The lighter side of real estate

These Are The 10 Best Counties In America

This country is full of great cities, but when it comes to counties, these 10 are tops.

Laura Allan

112 articles, 1 comments

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We’ve done a lot of rankings of places here at the Movoto Real Estate Blog for different criteria, like education or safety. But what if you’re just looking for a general area that has a lot to offer? We can help out there, too (in addition to finding you a house).

We gathered some all-important data, analyzed it, and produced this ranking of the best
counties in the nation:

1. Loudoun County, VA
2. Douglas County, CO
3. Fairfax County, VA
4. Chester County, PA
5. Somerset County, NJ
6. Morris County, NJ
7. Washington County, MN
8. Montgomery County, MD
9. Frederick County, MD
10. Rockingham County, NH

We have to give a nod to the East Coast on this one, because they sure wrapped up the top 10. Don’t worry, other states, there are plenty of you represented in the top 50.

If you’re wondering what we consider a good county, feel free to take a look at the section below, where we’ll go over our methodology. If you’re wondering where your county ranked, you can see a list of the top 50 in the country at the bottom of this article. For now, though, let’s take a look at the numbers we used.

How We Created This Ranking

We’ve made Big Deal Lists before, and this one wasn’t any different in that we worked completely by the numbers. The criteria we used, however, were a little different this time around. First, we made a list, using the 2010 Census, of all counties in the U.S. that had available data in the following areas:

  • Unemployment rate (the lower the better)
  • Median household income (the higher the better)
  • Median rent (the higher the better, to indicate area’s desirability)
  • Median home price (the higher the better, to indicate desirability)
  • Percent of families below the poverty line (the lower the better)
  • High school graduation rate (the higher the better)

That left us with a total of 640 counties. Any counties that did not have that data were omitted from our list.

Then, we ranked each county in each category from one to 640, with scores closer to one being better. Finally, we averaged each county’s rankings into one Big Deal Score, and the county with the lowest Big Deal Score number was our winner.

Let’s take a bit of a closer look at each of our top 10 counties and examine why they’ve earned the right to be called the best in the nation.

1. Loudoun County, VA

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Wikipedia user Karen Nutini

This is one of those instances where the winner was a pretty obvious one, just by the rankings.

The median rent here was the highest on our list, which indicated that people are willing to shell out the big bucks to call this place home. The household income rank was also No. 1, so locals can earn enough to pay for those upscale apartments.

It also helps that most people here were employed. With the fourth lowest unemployment rate on our list, at 4.85 percent, and with only 2.51 percent of families being below the poverty line, locals are likely to be comfortable financially and career-wise.

Did we also mention that it had a high school graduation rate of over 93 percent? That certainly didn’t hurt in the rankings.

2. Douglas County, CO

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user Wavy1

Though it wasn’t quite up to Loudoun standards, Douglas County was still pretty darn awesome.

With the highest graduation rate, a whopping 97.2 percent, you’re bound to get a good education here or provide one for your family. Only about 2 percent of families here were below the poverty line as well, which ranked No. 1 for that category.

People were willing to pay a pretty hefty sum to live here, but that’s okay, considering that households here made a median income of over $94,000 a year. That was enough for the third place income ranking, and likely enough to pay for the 29th most expensive housing costs on our list.

3. Fairfax County, VA

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user Rob Shenk

The scores for this very large Virginia county (1,086,743 people) were pretty good across the board. However, there were a few standout rankings.

The second-highest household income, with locals making an average of over $103,010, certainly had something to do with it.

That wasn’t the only stellar score, however. The third highest median rent, 12th fewest number of families below the poverty line, and an unemployment rate under six percent all boost this place’s scores.

It’s also probably worth mentioning that 10 Fortune 500 companies are based in this county, if that tells you anything about the type of folks that call this place home.

4. Chester County

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user Robert Lyle Bolton

While there were no truly standout scores for Chester County, it should be noted that they did not rank outside of the top 60 in any one category. Really, considering we looked at over 600 places, that’s pretty impressive all on its own.

