Suburbs growing more quickly than cities throughout the US

Is it possible that millennials prefer the suburbs after all? After years of reading stories about how millennials are moving from their suburban hometowns to dense urban cores en masse, new population estimates from the US Census Bureau tell a different story.

According to the data, for the first time since 2010 suburbs are actually growing faster than cities throughout the United States. Specifically, the city growth rate is now at .82%, while the suburban growth rate is now at .89%. Not a huge difference to be sure, but enough to show that there is still a significant desire among millennials to live in their own single family home, with outdoor space, driveway, and all the amenities of suburban living.

From the Washington Post article:

As for millennials choosing suburban versus city life, a 2015 survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that 66 percent of people born after 1977 want to live in single-family homes outside of the urban center, including those currently living in cities. The new Census estimates may reflect that.

So what does this mean for those searching for a home in the New York City suburbs of Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut? Mostly, that you aren’t alone, and that as real estate prices within the city continue to explode, the suburbs will continue to be a refuge for families looking for more space, great schools, and a more manageable lifestyle all around.

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.

 

Why finding the right town is more important than finding the right house

Oftentimes, when people first start considering a move to the New York City suburbs, they start with their specific housing needs. For example, they might set a budget, think about their required square footage, how much outdoor space they’d like, and the number of bedrooms and baths. From there, they might start to search real estate sites for specific properties that meet their needs – with perhaps little attention paid to the specific town in which the house is located.

At PicketFencer, we believe this is exactly the wrong approach. What many people moving to the NYC suburbs of Westchester, Long Island, Connecticut, and Long Island don’t realize is that the suburbs are not monolithic. There are over 600 towns within commuting distance of New York City, and they vary widely – not only in functional attributes like school ratings, commute time, and property taxes, but also in personality, feel, and community. And in the same way that a person who lives in hipster Williamsburg might not feel at home on the staid Upper East Side, that same person will find any number of towns that feel like home, and many others that don’t. And at the end of the day, the most important factor in finding a home is feeling like you are part of your community, that you connect with the value of your neighbors, and that you connect with the culture of your surroundings.

So what are some of the factors that effect the “feeling” of a particular community?

Diversity: While some towns draw homebuyers from varied professional, cultural, and economic backgrounds, others tend to draw from a more defined pool. Especially for people coming from New York City, this can be a factor. More and more, people want to raise their children in an area that feels like the real world (and perhaps their old NYC neighborhood) – and where their children can interact with people from different backgrounds.

Average lot size: While some towns have huge properties, and lots of room for the kids to run around, others are more intimate and allow for much more direct interaction with neighbors. This can lead to very different models of community interaction. In the first case, there may not be as much social interaction between neighbors, and escaping isolation requires belonging to the local country club. In the latter case, it may be easier to make connections with other families, and create an environment more like what people may have left behind in NYC.

School culture: While we all want to give our children the best education possible, the type of school culture that a given community fosters may be indicative of its larger values. For example, some districts may have very high-achieving academic records, but at the cost of economic diversity within the town. Similarly not all parents want their kids to be in a “pressure cooker” type educational environment and feel that their children will thrive in a more nurturing atmosphere.

Materialism: With many suburban families having one or more parents working in NYC, these towns tend to be wealthier than average – and while that wealth has many benefits, there can also be a cost in terms of a materialistic and acquisitive mindset. We often ask our clients if they would feel more comfortable in a town in which luxury cars predominate on the local roads, or in one where the financial success of their neighbors is less on display.

And, of course, there are dozens of other factors like this that can drive a decision on what town is the best fit for a given family. 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.

Can you afford property taxes in the NYC suburbs?

For families moving to the suburbs from New York City, one of the more mystifying elements of the experience is figuring out property taxes. On many occasions, people set their budget based on the price of the property they wish to purchase, only to realize later that in many of the desirable towns throughout Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey, and Connecticut, property taxes can rival your mortgage as a line item in your monthly budget.

