“Halfback” trend revives as more retirees leave Florida for other states in the South

Economic growth revived the halfback trend among Florida retirees from northern states who move roughly halfway back to other southern states

Ellijay, Georgia (Credit: Mountain Place Realty)
Ellijay, Georgia (Credit: Mountain Place Realty)

Many natives of northern states who moved to Florida are “halfbacks” who relocated again to retire elsewhere in the South.

The economic recession in the late 2000s slowed the flow of native-northern halfbacks who moved to Florida and then moved roughly halfway back, settling in small mountain towns in such states as North Carolina and Tennessee.

But the halfback trend, which was well under way by the early 2000s, has regained momentum.

From 2000 to 2017,  net migration to counties classified as retirement destinations increased 169 percent in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, compared to 67 percent nationwide, according to Hamilton Lombard, a demographer at the University of Virginia. The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies a county as a retirement destination if net migration caused its 60-and-older population to grow at least 15 percent in a decade.

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One of the biggest lures of small towns amid the Appalachian Mountains is a lower cost of living. Native New Yorker Marty Stefanelli, who moved to West Palm Beach, relocated from the South Florida metropolis to little Blue Ridge, Georgia, and cut his annual property tax expense by $17,000.

Real estate broker James Nichols, one of the owners of Love Those Mountains Realty in Ellijay, Georgia, told the Wall Street Journal the halfback trend “is very much in motion again.”

Nichols said the realty’s business is growing rapidly and that retirees moving up from Florida account for three-fourths of its sales.

The halfback trend has fully revived in western North Carolina since the end of the recession, according to Rebecca Tippet, a demographer with the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

But while former Florida residents have brought more business to retailers in small Appalachian towns, some longtime residents complain that halfbacks also have brought more traffic and higher housing costs. [Wall Street Journal]Mike Seemuth