There are few cultural debates that reflect as much upon a person’s personality as “urban versus suburban.” We tend to make snap assessments of individuals based on what part of town they call home. Residents of Hialeh might question the sanity—economic and otherwise—of people living in downtown Miami. Residents of Park West may consider Hialeh to be essentially rural.
As tends to be the case in situations like this, there is no right answer. “City” or “suburbs” isn’t something that’s coded into your DNA. Some people obviously have preferences but, frankly, even more of us are just looking for the ideal home to fit our needs.
If you live near a city (with New York City being the major exception), you’re faced with a series of back-and-forth factors that may make one locale better for you than another. Check out this list of four questions to ask yourself before settling down, either downtown or in the ‘burbs.
Buyers ask themselves the commute question more than any other when looking for homes. Where do I work and how will I get there?
It seems obvious but it’s anything but. If you work in the city, a home in the city isn’t automatically the right answer. Do you own a car? If so, will the cost of gas and parking be more or less than the difference of price for a more urban home?
Much of this also depends on localized information. Milwaukee is known for its excellent commuter-friendliness, while Washington D.C. is notorious for sitting in traffic. The former makes the suburbs worth it, the latter…not so much. Also consider public transportation quality and whether you’re willing to use it.
Everyone knows that urban homes are going to cost more, on average, than suburban homes. What fewer people realize is that the “return on investment” for a city home will also be higher than its cousins on the outskirts of town.
According to information from Realtor.com, the prices of homes in cities across the United States grew by a more impressive rate from 2015 to 2016 than those in the suburbs—11.3 percent compared to 6.7 percent. This also varies by city: Urban homes in Pittsburgh grew in value by 17.3 percent while suburban ones didn’t increase in the least.
Many buyers with families look toward their homes as a source of retirement income once the kids have moved out. If you can afford to buy in the city now, you’ll have a nice little nest egg 30 years down the line.
With that in mind, consider what your potential home will mean for future kids and pets.
Many people want a yard, or at least open space, for their children to grow and develop in. Urban environments aren’t totally devoid of green space but the suburbs will obviously have more access to parkland and lawns. Space in general is at a premium in urban homes: The median listing offers 1,238 square feet, compared to 1,540 in the suburbs. Data provided by Realtor.com doesn’t necessarily suggest that schools are better in the suburbs, but it does note that twice as many home listings advertise schools than urban listings.
Pets—namely dogs—can also bend a housing decision. Owners of labradors and St. Bernards shouldn’t try city living, as it creates an unhappy atmosphere for such large animals. Many people are happy to downsize their dog breeds for downtown living, however.
The common assumption is that suburban areas suffer from less crime than urban areas, and this is true. Just less true than you might think. According to the FBI’s 2014 crime statistics report, cities had a 14 percent in violent crime and a 12 percent decrease in property-based crime over a five-year period. That’s still dramatically higher than the suburbs, however.
What many fail to consider is that deaths from unintentional injuries, such as car accidents, are 15-times more likely than those from intentional injuries. And cities feature 20 percent less of these unintentional injuries than the suburbs.
We don’t mean to suggest that any of these things—intentional or unintentional—will happen to you, regardless of where you live. The truth is that personal safety probably shouldn’t be your first concern when debating between urban and suburban homes.
If these four questions couldn’t solve your conundrum, you may need to just aim for what appeals best to you. The suburbs-versus-city question lives on.