Property taxes can be confusing, and there are a number of factors that can determine how high the taxes are in a particular town. As a general rule, however, most towns with a strong school system and close-in commutes are going to be pricey on the tax front (with occasional exceptions.) Oftentimes the largest driver of a towns costs is its school system, and towns that invest more in their schools often have higher taxes. Another huge factor is how many large (tax-generating) businesses are in town – a town with a huge mall, or corporate headquarters, may be able to raise a significant share of its costs by taxing businesses. But for those leafy, quiet towns without much in the way of large businesses, they will likely be depending on the homeowners to pay for needed services.

Generally, your taxes will be calculated based on two figures: 1) the tax rate (0r the percentage of your home’s assessed value that will be make up your annual tax bill) and 2) the assessed value of the home. This means that even if your town has a lower tax rate, if the property values are very high you will still have significant taxes. Conversely, you may have a town with lower property values but much higher rates. Complicating matters further is the question of how often (and how long ago) a given town has done property assessments. One town might not have done an assessment for many years (leading to lower assessed values and perhaps higher rates to compensate), while another may have done an assessment in the last year (leading more accurate – and generally higher -assessed values and perhaps a lower rate.)

Want to know more about property taxes in the NYC suburbs and which towns might be best for you? Check out PicketFencer.com to learn more.

Could you ever really live in New Jersey?

As a life-long New Yorker who grew up in Manhattan, I absorbed contempt for New Jersey with my mother’s milk. The thought that I would ever live there someday was something I never seriously considered, yet after having our first child, we made several visits to various suburban options and ended up moving to the Garden State.

And 7 years later, I’m happy to say that we love living here. Here’s a short list of the things we love:

Leafy and charming towns and villages: While most New Yorkers are only familiar with the ugly eyesore of the state that lives along I-95 between the GWB and Newark Airport, if you travel just a bit further west, you come across a slew of lovely and charming suburban towns with quaint villages, eclectic populations, and varied turn-of-the-century architecture. Towns like Montclair, Glen Ridge, Maplewood, South Orange, Summit, Millburn, Chatham, and many others are welcoming and beautiful communities.

The beaches: While much of the country bases their knowledge of the Jersey shore on The Jersey Shore, the truth is that the coastline of our state has numerous attractive beaches, and towns that run the gamut of personalities. From the artsy and quirky Asbury Beach to the upscale Deal and Spring Lake, to the family-oriented Ocean Grove, most of the towns in Monmouth County can be reached by towns in north Jersey within about an hour of driving – so it’s a simple day trip. I often wake up early and go surfing in the morning before heading into NYC for work later in the day.

Hiking and mountains: If you drive west instead of South, you can reach the Delaware Water Gap, and another 15 minutes or so takes you to skiing in the Poconos. There are also numerous hiking trails and nature preserves closer in, from South Mountain Reservation near Millburn and Maplewood to Watchung Reservation near Summit to Eagle Rock Reservation near Montclair.

The commute (kind of?): Of course, nobody loves commuting. But commuting from NJ has several strong advantages over my former subway commute. First of all, I almost always get a seat, which are padded and comfortable. And my fellow commuters are generally a quiet bunch – so it’s an easy time to catch up on reading, get some work done, or even take a nap.

And, perhaps best of all, whenever I drive I get awesome reception of WFMU – a contender for the best radio station in the country, playing a strange and endearing mix of songs in a free-form format in which the DJs still have total control. And don’t forget easy access to New Jersey Devils games at the Prudential Center!

Want to know more about living in New Jersey, and which NJ towns might be best for you?  Check out PicketFencer.com to learn more.

Families save $70,000 per year by moving from NYC to its suburbs

According to a recent study by Zillow and Care.com, raising a family in New York City proper is on average $71,237/year more expensive than doing so in the suburbs of Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut, or New Jersey.

The study came to that conclusion by comparing figures on average mortgage payments, property taxes, and child care costs in both the city and suburbs, and also came to the conclusion that the disparity between urban and suburban living is greater in New York City than in any other metro area in the country.  As a matter of fact, it’s more than three times greater than the runner-up, Chicago (where it costs only $18,472 more in the city than the suburbs.)

