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Pre-pandemic, many U.S. homebuyers were tethered geographically to their employer’s offices or worksite. However, many now have more latitude in deciding where to live and work. In between technological advances, remote/hybrid work schedules, housing shortages and ever-increasing living costs, choosing a place to live has definitely changed.
Broadening horizons are exciting but can also provide an overwhelming array of choices. Let’s explore the various factors you may consider when deciding where to live.
Where should I live?
You may find yourself asking this question at various times throughout your life. Perhaps you’re just finishing your college education or vocational training. Maybe you’re considering moving closer to family, a warmer climate, or a less expensive locale.
Finding the ideal place to live is highly subjective, in short — and it can change as your life does.You may live in several places over a lifetime based on your profession, stage of life/age, family, and lifestyle preferences.
Deciding where to live
Many factors play into a decision where to live. Among them: affordability and availability of housing, the overall cost of living, the local job market, public safety/crime rate, educational system and commute times.
Your housing budget will likely play a major role in deciding where to live in the United States. So first, compare prices in the local housing market against how much you can spend each month. For example, suppose your income allows for a monthly $1,200 rent or mortgage payment: there will be plenty of options in some regions of the U.S. that fit your budget — and plenty that won’t.
How much of your income should you devote to housing? For generations, the benchmark for monthly rent was 25 percent or a quarter of your gross household income. It began rising in the late 20th century, to about 30 percent — and over time, the 30 percent threshold also became the standard for owner-occupied housing expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (Greater than that, and you can risk becoming house poor.)
It varies, though, depending on your location. For example, New York City, where residential real estate has always been expensive, defines affordable housing as costing no more than one-third of your income.
Bankrate’s How Much House Can I Afford? calculator can help you figure out what your monthly housing budget should be.
Cost of living versus your income
The average cost of living varies significantly from state to state and between regions of the U.S. Cost of living includes basic expenses, such as housing, groceries, utilities and taxes. It may also include such expenses as transportation, health care, entertainment and education.
Certain parts of the country are simply less expensive to live in than others. As an extreme example, the average cost of living in Honolulu, Hawaii, is 129.32 percent higher than in Memphis, Tennessee – and to keep up with your lifestyle, you’d likely have to more than double your income to move to the Aloha State comfortably. Even municipalities within the same state can be quite disparate: Nashville, for instance, has a 12.73 percent more expensive cost of living than Memphis.
A cost of living calculator can help you parse the differences, and determine or negotiate the salary you’ll need in order to cover your basic needs in a particular city. While flexible and remote work options remain a priority for many American workers, higher pay is also important. With more people living independently of their physical workplaces, a company’s once-adequate pay rate may no longer line up with the costs of living where employees reside.
Big cities and smaller cities
While work may factor into where you live, it may not – for some people, the decision comes down to personal preference. If you’re trying to decide between a large metropolis and a smaller one in your region, the cost of living is a good starting point.
You will also want to consider transportation: Do you need access to public transit, or do you have a vehicle? How long is the average commute if you need to report to a physical office? Do you want a large airport nearby for regular personal or professional travel?
Entertainment, culture and nightlife
Infrastructure and cost of living aren’t the only things separating life in a big city from a smaller one; local culture may influence your decision to live somewhere. For example, maybe the population’s average age and the activities available for singles matter to you. Certain cities may offer more if you’re a theater buff or coffee enthusiast.
Are you a dedicated pet parent? If so, pet-friendliness may be a determining factor. Whatever is important to you, consider how you like spending your time and what different locales offer.
For some, safety and the crime rates around where they live are foremost when deciding where to put down roots. Remember that even cities with high per-capita crime rates have neighborhoods that are more secure than others, and the places ranked high for their safety still see a risk for crime. This factor can be hyper-local by borough or district, so you’ll want to get a feel for the nuances of the location you’re considering, and the various parts of town you’re likely to frequent.
Families with children may consider the quality of public education available in different places they’d like to live. Remember that education funding can vary within the same city and may impact your property taxes if you purchase a home. If you plan on sending your kids to private or parochial schools, access to high-quality education may also matter, though you’ll also want to factor in this cost.
Weather and surroundings
Natural beauty may be important to you, influencing your decision of what region or states to consider living in. Understandably, downhill skiing enthusiasts may want to live in a snowy climate near mountains; mariners will crave beachfront communities. Similarly, if you like gardening, water sports, camping, hiking or other outdoor activities, you’ll probably want to consider the climate where you’d like to live.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), climate may instigate or exacerbate certain health conditions. If air quality, allergies, seasonal depression, or temperature extremes impact your health, consider these factors in your destination before moving.
Moving to a new place
Moving to a brand-new place can be an intimidating process, whether you’re looking to rent or to buy a house, moving is likely to be a significant transition.
Once you have decided where you would like to live – whatever your reasons – you’ll want to think of a realistic timeline and consider the cost of moving. Some people have a short time horizon to work with, while others allow several months or even years to decide.
Finding a local real estate agent
House-hunting is always complex, but it can be especially difficult to buy a house out of state. So it’s a good idea to seek the help of a local real estate agent, to help you make the most of your budget in any market.