Retirees are Drawn to the Water Recreation, Welcoming Spirit and Rich German Heritage Found in the Riverfront Town of New Braunfels, Texas
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
In 1845, when Texas was still the Republic of Texas, Germany wanted to establish a presence near the doorstep of the United States. And so a German royal, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, founded the city of New Braunfels (population 72,000) in the Texas Hill Country 30 miles northeast of San Antonio. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Republic of Texas joined the United States later that year, and the plans to establish a new Germany in the New World were squashed. Despite this rough start, New Braunfels grew and thrived and today still has a large German community and a distinctive German heritage. Drawn by its unique character and riverfront setting, more and more retirees are relocating to this historic place.
In fact, the city's population has mushroomed by 145% in the last two decades, and 40% of residents are age 45 or better. Thirty percent of locals hold at least a four year college degree, and the majority of people lean very much to the right politically. The city is racially diverse, and the crime rate is below the national average. The cost of living is 8% above the national average.
The median home price is $255,000. Established, leafy neighborhoods mingle with new subdivisions, and all sorts of housing stock is available, from contemporary ranch ramblers to actual working ranches. Many homes are made from brick and back right onto one of the city's two cold spring rivers. New Braunfels has its share of million dollar homes, but the median price will fetch a very comfortable brick home with four bedrooms, two baths, an attached three car garage and roughly 2,000 square feet.
Texas is considered a friendly place when it comes to taxes and retirement. There is no state income tax, so all forms of retirement income escape taxation, and there is no inheritance or estate tax. Homeowners receive a $15,000 homestead exemption, and people age 65 or better receive an additional $10,000 exemption (and $3,000 from other taxes). Still, property taxes are on the high side. For example, the annual taxes on a $255,000 New Braunfels home are approximately $4,885. And the state imposes a 6.25% sales tax (food and prescription drugs are exempt).
Water recreation is a particular highlight here as the Guadalupe River and the Comal River (at 3.2 miles long, one of the shortest rivers in the world) both flow right through the middle of the city. Thick foliage lines the riverbanks, and Cypress trees grow in the middle of the water. There are boat ramps, fishing spots, tube rentals, picnic areas and rafting companies up and down the shores, and every day during summer's "river season" thousands of people of all ages meander down the rivers in their inner tubes. The city manages the rivers, regulates their use and issues status updates as needed. The country's largest waterpark, Schlitterbahn, attracts tourists and locals, too.
New Braunfels, Texas
New Braunfels has a healthy downtown and lots of tasty BBQ eateries. There is one public golf course in town and several wineries within a short drive. The Wurstfest, a 10-day October celebration of sausage and German traditions, is practically world-famous (even ABC's Good Morning America has come to visit). The New Braunfels Public Library has a good menu of programs, as well as comfortable chairs, 24 public computers with Internet access and free wifi for laptop users. Perhaps best of all, the entire building is air conditioned.
An interesting attraction here is Gruene, an authentic ghost town located entirely within the city of New Braunfels and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Originally a German cotton-producing village in the late 1800s, the community was wiped out by the boll weevil epidemic of the 1920s and then by the Great Depression. In subsequent years, New Braunfels absorbed the old town, and in the 1970s and 1980s, Greune reinvented itself as a historic tourist spot. Today its original structures house shops, restaurants and galleries, drawing thousands of visitors each year. The Grist Mill, a restaurant in Gruene, has a particularly good reputation.
The New Braunfels Senior Center is managed by the Comal County Senior Citizens' Foundation and has a full range of services, including blood pressure checks, first aid classes, ceramics classes, card games, computer lessons, flu shots, trips, many clubs (including a newcomers' club), home delivered meals, congregate meals, minor home repair assistance, tax preparation assistance, an outreach program and money management assistance. It also has one of the best fitness centers in town. Daily classes in aerobics, yoga, Tai Chi and stretching are offered, and the indoor heated pool has a ramp for easy access (the water temperature maintained at a soothing 88 to 90 degrees). All in all, the senior programs are very good.
Santa Rosa Hospital with 132 beds is the only hospital in town, but it is accredited by the Joint Commission and has won several national quality awards. A cardiology unit, 24/7 emergency care, an ICU and diabetes care are a few of its services. Medicare patients are accepted. Guadalupe Regional Medical Center, eight miles away in Seguin, is also accredited. More medical facilities can be found in San Antonio (population 2 million), about half an hour to the south, and in Austin (population 750,000), roughly half an hour to the north. For military retirees, San Antonio also has a VA hospital.
South central Texas is hot and humid in the summer and mild and damp in the winter. Summer temperatures reach into the 90s (and sometimes 100s), and winter temperatures are in the 30s, 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 32 inches of rain per year, much of it in May and October, but practically no snow. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, New Braunfels ranks below the national average. The sun shines 226 days of the year. The air quality is meets the national average.
New Braunfel's citizens really do seem to love their city, and they exude a lot of Texas hospitality. Newcomers say they feel welcomed. Yet there are a few drawbacks to retirement here. The blossoming population has city leaders seeking ways to manage the rapid growth. There is no public transportation. Summer tourists clog the roads. The tornado risk is 65% higher than the national average. The city has experienced flooding in the past, but the Dry Comal Creek Flood Retarding Structure (a dam) was completed in 2013 and is designed to protect the city from future flooding.
Despite the downsides, New Braunfels charms with its welcoming spirit and easygoing way of life. With its proximity to San Antonio's big city amenities, the best of both small city living and big city living can be had here. As they say locally, in New Braunfels, ist das leben schoen (in New Braunfels, the living is good)!
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