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’s free concierge service that offers expert advice from locals who have already made the move. Click here to learn more.