt and uncle moved to San Diego in 1953, when everyone back in Connecticut said they were crazy. My grandparents, then another uncle and aunt, then a cousin, then another cousin, and two more cousins followed them out.

My son is the latest in that line, opting to spend the next four to six years working on his doctorate at Caltech in Pasadena, after four years at the University of Chicago. They were four mild years, he never got to use the snowshoes he bought as a freshman.

According to RELO, the National Network of Independent Residential Real Estate Companies, Chicago is a more sought-after destination than California these days, meaning that I am again, out of step with the rest of humanity.

Chicago is fourth on its top ten list of relocation cities, even though the average commute to work is 61.5 minutes (the national average is 49.8 minutes) and the typical house costs $354,006. One reason is that 11 Fortune 500 companies have headquarters in, and around, the city.

No place in California makes the RELO list, not even Pasadena, which comedian Johnny Carson used to refer to as "God's waiting room."

"Employees who job hunt in California get sticker shock really fast," said Arden Hjelm, a RELO relocation specialist and vice president of Young Realtors in Westlake Village, 50 miles north of Los Angeles.

The average sale price of a home in Hjelm's area is $650,000, and $400,000 will buy you 800 square feet.

Number one on the top ten list is Washington, D.C., followed by Jupiter, Fla., Atlanta, then Chicago, Dallas, Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Tampa, and New York City.

The popularity of these cities is the result of a variety of factors, including affordability, amenities, schools, job market, technology, infrastructure, and accessibility among other factors.

Not everyone who moved to California can afford a house. In San Diego, houses cost so much that only 25 percent of the population of San Diego County can afford to buy there.

My pioneering aunt and uncle paid $12,500 for their bungalow overlooking the San Diego Zoo in North Park in 1962. Can you imagine what they would get if they sold it today?

"But where would we go?" my aunt asks, and that's the key to any high-value real estate market.

A recent study suggested that the California market is cruising for a fall because increases in home values aren't being matched by rises in income.

Still, the state's economy is steadily growing and diversifying, according to Delores Conway, who oversees the Casden forecast at USC's Lusk Real Estate Center.

That forecast is predicting a resilient rental market in Southern California this year, with average asking rents and occupancy rates in multifamily markets improving steadily. Average rent increases will range from 3.5 to almost 6 percent.

I can only hope this increase only applies to Southern California, since I've had my heart set on renting in San Francisco.

Not that I'm in much of a hurry. I've got 16 years to go till I crawl to the rocking chair.

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