December 2022

‘Tis the season…to be confused by all those end of the year “best of” lists.  They are confusing, misleading and put too much emphasis on state income taxes.  This month I say “Bah Humbug” to them all.

Is Florida Viable for the Long Term?

The headline on the Fox Weather website on November 15 was a stark reminder of Mother Nature’s power – and of rising sea levels: “‘Unbelievable’: Hurricane Nicole sucked Wilbur-By-The-Sea homes away like tissue paper.”  As a “mere” Category 1 storm, with winds of around 85 mph, Hurricane Nicole packed nothing like the power of the earlier Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall on the other side of the Sunshine State at Fort Myers Beach and leveled virtually everything in its path. Nevertheless, local building inspectors for Wilbur By The Sea declared 15 homes unsafe in the wake of Nicole.  Some of their owners indicated they do not plan to rebuild.  As an Orlando news station put it, “As many now clean up, or pack up, Wilbur By The Sea will never be the same…” 

“An Inch Here, an Inch There…”

Florida is America’s foremost retirement destination.  But climate and other compelling factors are conspiring to neutralize some of the Sunshine State’s charms.  For example, Wilbur By The Sea is not alone in its coastal vulnerabilities.  Water levels along the Florida coast have risen a foot over the last century; at an average of only an inch per decade, that might not seem like much.  But consider an inch here and an inch there across the 41 million square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, and soon you are talking about serious water – and serious consequences to coastal areas.  And with polar ice caps continuing to melt, the seas will only rise further and dangerous flooding will move miles deeper into the Southeastern states. Damages are likely to pile up in the coming decades.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Flooding is not the only climate threat driving some Florida residents north, at least part way north.  Referred to as quarterbacks and halfbacks for the distance they relocate between Florida and their former homes in the north, some who can afford it purchase summer homes in places like Asheville, NC – high elevation and average summer temperatures of 80 – and return to the Sunshine State for the balmy winters.  But others are going all the way back.  As they age, it has become a burden for them to spend most of their time inside their air-conditioned homes June through September.  And if the heat prevents you from playing golf in summer, how different is that from living up north and sheltering in place during the winter? Plus, many aging couples are heading back north to spend their last decade or two with their children and grandchildren.

God’s Waiting Room?

Yet, Florida remains an incredibly popular place to live.  In 2020, the state welcomed more than 700 new residents every day, almost 200 more than second-ranked Texas. However, 10-year net migration patterns for Florida show that perhaps the state is losing a bit of its luster.  Up until 2016, net in-migration climbed steadily, but in 2017 it began a decline every bit as steep as the prior increase.  The pandemic restored the upward curve in 2019 through 2021. But the number of new residents obscures the fact that Florida’s “natural” population decreases every year; in 2020, for example, 209,645 babies were born in the Sunshine State, but 239,381 residents died. Florida’s designation as “God’s Waiting Room” may be cruel, but it is not entirely undeserved.

Articles are starting to pop up in Florida media about residents fleeing the state, and the causes aren’t just about the threat of hurricanes and flooding.  Reporters for the online newspaper Business Insider interviewed a 52-year-old woman who thought she had found her ideal home in Vero Beach.  She had relocated there from Williamsburg, VA, with her two children.  They lasted only five months.  One mitigating factor was car insurance rates; she said she was paying $430 per month in Florida, compared with a U.S. average cost of $148. She also cited “stifling heat, reckless drivers” and menacing wildlife such as snakes and cane toads as reasons she moved back to Virginia.

“It was so different living there,” she told Business Insider. “It never felt like home to us.” Perhaps she took too seriously one of those “Best Places” rankings tht put Florida at the top of the list.

Zero Income Tax, Zero Relevance for Most

The more money you have, the more attractive Florida’s state income tax rate will appear.  That is because the state charges no income tax.  Fortune magazine said it all in a headline for a story last August: “Wealthy Americans are flocking to Florida at four times the rate of any other state.” But those of more modest means will find in Florida a cost of living that is surprisingly high, and for reasons beyond just car insurance rates. The World Population Review website ranks states by cost of living and assigns an “index” to each state that is relative to the national average of 100.  Florida ranks 27th in terms of affordability, with an index of 100.3, and is nestled on the list between Montana and Minnesota. Florida is not among the cheapest places to live in the U.S.

Condo Nightmare Scenario

For condominium owners, a new Florida law will soon push the state’s cost of living even higher.  As the popular website put it in a recent article, “…a new Florida law, SB 4-D: Building Safety is about to provide a potential killer wave to the Florida condo market.”  The bill is a reaction to the 2021 collapse of the Miami residential high rise known as Surfside; the law takes effect at the end of 2024 and its details will cause condo associations to spend more to hire consultants to inspect their buildings and to ensure their structures are safe and in compliance with the new, stricter requirements.  Residents will be on the hook financially for any repairs that are necessary.  The new law compels condo associations to top off their reserves; that will certainly mean imposing additional assessments on their member residents.

