How ‘Affordable’ Is ‘Best’?

There is an article on Yahoo Home page on the 10 best places to live. Having just moved from one major metropolitan place to another, I was curious to know what Yahoo judged the best places.

The towns they picked followed their line of reasoning–low unemployment, art and education offerings, growth, affordability. I was caught off guard by the logic of ‘best’ and house prices. They are comparing prices on a flat scale, in other words, for people moving to any one of these cities from anywhere else in the country.

Of Charlottesville, VA, they say, “Homes are not cheap (median home price $225,000), but the cost of living is manageable.” OK, so I think that $225,000 is not cheap as a median price. Got it.

The next place is Santa Fe, NM, about which they say, not six lines down from calling $225,000 “not cheap,” “Despite its recent growth, Santa Fe remains relatively affordable, with a median home price of $365,000.”

How did we go up $140,000 in median home prices and move from ‘not cheap’ to ‘affordable’? Where is the editor on this story?

It then stumbles on to Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc in California. They choke on the house prices, too, but then they fall into a logic morass. “Indeed, the median home price for the county is $590,000, and your average house in the city itself is over $1.2 million. No matter how appealing, the Santa Barbara area’s cost of living and home prices will prove prohibitive for many Americans.” [Ahem, so what possessed you to chose this place as best ?]

It presses on, “In addition, recent job growth has dipped lately, so it might not be the best place to look for a new job.” This is one of the 10 best cities to live in? One with outrageous house prices and dropping job growth? Here’s how they explain it: “Nevertheless, for those that are retired or financially secure, the Santa Barbara area remains one of unmatched beauty and comfort.” Retired or financially secure? You’d better be retired and have an attic full of money, or you won’t make that mortgage hurdle next month.

In Lompoc, the definition of “best” seems to be “beautiful and comfortable if you are incredibly rich, don’t need a job and can afford a house payment that would buy you a city block in the town you live in now.”

The story marches on. If you recall, the $225,000 Charlottesville home was “not cheap,” but in Asheville, NC, “A low cost of living and affordable housing (median home price $202,100) offset the area’s low measure of diversity and unremarkable economy.” A difference of roughly $23,000 makes the difference between “not cheap” and “affordable.” Again, “best,” doesn’t count the economy. And I’m not sure what “low measure of diversity” means. Does it mean there are no people of color who choose to live in Asheville or are some of the white pointy tops not on the mountains? And no matter what the reason, the writer can’t come up with a better definition for the “best” place to live?

Back to money. If you live in Reno, according to the Yahoo story, “The crime rate is a bit higher than the national average, but the Reno area is affordable (median home price $292,300), which makes it a smart choice for young people. . .” who apparently can’t do math, because $225,000 is “not cheap,” and $292,300 is “affordable,” and so is Santa Fe’s $365,000, despite the $72,700 difference.

My mortgage calculator says that at 6.5% interest and a $10,000 downpayment, there is a difference of $459.51 between those “affordable” houses. About a car payment a month. So if you live in Santa Fe, you can’t make your car payment, but in Reno you can. Except your car will be stolen, since the crime rate beats the national average.

Whoever wrote this must have been one of those children who accidentally got left behind. Not only is it a mathematical mess, it doesn’t add up to “best” on anybody’s sniff test. It’s the 4th of July weekend. The fact checkers and editors must have been on vacation, along with the people who handed in the first draft then headed out the door.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who teeters on despair when she reads sloppy writing. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

–Houses, top to bottom: Charlottesville, VA courtesy http://www.collegetownlife.com; Oldest house in Santa Fe, NM courtesy picasaweb.google.com; Biltmore house in Asheville, NC courtesy of http://www.city-data.com; Reno rental property courtesy http://www.renoretreats.com