The Best Place to Call Home

Close your eyes and take a mental vacation. What U.S. town or city would you most like to be in?

Chances are it’s somewhere on the coast, at a lake, up in the mountains, or at a great golf course, right?

So why have spots like Lafayette, Ind., or Omaha, Neb., recently been touted as some of America’s best places?

Well, a nice place to visit isn’t necessarily where you want to live.

And just as travel guides outline great spots to visit, lists abound defining the best places to call home.

There are the most affordable cities lists (Omaha just ranked No. 1 on Forbes’ best bargain cities list), best small cities to call home lists (where CNNMoney.com gave Lafayette the No. 2 spot), best places to retire lists, safest cities lists, and a host more.

“There’s probably anywhere from 250 to 300 lists coming out each year,” estimates Bert Sperling, president of Sperling’s Best Places, Portland, which publishes about 20 such lists annually.

One reason there’s such a long list of lists is simply because we like them.

“Two broad topics dominate Web traffic for content providers: celebrity news and real estate,” notes Morgan Brennan, a Forbes editor.

Given our real estate fascination, it’s no wonder that lists conferring “celebrity” status on selected spots draw attention.

Nothing wrong with a little curiosity. But should anyone actually call a moving van, heading to a top-ranking destination?

DEFINE YOUR LIST

“When we develop these lists we always disclose our criteria and urge people to come up with their own criteria,” notes John Brady, founder of the website TopRetirements.com.

Agrees Elizabeth Blakeslee, a Washington, D.C. Coldwell Banker associate broker: What you do with a particular list depends on your objectives.

“If your goal is to improve your finances in an area with a better, more stable economy, then certain lists will help you [pinpoint] your decision,” she adds.

Look not just at the places on a list, but for an explanation of what determines the rankings, says Brady.

Those determinants — whether climate, access to quality health care, local unemployment rates, local tax rates, school rankings, availability of cultural attractions, or others — can help define movers’ priorities in what they want from a community.

Younger retirees and pre-retirees often find more value in nationwide rankings of best retirement places, believes Dallas agent Armand Christopher, who specializes in senior real estate.

“Younger retirees tend to look at climate and lifestyle. Lists that look at [all areas of the nation] can absolutely spark ideas. But older retirees usually move to be near friends or family,” Christopher observes.

THE LOCAL SCOOP

Even if you’re planning on a move within the same general region, the “best” lists are helpful, maintains Sperling.

Indeed, he believes local listings, usually published by regional and city magazines, provide some of the freshest insight into neighborhood offerings.

“If an area is gentrifying, for instance, changes in the shopping or the number of hot new restaurants is reflected first in these lists, because they’re generated from observations,” Sperling says.

Compilers of national rankings, on the other hand, tend to take published data “and then they make visits to the spots that have good data to see how they really look,” he shares.

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