More specifically, this county did have the No. 12 ranking for both household income and low poverty. The unemployment rate here was also a very low 6.2 percent.

Nature lovers will also be pleased to know that locals can visit not one but three different state parks fairly easily. Ah, breathe that fresh air!

5. Somerset County, NJ

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user MarineCorps NewYork

One of America’s oldest counties, this place is just pretty much amazing.

There’s beauty, friendliness, and a ton to see and do. Of course, this place also had some serious stats saying that this is an ideal county for anyone to call home.

With the fourth highest median household income and the fourth lowest poverty on our list, it’s easy to see why locals want to live here. That desire to live in the area shows pretty strong through the pricey median rent and housing costs.

Ah well, sometimes you just have to pay a little more to get the finer things in life.

6. Morris County, NJ

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user Sal

Another New Jersey locale, this place had some very strong stats across the board. It should be mentioned that the unemployment here was a little higher, at over seven percent, but the rest of the numbers certainly made up for it, plus that’s still very low unemployment.

This home to 492,694 had the sixth highest household income, a stunning $91,469, and the 16th lowest poverty, making it a good place live comfortably financially. Of course, if you’re looking to start a family or have children that need a solid education, you could do a lot worse. The high school graduation rate was over 93 percent, so prepare to gain a little in the smarts department if you decide to move here.

7. Washington County, MN

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user m01229

Our only top 10 county in Minnesota, this one’s home to some comfy and rather brainy folks.

Why brainy? Well, because 96 percent of folks here graduate high school, the fourth most on our list, and many go on to get higher degrees. Knowledge is power, right?

The other stats for these parts are pretty solid. too. This county had the 25th highest household income, and the 26th lowest poverty. On top of that, the home prices here were quite affordable, ranking 111th on our list.

With that in mind, this county might be a great way to get some serious bang for your buck if you’re looking for quality without premium prices.

8. Montgomery County, MD

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user Adam Fagen

Unlike Washington County, this place comes with a pretty high price tag. The median rent here ranked fourth, at $1,466, and the housing prices were ranked in the top 25 on our list.

Luckily enough, the unemployment here was pretty low, and the median household income ranked eighth on our list, at $89,155, so you might just be able to afford those expenses.

Still, those prices indicate that this is a desirable place to live, and it’s no wonder. The poverty here was low, most students graduate high school, and over 25 percent of those students go on to postgraduate degrees.

So it’s expensive, yes, but you’re getting a lot of great perks and a great place to live for that price tag.

9. Frederick County, MD

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user The Q Speaks

Another Maryland County, this large locale shows that Montgomery isn’t the only place with some awesome perks.

To start, this county had the fifth lowest poverty rank, with 3.12 percent of families being below the poverty line, so the locals here aren’t finding it too hard to get by. Of course, the 16th ranked median household income helps with that, too.

All in all, every single one of this place’s ranking were in the top 100. Considering there were over 600 counties that we looked at, that’s pretty amazing.

It probably shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that the rent here and the median home price were both on the expensive side. But given all the other high rankings, and the beautiful nature and thriving cities nearby, we’d say it’s probably worth it.

10. Rockingham County, NH

Best Counties In The Nation

Source: Flickr user drocpsu

Hanging in there and making a strong showing in the top 10 was New Hampshire’s Rockingham County.

All this place’s scores were in the top 90, which means that overall it’s hard to go wrong around here. The income and high school graduation rate were particularly high, which is good for students and their parents alike.

There was, however, one standout score. This place had the second-lowest poverty on our entire list, with 2.41 percent of families being below the poverty line.

So, if you decide to call this place home, chances are you’ll be well educated, employed, comfortable, and happy. As we said, it’s hard to go wrong with a place like that.

Counties You Can Count On

There’s no need to be worried when you move to one of these amazing counties. Of course, every place has their high points, and you might find your hometown in the top 50 below

We know everyone is proud of where they call home, and locals of these top 10 should hold their heads high and know they’re definitely a cut above the rest.

