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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Bias in Best Places to Live Ratings

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        Those who read my free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, and Golf Community Reviews know I am not a big fan of those web sites and magazines that rank the best places to live or retire. Such rankings range from those that are biased toward their advertisers to those that are coy about the criteria that help produce their lists. One site I recently discovered, Niche.com, is forthcoming about the criteria it uses and, in so doing, does a service to retirees who may be inclined to take too seriously the “best of” ratings, even Niche’s own.
        Niche is a site worth exploring. It is comprehensive and fun to dabble with and, taken with a grain of salt, is a decent source of information about places to live. I took it for a test drive by clicking on its “Best Counties to Retire” list and was surprised to note that the top 14 on the list were all Florida counties. (Beaufort County, SC, broke the schneid at #15.)
        That tilt toward the Sunshine State led me to explore the criteria Niche used to develop its rankings. I was pleased that the site was direct not only in detailing its 16 criteria but also in sharing the weightings they used.
        But therein lies a problem. You would think that a site advising retirees on the best place to live might assign weighting to the criteria most important to retirees. But the highest weighted criteria, at 15%, is a something called “Retiree Newcomers,” described as, “The percent of residents 65 years old and over, who moved into the area within the last year.” That is not something relocating retirees care about. I can say honestly in the 15 years I have worked with retirees and others to find their “best” places to live, no one has ever said to me, “We want to move where most retirees are moving.” If you are like me, the last thing you want to hear from a salesperson, for example, is, “That is one of our most popular items.” Popularity does not confer wisdom of choice. Niche stacks the deck in favor of Florida right off the bat.
        The second most heavily weighted category, at 12.5%, is “cost of living,” a criterion that most retirees looking to relocate indicate in their top three. Niche’s sources for COL data is “consumer price index and access to affordable housing.” Niche is quite forthcoming with additional details about how the site determines cost of living, but I won’t burden this discussion with the particulars. Suffice to say that many sources available to all of us on the Internet proclaim South Carolina and Georgia, for example, as overall less expensive places to live than Florida. (Yes, I know, Florida does not have a state income tax, but the other taxes – property, sales, tolls on highways that aren’t bumper to bumper – more than compensate.) 
        Niche weights equally, at 10%. the three categories of average sunny days per year, crime and safety, and the number of residents over 65. To the extent that sunny days equal nice climate, Niche is calculating a criterion that relocating retirees put at or near the tops of their lists of requirements; after all, what refugee from the cold winters of the north would want to relocate someplace other than the “Sun” belt? But sunny days in Florida do not tell the entire story of climate, especially in July and August when temperatures are relentlessly high and sun gives way to almost daily thunderstorms. And need we mention the threat of hurricanes, a factor utterly ignored by using sunny days as the criterion for “climate?”
        And what is with weighting relatively heavily the category “residents over 65”? That certainly seems like gilding the lily after giving the highest weighting to “Retiree Newcomers.” Combine the two and the effect of old people in Florida – I can say that, I am 72 – accounts for 25% of Niche’s scoring. 
        That is like an ad proclaiming, "Come to Florida. We really are God’s Waiting Room."

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.

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