Fisher Island, Florida:  The Highest Average Income Suburb in the United States?

Fisher Island, Florida: The Highest Average Income Suburb in the United States?

Fisher Island, located off the southern tip of Miami Beach, has the highest mean income of any place in the United States according to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey. The ACS replaces the “long form” that sampled socioeconomic data in previous censuses. Fisher Island is unusual in many respects as it can only be reached by ferry and consists of 687 condominiums and a mere 8 single family homes. Only 226 of the 695 units are occupied by permanent residents. The Per Capita Income is also the highest in the United States at $355,136.

However, the Census Bureau seems to have totally blown its 2010 count of the island. Somehow, the number of housing units on the island dropped from 695 in the ACS 2005-9 to 226 in the 2010 Census (63 permanent/130 vacant/21 for rent). I guess the bad economy has resulted in hundreds of multi-million dollar condos being razed. Of course, I’m being facetious… but I cannot get any answers from the Census Bureau nor the Miami-Dade Planning Commission as to why 2/3 of the housing stock disappeared in one year. The count of housing units in the 2000 Census was 498. Although the ACS is an estimate, theoretically, the housing count for 2000 and 2010 are supposed to be exact. It is clear from a casual perusal of Google Maps (see below) that there has been no mass destruction

In June of 2011, 133 of the almost 700 units are currently on the market. This fact, in itself, is extraordinary. Elite neighborhoods have not suffered the same fate as lower-middle class and working class neighborhoods during the George W. Bush Recession.

Tiny one bedroom/one bath units (465 Square Feet) on the island are currently available for as little as $180,000. The most luxurious units range up to capacious 7 bedroom units with 7,000 square feet of living space. While the pleasantly homogeneous architecture has a modern Mediterranean motif, the buildings that house the units have finely graded price points. It is difficult to generalize on price as the vast majority of the units have custom finishes that result in wildly different asking prices. A review of properties currently for sale on Fisher Island on Zillow.com shows that an “average” island condo (3 bed/3 bath) has an asking price of between $1.5 and $2 million dollars. The most expensive condo that is currently for sale is on the market for $30 million. It may be wishful thinking as it has been on the market for quite some time. According to Zillow, one of the few single family homes is on the market for $16,900,000.

The Census estimates that there are 425 Non-Hispanic Whites and 15 Mexican-Americans in residence. Twenty-nine of the 226 households have incomes between $35,000 and $50,000, these householders are undoubtedly on-island caretakers. My guess is that some of the tiny units are aimed at some of the fortunate(?) service workers. At any rate, an income in the $35-50,000 range would put any of the island’s real estate far beyond the resources of domestic workers.

As you might expect, Fisher Island is a very unique place. The fact that the housing stock is almost all condominiums is very unusual for the communities that have the highest average incomes. The typical community on the list, is overwhelmingly made up of single family homes… in other words, traditional suburbia.

There are also a large number of condos on the other two resort towns on the list (North Key Largo and Kiawah Island). In both of these towns, there are hundreds of single family homes that are valued at more than $1 million dollars.

Fisher Island must not be confused with the very upper class, summer home haven of Fishers Island on Long Island Sound. Fisher Island, Florida is the epitome of the nouveau riche.

Map #1: Fisher Island, Florida


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According to Wikipedia, Fisher Island was created in Biscayne Bay as a result of dredging and land reclamation projects around Miami Beach. It is named for the prominent Miami real estate developer, Carl G. Fisher who became the owner of the island in 1919. Fisher traded the island to William Kissam Vanderbilt II for a yacht and was the location of a single mansion for many decades. After several changes in ownership, Fisher Island began to be seriously developed in the 1980s and has over the years attracted many celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Boris Becker, Julia Roberts, and Mel Brooks. The island attempted to incorporate in 2005 but was denied this status by the Miami-Dade Commission.

Diablo, California: Gated Privilege outside of San Francisco

Diablo, California has the second highest mean household income of all places in the United States Diablo is an unincorporated suburb 35 east of San Francisco in suburban Contra Costa County. It consists of 347 single family homes and 43 townhouses in a gated, planned community built around the Diablo Country Club. Diablo is located in the foothills of Mount Diablo, a 3,864 foot mountain that dominates the eastern vista of the bay area.

