Our Heat Map tool combines your saved properties and your personal needs and goals with millions of area-specific data points like income taxes and health insurance rates to show you personalized projections and easy-to-understand insights for your retirement planning.
28 April 2024

The Power Behind Your Personal Willowfinch Heat Map

Welcome to the Exploring Your Retirement with Willowfinch Series, where we’ll be going over all of the information, dreams, and numbers that can make your plans for “What’s next?” get you somewhere you actually want to go! You’ll see a list of the other posts in the series at the bottom of today’s blog.

Before we get into the whats and how-tos, remember that we’re not financial advisors or giving any specific recommendations or advice here. We’re going through the topics that we’ve found helpful when gathering all of these thoughts and showing how they pair up with your Willowfinch account dashboard to get you the most personalized and helpful data possible with our tools and resources. We always recommend getting insight and advice from financial professionals!


The “secret weapon” in the Willowfinch toolkit is our Heat Maps.

They take shape automatically, quietly building up hot spots of personalized projections and data where it compares properties you save to the personal data and goals you entered into your account when you were getting started on Willowfinch.

So while most people are focused on “finding the perfect home” when they’re browsing and comparing listings, Willowfinch is about exploring the broader trends of potential locations for your next big move. The trick to getting the clearest and most helpful picture of what’s possible for you and your financial situation is to add any properties you find interesting or acceptable.

It doesn’t have to be a dream home! Just look for things close to what you’re envisioning and add it, so that a pattern can start to take shape.

Why is that the goal? When you’re powering up your home search with Willowfinch to guide your retirement planning, the real question you’re trying to answer isn’t “is this the one?”

It’s “Are there sufficient properties of interest, at a price I can afford, in an area I want to live?”

You have ideas to brainstorm, money to save, accounts to open or adjust, and advisors to talk with before making any big moves! You may even have some years of working ahead of you before it’s time to think about packing up and heading out. What you find today may not be on the market when you’re ready to buy, but you can’t afford to wait until you’re on a countdown to look. Using Willowfinch ahead of time allows for finely tuned projections and playing around with some more unusual options to make sure you find the best solution for you and your situation.

How the Willowfinch Heat Map Works

All the data that gathers on your personal Heat Map is there for one key reason: Your Affordability Number. This is the ultimate goal, in that you end up with a dynamic map of color-coded markers that pop up with related stats for each saved property. Those stats and the trends of a certain area help you to quantify the difference in costs from one area to another area, down to whatever level you want.

Want to look at the big trends between living in two completely different states or regions? Go for it. You’ll be surprised just how much state-wide data like income taxes or healthcare costs can impact things. Need to compare the nuances between a few blocks in a core location? Each area has its results fine-tined and refreshed with the latest year’s data.

You’ll want to add a clustered group of properties in each location. Willowfinch will give you an Affordability Index for a single saved property, but you won’t really get an accurate idea of that area unless you add at least 5-10 properties to get an initial impression and 25 or more to get a full picture. You can get this Affordability Number, where it takes multiple properties into account and gives an overall trend, by circling an area around the saved properties you want to select.

You don’t want to sort through that many properties over every single possible town and city, though! Make a shortlist based on places or people you need to be near, your own interests like nature or city amenities, travel options, and other considerations.

Then pick the top handful of locations on your list and add five to ten properties in each. What’s looking promising on the Heat Map? Narrow it down, then add more until you have about 25 properties in your best contenders.

Screen shot of Willowfinch map

Here's an example of properties gathered around an area and how to see an individual property's Affordability Index.

Screen shot of Willowfinch map

Here's an example of selecting a range of properties in an area to get an Affordability Number.

How to Build Your Short List of Possible Retirement Locations and Start Adding Properties

  • Take time to think about what you really want and need moving forward. A great place to start is our post “The Big Questions You Have to Answer Before Selling the Family Home.” The questions will help everyone involved in the decision get some clarity and communicate their thoughts.
  • Read more about how Willowfinch founder, Andrea, went through this process when she and her husband were beginning to think about what came after retirement and needed to see if and where they wanted to move. (It’s also what led to the creation of WIllowfinch! She did all of this manually for their planning.)
  • When you’re brainstorming cities or neighborhoods to look through, think about what you know is a good option, what areas you’re wondering about, and what scenarios you’d love but aren’t sure would be doable.
  • Know anyone who’s been through this lately and seems like they made a solid decision? Ask them what they discovered and any insights they’re willing to share!
  • Haven’t been somewhere you’re interested in and wish you had a better feel for it? Find some of the key touch points on Google Maps and explore street view a bit! You also could hop on social media and look for hashtags that feature that area. (Hint: Keep an open mind with this method, a lot of these Street View captures are a bit old. You can check the updated date in the top left corner.)
  • Have a promising area and really need something more substantial to dig into and look around? If it’s somewhere it’s allowed, the PayPixl.io drone pilot finder can help you get up-to-the-day pictures.
  • Remember that we help with this! Look at the Explorer Package. We’ll help sort through what matters most to you and your plans. We’ll go through one of the three scenarios with you, gather information and insights, and return over 100 property suggestions and locations to get you started. Plus, you’ll have 350 total property credits to save properties and build a powerful Heat Map with lots of insights tailored to your wants and needs.

Most importantly, be curious and be patient. Poke around a few places you wouldn’t have listed right off the bat. Check back in the weeks and months to come.

All of this helps inform your long-term plans. If you decide those long-term plans include moving, you’ll be ready with a focused search area and more clarity about your wish list when it comes time to look seriously for properties to buy. Or, if you’re on a flexible timeline, it lets you watch the most promising areas for your next big move!


Want To See It In Action? Here’s A Quick Walk-through Video With More Examples And Details.


A Few Additional Tips to Power Up Your Heat Map Results

Make sure to set a Savings Goal in your personal information when you’re setting up your account. This allows the Heat Map to turn on additional colors in the range of markers for properties and shows you how much progress you can make toward those goals.

Don’t miss the 10 Year Outlook feature! You’ll need to turn on the Health Insurance toggle on the first tab of your personal information (see our steps for Personalizing Your Willowfinch Account). Then you can use the slider at the bottom of your Heat Map to show how insurance rates and tax changes can shift the savings or extra expenses of a location over time. This is an incredibly useful insight since the first year or two in a place can be drastically different than later years, based on big milestones like drawing your Social Security, tax changes, or drawing other taxable and non-taxable incomes.

If you’ve grabbed a Property Booster or Explorer Packagepair your personal Heat Map insights with the National Data Maps you received. The combination is powerful and covers some big data info that the smaller personal data points don’t capture.

The Ultimate Goal with Willowfinch is Exploration.

You’re gathering insights and possible scenarios based on data specific to you and your interests and needs. The tools take those and combine them with locations and regions in ways that haven’t been able to do as consumers in the past. This gives a big-picture view based on LOTS of small data, which is the kind of decision-making tool that can make a huge difference in financial and lifestyle outcomes that last for decades.

If you want to learn more about Willowfinch and how it can help you, get in touch!


Catch all of the posts in our Exploring Your Retirement with Willowfinch Series:

How to Round Up Your Retirement Numbers

The Power Behind Your Willowfinch Heat Maps

The Big Questions You Have to Answer Before Selling the Family Home

How to Use "War Gaming" to Make Strategic Housing Plans

And Interview with Andrea: Applying for Social Security

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