“ This is the perfect time to figure out what kind of space you want to live in. ”
It seems that at some point in everyone’s journey along the real estate ladder, they run into the “great debate”. Will it be urban, or will it be suburban?
Well, clearly there’s no easy answer to that question - but there are questions you can ask yourself (and be honest!) that will help you focus and make that decision. A lot of them have to do with pre-established biases one way or the other, so have an open mind.
One of the biggest fears people have about a move to the suburbs is that suddenly they will be “uncool”. That their wardrobe will now be made up of “mom jeans” and their ride of choice will change from sporty sedan to minivan. Somehow, life as they know it will end. But just as the city may have museums and concerts, these days, growing suburban neighbourhoods offer local playhouses and farmer’s markets, art galleries and boutiques. If you’re worried that moving out of the city means you’ll be missing out, you need to ask yourself, were you utilizing all these things in the first place? Did you really go to plays and concerts every weekend, or were you just happy to know they were there if you ever decided to take the plunge? Have you actually ever ventured to a suburb, and really given it a chance?
Conversely, if you’ve always lived in the suburbs and are considering a move downtown, are you convincing yourself that everyone will be cold and aloof, that you’ll be lost in the crowd?
Most major cities have many distinct neighbourhoods - there could be one that’s just right for you that you haven’t discovered yet. Analyze your daily life outside of work. How do you like to spend your spare time - are you someone that loves to check out trendy restaurants? Or do you love outdoor and indoor sports? The restaurants might lure you to the city - the lifestyle amenities could tempt you to the suburbs.
Your dollar will generally go a lot farther in the suburbs than the city - so this is the perfect time to figure out what kind of space you want to live in. If you have children, can they share a room? Do you want a separate space for them or will one communal family space do? City homes tend to be older and smaller - the suburbs generally feature larger, newer homes on larger lots. Yes, some suburban areas can be “cookie-cutter” - but then again, living in a downtown condo is not that different. But, do you want that bigger home? That means more cleaning, and possibly more garden and lawn work. You might need to be a two-car family instead of relying on one - that’s the nature of public transportation in the suburbs. Then again - you have space to grow, quieter neighbourhoods, and more green space. And don’t knock shopping at big box stores, with all their free parking!
Let’s talk about those kids. Where do you see them growing up? Suburban schools tend to be newer, with more outdoor space - but that doesn’t make them any better or worse than city schools. Often times parents want their children to have the same childhood experiences that they do - and this can affect where you see yourself. Are grandparents part of the childcare equation? Where those grandparents live can play a major role in where you live. Daycare in the city is often more expensive and difficult to find as a rule. But will that be offset by travel time if you’re commuting?
And what about commuting? No matter where you live, nobody likes being stuck in rush hour traffic. If you live near your job and want to keep it that way - that will definitely factor in your decision. But if your family’s living needs can’t be met within your budget by staying closer to the downtown core - your commute might get longer. Having said that, many people now have flexible work schedules. Some are able to work from home; others can vary their hours to best suit their family’s needs. Would you want to drive, or would you rather take public transportation? Would you need two cars, or one? Or none? How does that affect your bottom line? The city certainly makes it easier to be car-free, with more access to public transportation and a higher population density. The suburbs are catching up, but by the nature of their more sprawling footprint, may not be as convenient.
At the end of the day there is no right answer for everyone - just the right answer for YOU. This means doing your homework. Target areas in the city that you feel could work for you - and do the same for suburban neighbourhoods. Most suburbs these days act as free-standing satellite cities - especially when we are talking about the suburbs of Toronto and Vancouver. In smaller cities they may feel like bedroom communities, by the nature of the overall size, you may not have the same conveniences. What may work for you now may not be what works for you in ten years. Tons of empty nesters give up the suburban home and buy in the city when the kids are gone. Lots of families stay in the city and then move to a quieter suburb when they retire. There are so many options, explore them. You may surprise yourself!
Sarah Daniels is a top selling realtor in Greater Vancouver, who has been licensed since 2003. She appears regularly as a real estate expert on shows like “The Marilyn Denis Show on CTV”, as well as local radio and television. Sarah has written two books; “Welcome Home: Insider Secrets to Buying or Selling Your Property" and "Buying and Selling A Home For Canadians For Dummies". She also developed and co-hosted the show “Urban Suburban” on HGTV Canada. She works at Macdonald Realty Ltd., in White Rock, BC.