Diablo can be considered a poster child for the Census Bureau’s haphazard way of designating unincorporated areas as Census Designated Places (CDPs). Although Diablo was originally built before the area was heavily developed, it is now part of the sprawl that refused to be annexed into the relatively recently incorporated wealthy city of Danville. Danville has an estimated population of 40,950 and with a mean household income of $193,353. It is very affluent by any American standard. Directly west of Diablo is the CDP of Alamo (17,992 population, $218,072 mean household income). Alamo consists of a succession of affluent subdivisions between Walnut Creek and Danville. To the west of Danville and Diablo is the sprawl of “Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara” (10,336 population, $214,832). The Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara area consists of the planned luxury Blackhawk community and numerous upscale tag along subdivisions that make up the Camino Tassajara part of the name. Oh the indignity of having your “community” named for a street! There actually is a country crossroads called Tassajara, but, as of yet, the sprawl has not quite reached that far east. The mainly gated Blackhawk is built around the obligatory golf club and was planned to eventually have 2,400 units. It is a bit different than Diablo in that not all of the houses associated with the development are in the +$1 million range.

In sum, there are any number of luxurious gated subdivisions across the United States that if considered a separate community for statistical purposes, might challenge Diablo’s number two status. Being California, a million dollars for a house doesn’t go a long way. However, it is still the highest category that the Census Bureau recognizes. Danville has 3,710 home in the million plus category. Alamo has 2,217; Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara has 2,328; and Diablo has 331 out of its 400 homes in the million dollar plus range.

Diablo does have its own identity in the area as it has been around for quite some time. The largest number of houses were built in the 1960s and it was only built out in the most recent decade. Diablo is a quiet community and that is the way the owners like it. I’m sure that the Diabloans will be loathe to be named the “suburb” with the second highest mean household income in America! Thank heaven for the gates to keep riff raff like me from gawking!

Map 2: Danville and its Unincorporated Satellites: Alamo, Diablo, and Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara


View Diablo, Danville, Alamo & Blackhawk in a larger map

As mentioned above, 96 out of the 100 places on the list are found in major metro areas. In addition to Fisher Islands unusual provenance there is #74 Kiawah Island, a planned resort community on a barrier island relatively close to Charleston, South Carolina. It is an incorporated community in its own right. Number 31 on the list is North Key Largo, an unincorporated place on the island of Key Largo. It is largely made up of the Ocean Reef Club, a posh second home destination just south of Miami-Dade. North Key Largo is in Monroe County, most noted for the city of Key West. With the exception of some higher priced outliers, the waterfront homes run in the $3-5 million range in both communities.

The third place that does note neatly fit into the suburban definition is Jupiter Island, Florida. Jupiter Island is #3 on the list and it is located in what the Census calls the Micropolitan area of Stuart, Florida. Stuart is the business hub of Martin County. Jupiter Island is also located on a barrier island and is renowned for its large and elegant waterfront estates. In many ways Jupiter Island is the antithesis of Palm Beach, its glitzier neighbor to the south. Life on Jupiter Island centers around the very Social Register Jupiter Island Club and its hallmark is quiet elegance. It is a club that is very difficult to join unless you are from a “proper” family. The ability to maintain the island’s upper class exclusivity is not iron clad. The professional golfer Greg Norman built a 17,800 square foot house, “Tranquility”, that is on the market for $65,000,000. Further ruining Jupiter Island’s reputation, Tiger Woods recently put the finishing touches on his $50 million dollar home in November of 2010.

Table 1: The 100 Places in America with the Highest Mean Household Income
(American Community Survey 2005-9)

