Another Top-10 List: America’s Friendliest Towns (and a Bonus Almost Half-of-a-Top 10 List: Four Towns Near Major Markets With Great Small-Town Appeal)

In this day and age of uncertainty, where we live – our home — becomes that much more important to us as it is a known thing. Friendly faces, our stores, churches, temples and synagogues, schools and even our neighbors make a difference in our lives. And if you believe there is certainty today, I question that conclusion. Tell me what the tax rates are going to be in 2013, for example. Yep, big-time uncertainty.

Forbes teamed up with and evaluated 500 markets ranging in population from 5,500 to 150,000. is a non-cost private social network covering more than 6,000 cities in the U.S. relating to their respective neighborhoods.

The goal of Forbes and was to assess how friendly an area is to live in.

Key data included:

  • Percentage of owner-occupied homes – prior research has shown a correlation between neighborhood stability and homeownership rates (no one should be surprised here)
  • Crime rates
  • Charitable giving
  • Percentage of college graduates – existing research showing more civic interaction and participation (higher rates of voting and volunteering) from those with college educations

Data sources included, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the qualitative surveys by then surveyed their members in the highest ranking towns to finalize the final 15 (and yes—you need to read the entire article at Forbes with details of the specific 15 best communities). It provides great insight into what people are looking for from a quality-of-life aspect as to where they live.

That said, here are the top 10 towns from their analyses:









What makes this ranking unique are the qualitative data, so just taking publicly-available data would likely not get the same rankings.

If there is a conclusion beyond just this study and the respective rankings, it is that there appears to be a mega-trend towards smaller markets, even if they are near larger metropolitan areas.

Another similar study was completed by ERA but with a different tilt. ERA Real Estate completed an analysis on markets near urban areas but “far enough away to enjoy retirement.” I guess that means, while you like your kids and grand kids and want to retire in a great place, do it near large cities but with small-town attractions. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of major cities while still having access to airports, medical, shopping and entertainment is indeed desirable for many. And having some unique attractions will make the place a magnet for kids and grand kids.

Here are ERA’s four markets—hence the Almost Half of the Top-10 List.

The study was reported on RISMedia and can be read here.

That said, they selected the top markets as:

  • Richman, Virginia – just two hours away from the bastion of power located in Washington, D.C., with an average home sales price of $206,000
  • Cape Cod – near Boston, light houses, lobsters, clam chowder, beaches and other recreation, with an average home price of $457,000 (though homes can be bought as cheap as $150,000 and condos at less than $100,000)
  • Door County, Wisconsin – what the article calls the Cape Cod equivalent to Chicago (but I guess without the lobsters and clam chowder). Those enjoying the many lakes travel there from Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St Paul. Attractions include lighthouses, 300 miles of lakeshore. The area is deemed a buyer’s market, with an average home price of $172,000.
  • And for those living in California, the ERA analysis recommends St George, Utah. It’s a mere two hour flight from Los Angeles. St George has “one of the largest numbers of golf courses in the country.” It’s proximity to national parks, outdoor beauty and just 110 miles from Las Vegas, make it a well rounded destination for indoor and outdoor recreation.

That said, let give you some of my picks using some of the same criteria:

  • For those living near Denver, Ft Collins, Colorado, has many attractions. Situated on the front range and home to Colorado State University, Ft Collins’ average home price is $230,250. Money Magazine ranked Ft Collins as the Best Place to Live in 2006. Near a great airport at Denver International, 14,000 foot mountain peaks in view, and driven by a high-tech economy, Ft Collins is a happening place. And for beer aficionados, craft beer maker New Belgium Brewing (Fat Tire is one of their many specialty brews) is located in Ft Collins, and the original Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado, is just one hour and 15 minutes away. Making the place a hopping good time….
  • Ruidoso and Cloud Croft, New Mexico, are accessible from Midland, Odessa, Albuquerque, El Paso, Amarillo, Lubbock (and the entire panhandle of Texas and West Oklahoma). With summer and winter activities ranging from skiing to a premier quarter-horse race track, these two towns offer a mountain environment (with a pretty moderate climate) for a comparably affordable cost. Current median list price in Ruidoso is $177,000.
  • Ft Myers-Cape Coral Florida, just a 2.5 hour drive from Miami, and these towns are gems. Highly-affordable home prices, good beaches, and a great regional airport, makes these markets, along with Sanibel Island, a fantastic destination. Home to spring baseball team Boston Red Sox, and with a median home listings price of $160,000.
  • Fredericksburg, Texas. Located 90 miles west of Austin and 70 miles north of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country, this picturesque German community still has all of the charm that the immigrant settlers brought to the U.S. Along with the German restaurants, bakeries, winery tours, and what I call curio and craft shops, main street also is home to the Admiral Nimitz Museum, plus an annex from World War II of President George H.W. Bush. The town literally bustles on weekends with craft fairs and related activities. A great time to be there is during peach season. Full disclosure requires me to admit that my parents raise sheep there, and Fredericksburg is a uncommonly attractive community. Median home price is $285,000 (but with any additional acreage, expect to pay more).
  • And as a graduate of Texas A&M University and former chief economist at the Real Estate Center on Campus (the premier publicly-funded real estate research group in the country), College Station, Texas, has to come into play. Texas A&M University is the six largest university in the U.S. based on enrollment, with more than 50,000 students including more than 10,000 graduate students on the main campus alone. Texas A&M is a tier-1 research-intensive institution with 10 colleges and related collegiate athletics and activities, including the George Bush Presidential Library. Texas A&M is home to the Corp of Cadets, the Fighting Texas Aggie Marching Band (there are none better in the entire country), and the first-ever freshman recipient of the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Manziel, a.k.a. Johnny Football™. And situated just an hour and half away from Houston, College Station is a college town with quick access to the fourth largest MSA in the country. And talk about affordability, the median home price in Bryan-College Station last month was $149,100.

What are your small-town gems near major urban centers? Reply to the blog. I am looking forward to your comments.



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  2. Carol

    I have to put my two-cents in for Chanhassen, MN! Named by Family Circle as one of the best places to raise a family and also ranked in the top ten two years running for one of the best places to live by Money Magazine. Minneapolis airport is less than 30 minutes away. We have 11 lakes, 34 parks, 70 miles of maintained trails, the nation’s largest professional dinner theatre and the 1,137 acre University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum all within the city limits. Minneapolis is just 25 minutes away and only New York City has more live theatre. With a population under 30,000 you have the small town 4th of July parade, the Christmas Tree lighting, the February Festival (grab your pole and head for the ice!) and summer concerts in the park. Median house price is $273,800 and approximately 83.1% are owner occupied.

    Full disclosure – I happen to live there and I admit you have to love the change of seasons to appreciate it, but remember our state motto: Minnesota: Where many are cold but few are frozen! (Technically it is ‘Star of the North’, but I like the play on words better on the other one.)

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