September/October 2021

The 2021 hurricane season will just be a painful memory a month or so from now. But as we wave goodbye, we should not forget that flooding is becoming more of an issue in low lying areas of the east coast. Witness the mayhem in New York and Philadelphia in the wake of Hurricane Ida. As seas rise and storms become more intense, it is wise for those contemplating a home in the coastal South to review flooding potential. We explain how in the latest issue. Plus, for those who believe that no-income tax states are low tax states, think again. We explain.

Dripping Time Bomb: Future Floods Factor into Search for a Golf Home

The tragic recent flooding in central Tennessee and Louisiana are a reminder that water can have a devastating effect on the lives and economics of home ownership.  That is one of the reasons that Realtor.com, the website of the National Association of Realtors, now includes two measures of flooding potential with the homes they list for sale.  One is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the other is Flood Factor, a “tool created by the nonprofit First Street Foundation that makes it easy for Americans to find their property’s risk of flooding and understand how flood risks are changing because of a changing environment.”  FEMA’s measure of flood risk covers small geographic areas; Flood Factor assesses the risk to individual homes.  They are best considered in tandem as neither is conclusive by itself.

It is undeniable that sea levels are rising annually, last year by .13 inches. That may seem like a small amount but a tenth of an inch here and a tenth of an inch there spread across 41 million square miles, the size of the Atlantic Ocean, and pretty soon you are talking about serious water, with potentially devastating consequences for cities and towns adjacent to oceans.  Among coastal cities in the U.S., New York’s population today faces the largest risk of all, according to a report by Climate Central, a group that monitors and assesses public climate data and uses FEMA’s 100-year coastal floodplain as guidance.  But New York is an anomaly; of the 25 cities most vulnerable to flooding today, 22 of them are located in Florida; Charleston, SC, ranked the 15th most vulnerable city, and Atlantic City, NJ (#23) are the only ones (other than New York) not in the Sunshine State.

Disinformation?

I recently looked at homes for sale at Realtor.com that are located in golf communities near bodies of water.  (Note:  Flood assessments are located under the “Neighborhood” tab for each listing.) It is important to understand that properties within the boundaries of one community can have different flood ratings, sometimes vastly different.  When there is agreement between FEMA’s ratings (two-letter designations) and Flood Factor ratings (10 point scale, 10 being the most risk), the flood risk can be considered reliable.

My wife and I own a vacation condo in Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC.  Our condo, which is located in about the geographic middle of the community, has a Flood Factor rating of 1 in 10 and a 3% chance of any flooding over the next 30 years.  (Over the past few years, the community has endured a few strong hurricanes but no flooding in our condo.)  The FEMA rating for the condo is equally positive; we have a 1% chance annually for flooding (or looking at it even more positively, the condo could flood on average once every 100 years).  But at the end of our street, just under a half mile away but adjacent to the marsh that separates the community from Pawleys Island and the Atlantic Ocean, the Flood Factor is 10 out of 10, considered “Extreme” and FEMA designation of “AE,” or “high risk.”

Sometimes Flood Factor and FEMA disagree substantially.  At Cypress Landing, for example, a Chocowinity, NC, community located beside the Pamlico River, most homes rate a 1 for Flood Factor, the lowest rating available.  But a large house with commanding views of the river rates an X500 from FEMA which, essentially, predicts no serious flooding for 500 years and recommends, but does not require, flood insurance.  But Flood Factor gives that same home a 7 out of 10 risk for flooding over the next 30 years and predicts at least one inch of water will reach the first floor in the next 15 years.  The difference between the two assessments is too wide to be meaningful or helpful.

Realtor.com’s choice to include Flood Factor risks imbues the ratings with considerable credibility.  It is worthwhile to consider them but to water them down, if necessary, with FEMA’s own rating.

Considering, Once Again, Two Homes

Every time my wife and I visit our daughter and her family in northern Vermont, we consider buying a modest home for us to be nearer to them, especially with a new grandson born in late August.  That cannot be our only home because, well, Vermont winters…  We could keep our condo in Pawleys Island, SC, and bounce seasonally between South Carolina and Vermont, or we could opt to own one home and rent seasonally either up north in the summer or down south in the winter. Either way, golf will be played 12 months a year.

I was able to play eight golf courses around Lake Champlain in northern Vermont and New York state in September.  Although that area is not rife with layouts, there are enough to keep a two-day-a-week golfer busy and entertained.  I have reviewed a few so far at my web site, OffTheBeatenCartPath.com, and will be posting others over the coming few weeks.  All the courses have housing options nearby, a few right on the property.

I was struck by how inexpensive annual memberships are. (None charge an initiation fee.)  All were under $2,000; even given the relatively short season – beginning in late April and running into October – the cost per round for someone who plays three days a week would be considerably less than the average green fee rate.  At the most remote course, Jay Peak, just five miles from the Canadian border and an hour from Burlington, the “weekday” annual rate (Sunday through Thursday) is just $680; play just 11 times during the six-month season and you will pay less than the $65 per round weekday greens fee.  (The full-week seasonal rate is $1,500.)  Jay Peak is the best public access course in the state, according to Golf magazine, and off of my two rounds there, I cannot disagree.  It is wonderful, with excellent conditions in a mountain setting that is drop dead gorgeous.

Darkness Deep in the Heart of Taxes

In my book Glorious Back Nine: How to Find YourDream Golf Home, I suggest that some retirees overtax themselves about taxes.  They limit their retirement options under the mistaken notion that they can protect all their retirement income from the ravages of state taxation.  They can’t.

The financial part of your retirement is not under assault by state taxation. Your enemy is cost of living of which income tax is just one component and largely irrelevant for folks whose income is under a certain level.  As the popular financial newsletter Kiplingernotes and I repeat in my book, no-income-tax states are not the cheapest places to live.  Indeed, its lower property taxes and kind tax treatment for moderate-income seniors makes South Carolina, which has an income tax, a cheaper place to retire than Florida, which has none.  The average property tax in Florida on a $400,000 home is about $4,000.  In South Carolina it is less than $2,500.  For folks with annual retirement income of, say, less than $50,000, that $1,500 difference is a big deal. 

Tennessee, another state that does not charge an income tax, assessed the highest sales taxes of any state in 2019, according to the Tax Foundation.  Tennessee charges a 7 percent sales tax statewide; but combine it with local sales taxes and the rate increases to an average of almost 9.5 percent.  For retirees with limited incomes, hefty sales taxes are a larger burden than state income taxes since a large fraction of their income is spent on taxable items.

States cannot function and serve their citizens without a revenue stream.  If the money doesn’t come from income taxes, then it must come from other levies.  Even then, some of these no-income-tax states must cut corners that, directly and indirectly, make life more difficult for retirees.  Retirees with health issues should consider carefully a move to a no-tax state.  According to a US News & World Reportranking, Tennessee ranks 43rd in terms of quality of healthcare, Texas 37th and Florida 29th.  (Note that no-tax New Hampshire’s healthcare ranking is a decent 16th but you’ll need a winter wardrobe to live there.)

Retirees in the North who choose not to move to Florida like to refer to the state as “God’s Waiting Room.”  They may be onto something; the state ranks 10th in most deaths due to the coronavirus, Texas 20th and Tennessee 22nd.  Maybe there is a connection between death and (no) taxes. 

image of dog, Coco
Coco, Lake Champlain, VT