Relocating Boomers May Miss Their Northern Hospitals

Florida remains a magnet for retirees lured by warm winters.  But as they age, 70- and 80-somethings depend more and more on topnotch healthcare.  The best-rated healthcare services in the nation tend to be above the Mason-Dixon Line, concentrated in the cities that many Baby Boomers left behind when they relocated to the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. US News & World Report publishes an annual list of the top hospitals in the nation, and for the years 2022 and 2023, you need to scroll down to the 15th spot to find a hospital located in the southern half of the nation (Houston Methodist).  Among the top 10, three are in California and two in New York City.  The best-rated hospital is the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis.

The highest-quality special medical services – such as cardiology, cancer, orthopedics – tend to be clustered in the major city hospitals.  Indeed, you can find top-level hospitals in the Southeast at places like Duke University in Durham and Emory University in Atlanta, but retirees who have chosen more remote locations for their golf homes will have long drives to such top-level facilities.  In Florida, the Mayo Clinic’s facilities in Jacksonville are the highest ranked in the state but the hospital does not make the top 25 national list.

In 2020 alone, during the height of the Pandemic, 3.2 million Baby Boomers retired.  Many of them moved to Florida.  Unsurprisingly, the top 10 destinations for Boomer retirees in 2020 were all Florida cities, led by Naples and then Sarasota, Venice, Fort Myers and Vero Beach.  The state has been a magnet for retirees for decades, but the influx has outstripped Florida’s ability to keep up with many necessary infrastructure improvements.

Yogi Predicts Florida’s Possible Future 

If Florida retirees, whether they live in the Sunshine State part of the year or full time, have one consistent complaint, it is traffic.  Three of the top 25 most congested roads in America are in Florida, according to the analytics company Inrix.  Traffic per day on I-75 near Sarasota increased from 18,000 to 116,000 in the five years ending in 2019.  Millions more new Floridians are expected by 2030.  Even if the state builds enough additional roads and expands the ones they already have, construction will cause additional traffic issues for years.  Many Floridians may not have the patience to endure.

The sage philosopher, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, once said about a popular restaurant: “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” One day, that might apply to Florida as well.


Larry Gavrich
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC

Darn you, Letterman

Long before the Internet was ready for public use, David Letterman introduced his famous Top 10 lists (September 18, 1985) and proclaimed, “Why, we can put such nonsense together ourselves!”  “Nonsense” is the operative word for such lists, but at least Letterman’s were not damaging.  Since 1985, magazines, newspapers and online web sites have bombarded us all with rankings that have misled thousands of couples beginning their research about where to retire. (Ironically, Where to Retire magazine is one of the most egregious culprits, publishing an annual “best communities” list that implies it chooses among the nation’s thousands of communities but, in reality, only includes a pool of its advertisers. Caveat emptor.)

The website is properly self-conscious about its list, which almost entirely tilts toward affordability and taxation.  “So, this list is really for fun, but it also can be a good place to start if you’re thinking of relocating to a lower-tax state,” the author writes.  No, it isn’t, not if you are considering a lifestyle that takes into account healthcare, cultural activities, crime and traffic. 

The site uses data from that identifies each state’s “overall tax burden” by considering income, property and sales taxes.  The “most-friendly” states on the Personal Capital list are #1 Alaska, followed in order by Tennessee, Delaware, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Florida.  The least-friendliest is New York, followed by Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Minnesota and New Jersey. Vermont or Alaska? I’ll take Vermont, income tax notwithstanding.

View of Jay Peak’s golf courseJay Peak golf course in Vermont is one of the best in New England.

Keep those rankings in mind as we consider lists that include the non-financial as well.  Note that in terms of taxation, Vermont is the fourth least friendly state on the Personal Capital rankings.  And yet at, which adds such categories to its considerations as crime and safety, healthcare and a state’s economy, Vermont ranks as the second-best state overall!  And just to make matters between these lists more confusing, the TopAgency list indicates that Vermont is the 16th most-affordable state, compared with Personal Capital/Wallethub’s designation of Vermont as the 4th least-affordable state. 

Much has been made in recent years in the Northeast Region media about migration from New England to the warmer weather states like the Carolinas and, especially, Florida.  TopAgency’s rankings indicate that those who are leaving the New England states for the South may not find the lifestyles – weather aside – that they are looking for.  For example, on their lists of best states in which to live, TopAgency ranks Vermont (#2), New Hampshire (#4), Massachusetts (#5), New Jersey (#7) and Maine (#8) ahead of Florida (#9).  Even my much-maligned state of Connecticut, which ranks 45th in “affordability” on TopAgency’s list, ranks #12 overall on the strength largely of its healthcare and education scores.  And what of Alaska, ranked #1 on the Personal Capital list?  Alaska comes it at #32 on the TopAgency ranking. (And that doesn’t factor in the significant costs of sherpa-lined coats.)

I could go on, but you get the picture. None of these lists are to be trusted. When the Personal Capital article author says to treat their list as “fun,” my response is that searching for a place to live the rest of your life is serious business.  Search for your fun elsewhere. 

Dorset Field Club, Dorset, VT
Dorset Field Club, Dorset, VT

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