Best Counties In The Nation

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posted on: August 1, 2014
[views], 13 comments


  1. Glenn Braverman

    Please correct your Frederick County info- you state that their population is 975K, but you are confusing it with Montgomery County.

  2. pnpJn

    I think this paints a very wrong picture. I live in NoVA and I think the reason why these counties are doing so well is because only certain people with very high incomes can really afford to live in this area. Most are government contractors that apparently get paid well. And the start-ups here are doing well and paying well. But people who are of low-income classes, like construction workers, janitors, etc., I think are either being driven out to other parts of the country or are effectively prevented from coming in because of the insanely high cost-of-living. Everything is inflated in this area. I don’t have facts to back this theory up but this is what I feel from my personal experience living and working here.

  3. Sean

    So East Coast biased that it’s hardly worth reading. Only 3 counties west of the Colorado River made the top 50. In the listed criteria they state the higher the score the better. And yet, at least two of the top 10 are merely in the top 25 in a given category. The writers made very little effort to rationalize, or hide, their chauvinism.

  4. hoco

    I can’t believe Howard County MD didn’t make the top 50. Sounds like you should check all of your numbers before publishing this list.

  5. Lisa D

    LOVE that Douglas County, CO is #2 on the list!! But absolutely baffled by the firebreather depicted to represent our awesome county…!! My friends and I have discussed it and can’t come up with even one correlation. You could/should’ve picked something like our DC Fairgrounds. People who read this article but aren’t in the know will wonder why they’ve not previously known about our connection Hawaii (which doesn’t exist)!

  6. KK

    You missed a few states. Oakland County, Michigan , Palm Beach County, Florida, and Baldwin County ,Alabama are glaring oversights. Your list is a Fail.

  7. Greg

    I agree with hoco. Howard County, MD is conspicuously absent from the list. Our county has consistently been named among the top 10 counties on multiple ‘best of’ lists so it’s curious how it didn’t rank among your top 50. Can you please explain?

  8. msd

    This seems like a really flawed methodology. You have four elements — Median household income, Median rent, Median home price, and
    percent of families below the poverty line that essentially measure the same phenomenon. If you have fewer people below the poverty line, that boosts the average household income, which in turn supports higher rent and home purchase purchases. Wouldn’t a single measure — affordability (average rent/ownership to income — make more sense?

    You also ignore many relevant quality-of-life factors — e.g., crime rate, per capita education spending, public transit spending, parks, cultural institutions, etc.

    Essentially, all you’ve done is create a list of the 10 wealthiest suburbs in the U.S., with a nod to graduation rates.

  9. Guy

    Now this is how you run a related blog in a non-tech industry. Content shared by huff post and all over my fb. awesome job web team.

  10. me.

    The fire breather is from the Renaissance fair held there annually.

  11. Angela

    This is absolutely ridiculous. You don’t mean “best”, you mean ridiculous overpriced. After living in NoVA for 3 years I am glad to be out of there. Wages are marginally higher than the rest of the country, and yet you can’t buy a single family home for under 400k. No thanks. I’m happy to be back in Pittsburgh, America’s most livable city.

  12. Ragna

    To the other commentators: you all raise good points! I had similar misgivings, so I looked at the source. It seems to me that this list was posted by a real estate firm, so there is a business agenda behind it. Maybe the motive was to highlight all the overpriced housing markets where the firm is having trouble selling houses, to make those area look more desirable! I’m just sayin’ …

  13. Margie

    You may want to go back and check your facts, as Howard County, MD should be on this list. Although I’m not sure that’s desirable, given the comments I agree with above. But with a 94.9% high school graduation rate; 60% bachelor’s degree or higher; median household income $103,000+ (and housing costs painfully high as well; persons below poverty rate 4.9%…using your yardstick for Top 10, you missed us – and possibly some others.


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