Why finding the right hometown is the most important decision of your life

When my wife and I decided to leave Brooklyn for the suburbs in 2012, we quickly ran into a problem. Site after site (like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com) did an amazing job of finding the perfect house, but they all overlooked an even more important decision: before you can buy a house, you need to decide where you want to live in the first place.

And that can be a difficult decision, especially when considering the NYC suburbs. We quickly discovered that there were over 600 towns within commuting distance of New York, including all the options in northern New Jersey, Westchester, southern Connecticut, and Long Island. And furthermore, that all these options were totally different: different commute times (and styles), different school systems, and most importantly different personalities. And in the same way that someone from Williamsburg might not want to live on the Upper East Side, someone from Hastings-on-Hudson might not want to live in Short Hills.

Simply put, finding the right community – a place where you can connect with your neighbors, where you feel attuned your environment, where you can create strong relationships with the people around you – is the single strongest determinant of happiness when choosing a place to live. That’s why created PicketFencer, and it’s why we recommend that everyone looking for a house start with finding the right community. So how do you do it?

Talk to friends, family, and co-workers who you trust about their favorite places. Try to understand what drives the personality of a given town and whether it’s the right fit for you.

Explore online. There are lots of sites out there that have great information about your options. And on PicketFencer you can filter towns by commute time, school rating, affordability, walkability, and region. We also pull in social data from Instagram, YouTube, and others to give you a qualitative feel of a town’s personality.

Go visit. While browsing web bulletin boards and other resources is a great start, the only way to truly get a sense of a place is by leaving your desk and getting out into the real world. Plan a few weekends of driving around and checking out the communities you’re interested in.

Want to learn more about which suburban town near New York City might be the best fit for you? Check out PicketFencer.com to learn more.