Want to get a better sense of your cost of living in the suburbs, and which NYC suburb might be right for you? Check out PicketFencer.com to learn more.

Using Zillow Heat Maps to Find the Right NYC Suburb

When we here at PicketFencer speak to folks looking to move to the New York City suburbs, a big question that always comes up is “Can I afford it?” With New York City itself having become exorbitantly expensive, many young families are looking for options where their dollars can stretch further, where they can get more space for their money, and where they can get access to excellent educations for their children without having to shell out for private school.

On PicketFencer.com, users can filter towns by average home value, but another tool that presents home price data in a useful and visual way is Zillow’s Heat Map feature. The Heat Map collects the average home price for zip codes throughout the entire US, and then maps them by color according to tier (green for less expensive, red for more expensive.) Here is their heat map for the NYC metro area, including the suburbs of Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester, and New Jersey.

The map shows several insights, with perhaps the main one being that, while the suburbs are often a more affordable option in the city, it isn’t always the case. Across the map one sees splotches that are even redder than most of the desirable sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn. But it’s important to keep in mind that simply using home values isn’t really an apples-to-apples comparison. Beyond home prices, suburbanites can save in numerous other ways – from schools, to groceries, to avoiding the NYC income tax (for those that go to New Jersey or Connecticut.)

Have any questions about determining your new cost of living in the suburbs? Check out PicketFencer.com to learn more.

 

Things to consider when thinking about your NYC suburban commute

One of the big questions we get from people moving from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey, Westchester, Connecticut, or Long Island is, “what about the commute?”

For most New Yorkers, the commute is a straightforward affair – you leave your apartment and walk a few blocks to the subway, then ride a few stops before walking to your office.

Your commute from the suburbs may be a little less straightforward, and there are a bunch of things to consider before committing to a hometown. For example:

Will I be taking a train, a bus, or driving?

Depending on which town you choose, you may be on a train line or you may be relying on a bus. (And, of course, many people do drive into NYC as well – though that’s not something we’d recommend for most people). We find that most people who contact us have a strong preference for taking the train, as its perceived as being more reliable and less vulnerable to traffic issues. That said, for those willing to consider the bus, it may open many more town options where you can get more for your money.

What will my commute cost?

For those who do take the train, you will find that your average commute costs will increase from what you are used to in NYC. Even shorter suburban commutes start out at around $200 for a monthly pass, and many folks buy a monthly subway pass in addition to their commuter rail pass.

What is the ride like? Will I get a seat?

We’ve found that in most suburban towns, the train ride is a good deal more pleasant than the subway commute you may be used to. The trains are generally comfortable and if you time your arrival properly you will likely get a seat most days. During rush hour, the ridership mostly consists of other commuters trying to get to work, so trains tend to be relatively quiet and relaxed, and many commuter lines have “quiet cars” for those looking for that extra bit of quiet.

How will I get to the station?

Depending on how far you live from the station, you may have several options. Of course, most people would love the option to walk to a train station, and that’s a possibility in many towns (though houses within walking distance to the train station often go for a premium.) If you’re house is too far to comfortably walk, some towns run a shuttle bus / jitney service to take commuters to the station. And, of course, many commuters drive from their home to the station. Keep in mind, though, that parking availability and systems can vary wildly from town to town. Some have a several years long waiting list for parking, some not at all. It’s best to know what you’re getting into from the outset.

Is it reliable?

While bus commutes always have the potential for traffic issues, train commutes have their reliability and delay issues as well. With aging infrastructure throughout the region, it’s not uncommon for the local commuter lines to experience delays from time to time. And, more rarely, there are major catastrophic events that can cause delays for weeks at a time (e.g. Hurricane Sandy). That said, for the most part the trains work well, and some commuters even enjoy having their train time to decompress after work, answer a few emails, read or nap.

Want to learn more?

Interested in learning more about the suburban commute, and which town has the right commute for you?  Check out PicketFencer.com to learn more.