RANK PLACE MEAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME LOCATER
1 Fisher Island $682,985 Miami
2 Diablo $601,238 San Francisco-Oakland
3 Jupiter Island $467,408 Stuart, FL
4 Chevy Chase Village $466,702 Washington DC
5 Hunting Valley $436,186 Cleveland
6 Brookville $429,525 Long Island Gold Coast
7 Westover Hills $398,883 Fort Worth
8 Hidden Hills $385,536 Los Angeles
9 Oyster Bay Cove $384,963 Long Island Gold Coast
10 Kenilworth $382,188 Chicago
11 Munsey Park $380,882 Manhasset, NY
12 Hunters Creek Village $373,367 Houston
13 Rolling Hills $369,876 Los Angeles
14 Bedford Village $366,254 Westchester County
15 Barton Creek $365,465 Austin
16 Plandome $365,228 Port Washington, NY
17 Pound Ridge $359,868 Westchester County
18 Old Westbury $356,056 Long Island Gold Coast
19 Muttontown $353,476 Long Island Gold Coast
20 Atherton $349,716 Silicon Valley
21 Woodside $349,630 Silicon Valley
22 Plandome Manor $349,562 Port Washington, NY
23 Cherry Hills Village $346,678 Denver
24 Belle Meade $342,368 Nashville
25 Chenequa $341,146 Milwaukee
26 Bannockburn $339,645 Chicago
27 Lloyd Harbor $338,730 Long Island Gold Coast
28 Sands Point $337,881 Manhasset, NY
29 New Canaan $335,708 Fairfield County
30 Old Field $334,086 Suffolk County
31 Harding Township $333,582 Morris County, NJ
32 North Key Largo $332,992 Miami-Dade
33 Laurel Hollow $323,269 Long Island Gold Coast
34 Scarsdale $322,388 Westchester County
35 Winnetka $319,268 Chicago
36 Piney Point Village $319,265 Houston
37 Manalapan $318,077 Palm Beach
38 Los Altos Hills $315,616 Silicon Valley
39 Hillsborough $314,457 San Francisco
40 Rancho Santa Fe $312,495 San Diego
41 Larchmont $311,884 Westchester County
42 Travilah $311,242 Washington DC
43 Upper Brookville $311,166 Long Island Gold Coast
44 Castle Pines $309,269 Denver
45 Village of Indian Hill $308,331 Cincinnati
46 Mission Hills $304,581 Kansas City
47 Glencoe $303,055 Chicago
48 Bronxville $297,310 Westchester County
49 Alpine $296,514 Bergen County
50 Mountain Lakes $295,869 Morris County, NJ
51 Chappaqua $293,154 Westchester County
52 Weston $290,846 Fairfield County
53 Darien $290,083 Fairfield County
54 Bunker Hill Village $290,071 Houston
55 Roslyn Harbor $289,280 Long Island Gold Coast
56 Chevy Chase Town $287,814 Washington DC
57 Saddle River $287,560 Bergen County
58 Highland Park $287,298 Dallas
59 Somerset $286,600 Washington DC
60 Fox Chapel $286,325 Pittsburgh
61 Hewlett Harbor $285,829 Five Towns, NY
62 Chevy Chase Section 3 $284,697 Washington DC
63 Hilshire $284,421 Houston
64 Glenview $284,301 Louisville
65 Lake Success $283,117 Nassau County
66 Mill Neck $282,625 Long Island Gold Coast
67 Great Falls $281,848 Washington DC
68 Lake Forest $280,172 Chicago
69 Lattington $278,699 Long Island Gold Coast
70 River Hills $278,681 Milwaukee
71 Sunfish Lake $278,463 Minneapolis
72 East Meadows $278,347 Long Island Gold Coast
73 Golden Beach $276,827 Fort Lauderdale
74 Kiawah Island $274,547 South Carolina Coast
75 Essex Fells $273,927 Newark
76 Flower Hill $273,752 Manhasset
77 South Barrington $271,366 Chicago
78 Roslyn Estates $270,274 Nassau County
79 Briarcliffe Manor $268,983 Westchester County
80 Clyde Hill $268,421 Seattle
81 Portola Valley $267,332 Silicon Valley
82 Bentleyville $266,796 Cleveland
83 Palos Verdes Estates $266,149 Los Angeles
84 Matinecock $262,828 Long Island Gold Coast
85 Plandome Heights $260,875 Manhasset, NY
86 Harbor Hills $260,335 Great Neck, NY
87 Old Brookville $259,912 Long Island Gold Coast
88 Pelham Manor $259,707 Westchester County
89 Millburn (Short Hills) $259,656 Newark
90 Weston $259,612 Boston
91 Mendham Township $259,463 Morris County, NJ
92 Ross $258,815 Marin County
93 Olmos Park $258,716 San Antonio
94 Martins Addition $258,022 Washington DC
95 Medina $257,258 Seattle
96 Minnetonka Beach $256,983 Minneapolis
97 Gulf Stream $256,474 Palm Beach
98 Westport $256,417 Fairfield County
99 Chevy Chase Section 5 $254,676 Washington DC
100 Yarrow Point $254,322 Seattle

