IS THIS ‘BEST CITIES’ SURVEY THE BEST?

Written by PJ Wade

“Best Places to…” is a popular topic for surveys, articles, books, seminars, and other content formats. You’re told where you should live, but is this content as useful to your decision making as originators would like you to believe?

The seemingly endless stream of “Best” surveys and content aims at ranking and rating every detail of real estate locations to entice consumers to follow existing or perhaps preferred patterns. Since surveys and articles may be biased in favor of sponsors or authors of the content, how can you tell when to read for entertainment and when you’ll learn something of benefit?

“Best places” surveys have flaws that can lead you astray:

  • Those intent on following what others do may be following trends and patterns based on data from months or years ago. Always check when the data was collected and when content was written or posted. In today’s fast-paced world something two years old may not be relevant to the moving decision you want to make next year.
  • The criteria used may not be yours. You may find less satisfaction in locations promoted as ideal using other people’s criteria instead of your own. For instance, “Best Places to Retire” content can be distracting unless your definition of “retire,” a word that has no one meaning, matches exactly that of content authors.
  • Go to the source – survey, report, article… – instead of settling for averages and summaries. If you hear a news snippet, dig deeper for decision-making detail. What’s presented as headline may be misleading when the entire survey or article is reviewed.
  • The science may not be scientific enough. The expense and time involved in researching community differences means, that if only original research (e.g. phone or online survey) is included, the sample size and depth of comparison are usually more limited. Compiling data from other sources can offer more depth and breath of reach, but problems with differences in data collection, analysis, and time frame can make results questionable. Studies conducted with big budgets may require payment or subscription to gain access to results.
  • Who’s point is being made? Check to see who paid for the survey or publication. You may discover a hidden or camouflaged agenda which may be in conflict with your plans. For instance, mortgage surveys financed by banks may not reveal to consumers alternative trends toward using independent mortgage brokers. Interpret results with bias in mind.
  • Interpretation expertise. Although surveys are simple to GoogleTM and glance through, they are complex to carry out and to interpret. Consider your experience with cities on the list and you’ll realize that your personal experiences may not intersect with survey methodology and so you may reach very different conclusions. What you loved, may not rate well; what they rate high, you may not value.

Is following others the best strategy for you when it comes to deciding where to live? Learning from others may be the ideal approach. Go beyond each “top ten” list to examine which compromises would be required if you did move to one of the “best.” The key is to know what compromises you are making with a specific choice.

A recent survey, 2015’s Best & Worst Cities for Families, sent to me by WalletHub.com, a one-stop destination for personal finance, is an example of how, even with the shortcomings mentioned above, there can be value in “Best City” lists. Scroll through a few of the “Best City to…” surveys on this site and you begin to understand that choosing a city involves compromise.

The site explains that 30 key metrics were used: “To identify the cities that are most conducive to family life, WalletHub compared the 150 most populated U.S. cities across five equally weighted key dimensions: 1) Family Activities & Fun; 2) Health & Safety; 3) Education & Child Care; 4) Affordability; and 5) Socioeconomic Environment.”

Below is the summary WalletHub sent for the location of Realty Times’ Head Office:

Raising a Family in Fort Worth, Texas (1=Best; 75=Avg.):

  • 42nd — Number of Playgrounds Per 100,000 Residents
  • 9th — % of Families with Kids
  • 47th — Median Family Income Adjusted for Cost of Living
  • 67th — Violent Crime Rate
  • 78th — % of Families Receiving Food Stamps
  • 15th — Housing Affordability
  • 25th — Unemployment Rate
  • 68th — Divorce Rate
  • 59th — % of Two-Parent Families

How do these stats reflect your experience with #16 Ranked Fort Worth?

This summary represents a sampling of survey details provided in a very digestible, infograph-style format of comparisons (including Best vs Worst), graphs, maps, and expert comments. Data was drawn from their research and at least 14 major research sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Partnership for Women & Families.

A great believer in searching out “The Best” (…helping The Best become even better), I’m drawn to “Best of” lists. Aren’t you? Digging into detail to reveal specific compromises tied to each “Best” ranking is what makes these compilations really interesting. Fort Worth’s ranking as #8 for Family Activities & Fun and #83 for Health & Safety demonstrates there is a lot to think about in what can be an entertaining analysis.

How does your current home rank and how close to your experiences with this city is the survey? Food for thought.