Moving

Transferring From California to Kansas for Retirement: Professionals and Cons

Down Angle Symbol A symbol in the form of an angle pointing downwards. Kansas City. Mihai_Andritoiu/Shutterstock

  • A boomer and his wife moved to Kansas after living in California for 50 years.
  • He and his wife sold their home for $1.4 million and bought a historic home in Kansas for less than $400,000.
  • He said it's much easier to make friends in Kansas and the cost of living is much lower.

Mike H., 73, lived in California for 50 years, but it was a high school reunion in Kansas that made him move back.

The former architectural designer had a home north of the Golden Gate Bridge that he bought over 30 years ago, and although he loved the weather and his job, he knew he wanted to return to Kansas, where he attended high school.

In 2020, he and his wife sold their home and moved to a suburb of Kansas City. They bought a historic property for a third of the price of their home in California and said life was more peaceful with friendlier people, less traffic and cheaper prices.

“California changed so much in the time I lived there that toward the end we couldn’t get out of there fast enough,” Mike said. “We weren’t really happy there for 10 to 15 years as it became more and more crowded and the condition deteriorated.”

Many Californians have told BI that they are moving to states with lower costs of living, better work-life balance and better climate conditions. According to the Census Bureau's ACS data table, about 818,000 people left California between 2021 and 2022, while 475,800 followed suit.

While the California to Texas and California to Arizona routes were the most popular, over 5,500 people moved from California to Kansas between 2021 and 2022.

Leaving California after five decades

Mike, whose identity is known to Business Insider but who requested partial anonymity for privacy reasons, grew up in Minneapolis but moved to Kansas with his family when he was 15. He lived there for five years and moved to California in 1970. He knew he wanted to live in California after a trip to Disneyland at age 10.

For most of his time in California, he lived in Mill Valley, north of the Golden Gate Bridge. He recalled frequently seeing celebrities on the way from his home on Highway 1 to downtown San Francisco. From 1988 until his move in 2020, he lived in what was known as a “treehouse fixer-upper.”

He initially worked as a building contractor and then switched to architecture and planning. Although he enjoyed life in California and had a successful career, he said his area has lost its charm over the last decade. He said at times the traffic was so heavy that he couldn't leave his house because cars were parked in his driveway.

He said it was difficult to find parking at the grocery store around his house. He noted that infrastructure in his area had begun to crumble, and he said the quality of public education nearby had declined. As he got older, he also said that it became harder to make friends and that situations felt more and more tense. He said it has been a challenge getting to know some of his neighbors.

Still, he and his wife didn't want to move because Proposition 13 fixed their property taxes when they bought their home. They thought they could move to Phoenix or Reno, but neither attracted them.

In 2018, he received an invitation to his 50th high school reunion in Kansas and realized that the state he briefly called home as a child was the place he needed to move.

“We drove around and I thought this place was beautiful and so clean. The streets were so wide that you could park right outside the front door of your destination. We found this place really livable,” Mike said. “We came back to California, and about a week later we were reminiscing and finally said, let’s get out of here and go to Kansas.”

The move to the Kansas City metro took a year and a half because his wife still had a few months until retirement and they still needed to remodel their home in California.

“To be honest, if we hadn't gone to that meeting in 2018, we would probably still be living in the same house in California because moving would suddenly require new taxes everywhere I move to.” said Mike. “I could have sold the house for a lot of money, but my next house would cost a lot of money.”

Moving to Kansas: Pros and Cons

In 2020, they sold their California home for $1.4 million and moved to Westwood Hills, a town of 400 on the Kansas-Missouri border and about a 15-minute drive from Kansas City. They purchased a 1927 home listed on the National Register of Historic Places for less than $400,000.

He estimates he pays more taxes in Kansas, and when he first moved he said he was surprised at how similar some prices were, such as at the hardware store. He also said dining out is about the same in the two states.

While he acknowledged his comparisons aren't entirely accurate due to inflation during the pandemic, he said the cost of food, energy and water is much lower in Kansas. Even if he runs the heat or air conditioning year-round, his utility bills are a fraction of what he spent in California. While gasoline costs an average of $4.74 per gallon in California, gasoline costs $2.91 per gallon in Kansas.

While he said water is expensive and scarce in California, he said he can now have a nice lawn and have barbecues outside without the stress of running out of water.

He said he and his wife are prepared for colder winters, although the last few months have been more than bearable. He and some of his friends expected Kansas to be miles of barren, flat land, even though he said his area had lots of greenery, rolling hills and streams.

Mike said that meeting new people and making friends is much easier in Kansas. A car enthusiast whose friends have moved away from the Bay Area, he joined a group of a dozen locals who meet weekly to discuss and try out cars.

“It's easier to live here. The streets are wider, the traffic is less aggressive, no one honks the horn or rages in the street,” Mike said, adding that his community reminds him of Minnesota.

He said he has no intention of leaving Kansas and noted that his experience so far has been a pleasant surprise.

“I’m not a California basher because California has been very good to me and it’s a beautiful place,” Mike said. “I miss the palm trees, the proximity to the sea and the daily sight of the bay, but that wasn’t enough to keep us.”

Have you recently moved to a new state or relocated from the United States to another country? Contact this reporter at nsheidlower@businessinsider.com.

Correction: March 5, 2024 – This post has been updated to clarify Mike's original location in California.

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