There are many considerations when looking at the list of places as an absolute measure of income. First and foremost, the Census only allows a household to claim approximately $2 million dollars as the highest amount of income. There are valid statistical reasons for limiting reported income. After all, Bill Gates would certainly affect the mean income of Medina, Washington (which come in 95th on the list). However, this is still a rather arbitrarily low figure and has not changed from the 2000 Census in spite of 25% inflation and the most massive shift of income to the wealthiest households in the history of the republic.

Munsey Park #11 and Sands Point #28: Problems with the Data

A good example of a couple of communities that make the statistics hard to understand are Sands Point and Munsey Park on Long Island. Munsey Park is ranked as the 11th wealthiest community in America (mean household income $380,882). Although Munsey Park is indeed a lovely place, it is inconceivable that it ends up ranked higher than nearby luxurious Sands Point (#28, mean household income: $337,871). Sands Point fronts much of the coastline of Long Island Sound on Manhasset Neck and is the home to a large number of Gatsbyesque waterfront mansions.

When looking at the list, it must be remembered that in small places there is a large margin of error for the statistics. In the case of Munsey Park it is plus or minus $61,000 for average household income. My estimation is that it is over by that amount. Although Munsey Park lacks the large eye popping waterfront mansions, it does have its own charms. The “alpha” street, Park Avenue is graced with elegant large homes.

The New York City Metro area is heavily over represented on the list as its suburbs, most particularly on Long Island are broken up into endless tiny incorporated suburbs. Because of this fragmentation, 42 of the 100 are from the New York City metro area. Long Island’s north shore has an almost contiguous string of 22 tiny villages from Great Neck to Lloyd Harbor on the list.

Yet another consideration for the reader perusing the list list is that large mansions with live-in staff quarters are counted as separate households and that fact may compromise mean household income. This may partly explain Sands Point’s lower rating than the uniformly upper-middle class Munsey Park (444 out of Munsey Park’s 742 households have incomes over $200,000.) The 10,000-20,000 square foot mansions of Sands Point probably require live-in help and thus bring down the mean household income.

My attitude towards the problems in the data is that it is the best we have and any fair minded person would agree that the 100 places with the highest mean household income are all among the most elite communities that America has to offer.

Map 3 The Higley 1000 Neighborhoods of Manhasset Neck and Great Neck, New York


View Manhasset Neck-Great Neck in a larger map

To make the above list, a place had to have a minimum of 200 households. For all of you that are interested in the most obscure of data… the following is a list of the tiniest places that would have made the list had I included even the smallest of incorporated places. Naturally the margin of error is even more tremendous in the following places.

Table 2: Tiny Places with High Mean Household Income
American Community Survey 2005-2009

Tiny

RANK PLACE MEAN HH INCOME # OF HH LOCATER
1 Crows Nest $499,184 37 Indianapolis
2 North Beach $437,946 148 Vero Beach
3 Lake Aluma $384,112 30 Oklahoma City
4 Hewlett Bay Park $383,113 158 Long Island
5 Golf $376,846 118 Palm Beach
6 Mockingbird Valley $371,144 41 Louisville
7 Indian Creek $363,806 32 Miami
8 Orchid $363,292 180 Vero Beach
9 Barton Hills $350,955 131 Ann Arbor
10 Huntleigh $340,008 131 St. Louis
11 Centre Island $337,310 166 Long Island
12 Williams Creek $312,421 127 Indianapolis
13 Hewlett Neck $309,038 140 Long Island
14 Woodland $304,748 188 Minneapolis
15 Lake Angelus $263,773 123 Detroit
16 North Crows Nest $257,873 11 Indianapolis
17 Belle Air Shores $256,964 25 St. Petersburg

* There were 8 single homes on Fisher Island when Google Map’s satellite made its last pass….

Posted in Exclusive Neighborhoods, General, Wealthy Micro Villages on Dec 24th, 2010, 9:35 am by Stephen Higley   

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