Best-places lists the worst kind of ideas

New Bern, NC, may not have made CNN/Money's best-and-least-expensive-towns-near-water list, but the folks who live in the community of Taberna would feel differently.

    Over the weekend, friends Marian Schaffer and Terry Molnar at the Southern Way of Life web site posted an item about CNN/Money's latest "best of" lists, this time for Baby Boomers who dream of living near water and don't want to break the bank in real estate and living expenses.  Among the six picks was Beaufort, SC., a charming town north of Savannah and near Hilton Head that is a favorite of many people who have walked its streets and decided to purchase property in one of the nearby communities.  But with all the lakes, rivers and coastline in the U.S., how could the editor's possibly pick just six?
    Terry put his own puzzlement this way: "What did surprise me was that only two communities in the entire southeast made the list; Beaufort, South Carolina and Dunedin, Florida..."   The other towns included Sequim, WA; St. Joseph, MI; Durango, CO; Marble Falls, TX.
    My assumption is that the editors, in the comfort of their own offices, and via the Internet, scoured
How could there be just six great places near water?  How do you choose them?

accessible data bases to compare median housing prices for as many towns as they could (but certainly not all; no media outlet today has those kinds of resources).  But anyone who has ever walked the streets of St. Marys, GA, for example, might find it odd that it did not make the list, given its own historic and charming downtown, and its position on the coast a short ferry ride to famous Cumberland Island (think wild horses and the site of the late J.F. Kennedy Jr.'s wedding).  At $260,700 for the average house in St. Marys, according to Sperling's Best Places' web site, the Georgia town's prices are virtually the same as those in Beaufort and have actually depreciated less than the South Carolina town's prices during the current crisis.  Osprey Point, a LandMar development with a Mark McCumber golf course, is just a few miles from St. Marys and a good place to stop if you are in the area.
    A river runs through Greenville, SC., which is certainly scaled a bit larger than Beaufort, but the median home price is about $90,000 lessstmaryspark.jpg than in Beaufort.  With upscale restaurants, a fabulous cultural venue in the Peace Center and plenty of recreational activities in the area, including excellent golf, Greenville exerts a certain charm of its own.  And housing prices, again according to Sperling, have held up better than those in Beaufort. (Nearby Spartanburg is home to BMW, one of those successful "transplant" auto companies we have been reading about.)  Greenville's local private courses are highly rated and not overly expensive to join; I especially liked the Tom Fazio Thornblade Club in nearby Greer when I played it a few years ago.
    And what about New Bern, NC, an up and coming small metropolis where Pepsi was invented and where many former personnel of the military bases up and down the eastern seaboard have chosen to live out their years?  Once outside New Bern's historic district, you feel as if the modern world has closed in on you, but if you have ever driven from Beaufort the few miles to Hilton Head, you have a good chance of being stuck in stop and go traffic.  Just outside of New Bern, the golf community of Taberna offers reasonably priced homes and a sporty golf course that weaves through the community.
    The CNN/Money list isn't wrong; it is just way too short and, therefore, meaningless.  There are plenty of other resources on the web that are more complete and will help you make better decisions about what towns might suit your own lifestyle considerations.  For example, try SmallTownGems, where Bill Durell and his wife post dozens of photos and their honest observations about charming places they actually visit.  I like the site because Bill does not shrink from criticizing towns that don't live up to his high standards.
    Each of us has our own standards and lifestyle considerations, including the kinds of golf courses we might want to play in retirement or near our vacation homes.  And with prices dropping across the land, some of us may be looking for a match between our lifestyle criteria and a place to live.  If you are in that category, let me know, and I will scan all the best sources of information and put together some ideas for you.  As always, there is no cost or obligation for this service.

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