If you are going to move to suburbia, you’ll do so in spite of what you learn, not because of it.
The downside of life in suburbia is well documented. Since most suburban areas around cities and towns continue to grow, the upside outweighs the down for many home buyers.
When the real estate you can afford in a desirable urban neighbourhood is too small for your family-sized lifestyle, the economic draw of the burbs takes hold. Often for the price of an urban townhouse or condominium, which would be a squeeze to live in, families can afford a suburban multi-bedroom home with garage and big backyard. Sometimes there’s money left over from the sale of the city property and after the purchase of a burb home. Who can resist that real estate bargain?
If your answer is, "Not me", you’re off to the burbs. All the real estate rules and patterns discussed in this column over the years apply when you buy suburban. On top of those concerns, there’s a list of location-specific issues to consider. Depending on where you choose, local real estate professionals can fill you in on many concerns. You’ll find a variety of non-urban issues in "Decisions & Communities ," too.
What is essential to making a successful choice is becoming as clear on the reality of life outside of a city as you can before you commit to that lifestyle.
- Work First If at least one adult will be commuting back into the city, living near train service will provide a less stressful alternative to the highway at least a few days a week. Car pooling may be a viable option, but telecommuting —the 10 Second Commute—may offer an even more attractive alternative if the current employer agrees. Local employment opportunities may be more limited, so a change of career, or buying or starting a small business may be the long-term income solution. How many incomes are essential? Buying on one salary or one-and-a-half can offer flexibility that withstands economic shifts.
- Practicality When calculating costs, include a car and insurance for everyone who can drive since few things are "around the corner" as they are in the city. Country living was once a lot cheaper than city life, but check out suburban groceries and drugstores, so you can budget accurately.
- Free Time Hectic work schedules and over-packed recreational time are city complaints, but time can get swallowed up in the burbs with longer drives, and more driving to get everything and anything. Add commuting, and there may be less free time.
- New or Resale? Suburban homes run the full range of housing types and styles. Buying into an established small town or one of its older subdivisions can offer many city-style perks while including all the country advantages. These homes may be smaller or less "loaded" with amenities than a new home. They may be the same price or more expensive than subdivision new homes as the lots are usually much larger and fully landscaped.
- Privacy You may never get to know your neighbours in the city, but in suburbia or small communities your "business"—positive and negative—becomes community business.
If you want a fresh perspective on buying a new home in a subdivision, watch the feature film Radiant City by Gary Burns and Jim Brown (85 min). You’ll find this humourous, insightful play-within-a-movie lives up to its hype: "Venturing into territory both familiar and foreign, they turn the documentary genre inside out, crafting a vivid account of life in The Late Suburban Age." Watch the streaming video free at the National Film Board (NFB) site, along with hundreds of other creative flicks: nfb.ca
Keep in mind, that moving to the country from the city puts you into the financial positive as a buyer. Reversing this move and returning to the city, can turn into a huge real estate negative. Properties have relatively lower values, appreciate more slowly, and tend to take longer to sell in the suburbs. In the time that you’ve been gone from the city, prices will have risen. The buying gap may be more chasm-like than when you left. But then, you don’t want to leave the burbs, do you?