One of the unexpected side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a growing population shift from the city centers to suburban and rural areas. Driven in part by the availability of work-from-home job opportunities, many individuals and families are also motivated by the promise of more open space, outdoor living, and increased privacy. If your homebuying plans include a move away from your small, in-town apartment or condominium, here are some of the things to take into consideration as you prepare to make that transition.
Homebuying in the Suburbs
Even if you grew up in the suburbs, if you’ve spent most of your adult life living in the city, you’ll experience a bit of a learning curve. Buying and maintaining a suburban home can bring with it a number of new challenges and you’ll want to be prepared both logistically and financially.
Choosing the right neighborhood
It’s important to determine what your most important deciding factors will be as you choose the neighborhood that will be home for you and your family. Perhaps you are looking for award-winning school systems or magnet schools with specific programs. Maybe you want larger lot sizes and an emphasis on outdoor living. Maybe you’re moving to the suburbs in order to be closer to family members. Whatever your purpose, you’ll want to communicate it to your real estate agent or broker at the outset of your search.
In addition, think about the amenities that you currently enjoy most and look for suburban enclaves that offer them. If you’re a major foodie, look for an area with an exciting local restaurant scene. If your day is dependent on a great cup of coffee, look for an area with one or two exceptional local roasteries. Exurban and suburban areas aren’t just the big-box, generic locations they used to be. Many of them have their own unique culture and their own local charms, so choose the one that’s right for you and your family.
Planning for your new commute
If you’re used to walking to work or taking reliable public transportation, you’ll need to figure out how your new life in the suburbs will affect your commute time. Even if you’ve been able to work from home during the pandemic, if you’re planning to return to the office next year, you’ll need to get a sense of the timing involved.
At some point when you have narrowed down the neighborhood for your home search, you’ll want to drive to and from work during rush hour in order to get a sense of traffic patterns and the length of your commute. Keep in mind that in many areas, traffic density has still not returned to pre-COVID levels, so you’ll only get a rough approximation of your new commuting time.
Many people are attracted to the suburbs because they get more for their money in terms of both square footage and the reduced cost of living. Items like groceries and gas are indeed cheaper in the suburbs, but there are other costs associated with suburban living that you’ll need to take into account.
Homeowner’s Association fees
Remember when you are working with your mortgage calculator to keep an eye on HOA fees and include them in your budget. Remember, too, that some HOAs cover a variety of resort-style amenities, while others only pay for common space maintenance and upkeep. Determine what services you’re looking for and find out what will be covered in the neighborhood that you choose.
Recreation and amenities
What kind of lifestyle do you plan to adopt once you’ve moved out of the city? Will the kids be playing travel sports? Will you want to maintain your workout routine? Are you hoping for additional recreational activities, like more time to golf or improve your tennis skills? Putting more time and effort into recreational activities can involve a major financial outlay for new equipment, coaching or instruction, membership fees, and other expenses. Factor these in as you put together your monthly budget.
Lawn care and upkeep
If part of the charm of suburban living is mowing the lawn and raking leaves on the weekend, your only lawn care cost may be a good mower and some work gloves. If you want to outsource your yard maintenance, however, you’ll add a fair amount to your bottom line. Take into consideration both the potential maintenance costs of your new home and your willingness to actively participate in the upkeep process.
Furnishings and decor
If you’re moving from a small flat in the city to a larger suburban home, you’ll have a fair amount of shopping to do. From additional furnishings to fill all of those larger rooms to rugs, window treatments, and other items, you’ll need to spend some money before you feel truly settled in. Remember to wait until you have closed on your new home before making any major purchases, especially if you’re planning to finance them, as that can affect your mortgage underwriting process.
Commuting and travel
If you have been living in the city car-free, you’ll need to factor in the cost of a new vehicle for you and your spouse as well as all of the associated expenses. In addition, if your commute involves tolls and parking in the city or light rail travel, you’ll need to calculate those costs as well. If you enjoy travel and have been used to taking the subway to the airport, you may need to begin to add on the costs of long-term parking or other ground transportation to your travel budget.
Outdoor living costs
Many people are fleeing the cities to take up residence in the suburbs in large part because of the access it gives them to outdoor spaces and activities. Maintaining a pool, outdoor kitchen, and other outdoor spaces can add significantly to your costs, both during the purchase process and in terms of monthly upkeep and utilities. Be sure to add these in as you plan your monthly expenses.