I suppose we might have David Letterman’s widely regarded and oft-quoted “Top 10 Lists” to blame for the profusion of “best of” lists. But at least Letterman’s lists were funny. There is nothing funny about Where to Retire magazine’s annual “50 Best Master-Planned Communities in the U.S.” issue.
In this year’s July/August edition, the magazine’s editor, Annette Fuller, writes that the issue is “guaranteed to bring you many fruitful hours of contemplation.” My minutes of contemplation included checking Where to Retire’s top 50 choices against the paid ads inside the same issue. Marketing to potential buyers certainly doesn’t disqualify a community from a designation of excellence, but it does call into question how the magazine goes about choosing its Top 50.
No Science Involved
At least Where to Retire makes no claim of science behind its selections; they simply say they were the editors’ choices. (No doubt the advertising director had some input.) And the only apparent research done on the communities was after they were chosen, when a Where to Retire senior writer “spoke with residents at each of our 50 winning communities [and] heard a lot of glowing reports.” Duh. Consider if the mainstream media announced that it checked with its sources only after it published an important story. (Consider also if a resident did not present a “glowing report” to Where to Retire; would it have made the publication?)
You might say that, like the Letterman lists, no one takes the Where to Retire rankings too seriously. But that is not so. The magazine’s circulation is around 200,000, and it is sold in bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, and by subscription to thousands of couples in search of a retirement community. Unwary and trusting readers could very well look at Where to Retire’s helpful cost of living chart that compares cities across the country and conclude that the rest of magazine is objective. It isn’t, at least not in the July/August issue.
Many deserving high-quality communities do not make the Top 50 list in Where to Retire; I won’t list even a few of them here because, well, that would be employing my own biases. Suffice to say that of the Top 50 communities listed in the July/August edition, I counted a couple dozen who advertised in that very issue, and others I recognized from past issues. My advice may be free –- contact me if you are searching for a golf home –- but at least I do not accept a marketing fee from any communities I recommend.
No Established Communities Considered
Lacking any objective criteria for its selections, and the obvious large number of worthy communities left off the list, the magazine’s choices are suspect. The editors explain those choices, in a manner of speaking, in a response to a letter from a reader who asks why they don’t “publicize” more communities than those that are “developer owned.”
“We cover more closely locales where thousands of retirees are going,” the editors respond.
Seriously? That implies retirees don’t buy resale homes by the thousands in the many already developed communities across the country. Developer-owned communities, of course, spend more on marketing to get noticed and to sell their properties. Established communities don’t typically have the discretionary budgets to take out a full-page ad for a few thousand dollars in a retirement magazine. In their response to the letter writer, the Where to Retire editors imply that if thousands of retirees are moving to new communities, then they are not moving to established communities, a notion that is demonstrably false yet may be disorienting to some retirees searching for the best possible community.
Pay to Play
Where to Retire, which claims to be “The Authority on Retirement Relocation,” could be a guiding light for couples looking for the best place to retire. But true guidance requires objectivity. By promoting almost exclusively in its editorial content the communities that advertise in the magazine, and by ignoring the benefits to retirees of well-established, built-out and financially stable communities, Where to Retire does not live up to its claim of authority.
A more accurate title for this annual list would be “50 Best Master Planned Communities that Advertise in Our Magazine.”