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Considering a Move to the Suburbs? Here’s What to Look For

With many urban environments pricing themselves beyond the reach of young adults, and quite a few downsides to big city life (from congestion and traffic to outrageous fees, high rents and a dearth of downtown parking), modern suburbs have their attractions.

6528181713_4650b86ce8_zIn mid-June, we treated Money Under 30 readers to our list of  “The 20 Best Cities in America to be Young, Broke and Single,” and the response was phenomenal: more than 15,000 likes on Facebook, 900 Tweets … and at least one amusing piece of hate mail from a reader who wished that my “journalistic hands” would “contract leprosy and fall off.” (So far that hasn’t happened, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve typed many columns in the intervening weeks.)

Some of you asked what we plan to do for an encore. Trust us, we’re working on it. But don’t think that just because we did a city-centric list means that we’re giving the suburbs short shrift. In this piece, we’ll consider what a smart move to the suburbs looks like for the young adult demographic.

Recently, Coldwell Banker compiled a list of its Top 10 Booming Suburbs, with four of the top ‘burbs in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area of Washington state. Cottage Lake, Wash., a town of 22,500, finished at the top of the list.

But what makes Cottage Lake, or any suburb, worth inhabiting? For starters, young adults have different priorities than families in which the parents are firmly ensconced in middle age.

What’s more, the overall suburban lifestyle has shifted more than a few times since suburban living came into vogue in the post-World War II era. It’s easy to laugh off suburbs as vapid wastelands dedicated to SUVs, strip malls and office parks: I certainly did my share of dissing when I grew up in Cherry Hill, N.J., a suburb actually named after America’s second-ever shopping mall.

But with many urban environments pricing themselves beyond the reach of young adults, and quite a few downsides to big city life (from congestion and traffic to outrageous fees, high rents and a dearth of downtown parking), modern suburbs have their attractions. What should you look for in considering the big leap beyond the city limits? Here’s a list of important factors that will impact your bottom line and quality of life.

1) Consider the public transit commute.

If you live in the environs of Washington D.C., Chicago, or Los Angeles, you’ll spend at least 74, 71, and 64 hours in a car per year respectively, according to this infographic from Nationwide. And if your  job requires you to commute from the suburbs to the city, those figures will skyrocket exponentially. Yet it’s possible to live 30 miles or more outside downtown and keep your sanity, so long as you plan your relocation to a spot near a local rail or public transit line. In terms of the cost-benefit analysis, it’s a no-brainer: Time spent cooped up in a car turns into productive or restful time on a train (provided you snag a good seat). And depending on where you live, Wi-Fi may be coming to your ride. In the New York suburbs, Cablevision Systems Corp. plans to install Wi-Fi on New Jersey Transit stations, platforms and trains by the end of 2016.

2) Take a close look at the schools.

Even young marrieds without kids will want to look over the school systems in a suburb if they plan to start a family. The big reason? A remarkable public school will save you thousands of dollars a year as opposed to going the private school route. But not all suburbs are alike, and even within a given suburb wide disparities exist between one end of town and another. Websites such as GreatSchools.org allow you to look up schools by name, or by location, and check their rankings. In Bend, Ore., for example, you’ll find that one public high school rates a 2, another a 6, and a third one a 9 on the GreatSchools 10-point scale. That’s a very wide swath for a town of 79,000 people.

3) How are the recreation facilities?

In Hoffman Estates, Ill. (a town of 52,000), you can find not one, but two NHL-sized skating rinks, located within the Triphahn Community Center. That’s an incredible perk for anyone living in the community, and it’s not hard to find suburbs with similar amenities — from water parks to climbing walls–if you look around. In fact, suburban facilities often rival those of nearby cities because they’re more modern and comprehensive, as is the case with the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, reports MinnPost.com.

4) How’s the local economy?

It’s tempting to judge a suburb by the city it’s near, or even by national economic statistics. But many suburbs have thriving economies based on the businesses sitting inside of (or adjacent to) their borders. Brentwood, Tenn., for example, is host to companies such as Nissan North America, Comdata, Tractor Supply Company and 13 of the largest 25 publicly-traded companies in the Nashville region — giving it a healthy financial outlook for its residents no matter how Nashville fares.

5) Go beyond the staples.

Obviously, any suburb will have access (maybe lots of it) to supermarkets, shopping centers, malls and the like. But what about farmer’s markets? Or a college campus where you can continue your education? Here it makes sense to list those things most important to your overall quality of life that don’t fit (or perhaps supplement) the above categories, and see whether your prospective suburb offers them. That list can be highly individual, right down to your love of food. A recent Chicago Tribune readers’ poll named Forest Park, Ill. as having the best neighborhood dining scene, beating all comers in the city limits. Located 10 miles west of Chicago, Forest Park has a population of just 14,000.

True, Suburbia conjures up cliches of cars, picket fences, big lawns and bland lifestyles. But it helps to remember that Suburbia doesn’t really exist, except as a concept: The actual suburb you choose to live in will have its own personality, vitality and quirks. And often, all it takes to make suburban life work are good neighbors, good friends and strong community ties — storehouses of value that transcend what can be measured in dollars and cents.

Do you live in a suburb? What do you love (or really not love) about it?

 

 

 

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About Lou Carlozo

Based in Chicago, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor for Reuters Money, a columnist with DealNews.com, and a former managing editor at AOL's WalletPop.com. Contact him with story ideas for Money Under 30 at feedbacker@aol.com, or follow him via LinkedIn and Twitter (@LouCarlozo63).

Comments

  1. We live in the suburbs of Rochester, NY. The city itself is a very depressed area with high crime rates, a declining job market, and some of the worst schools in the nation… so living in the suburbs is a no-brainer for anyone who can afford it.

    Additionally, since my husband and I both work in the suburbs, we were able to drastically reduce our daily commute (and the associated expenses) by moving out of the city.