Sometimes the breaking point comes when you’ve circled the block for hours looking for a parking spot. Or when your baby is woken up yet again by the constant wail of sirens invading your street. Or when you start thinking of your nearby urban park as your “country space.” That’s it, you say—we’re outta here.
A move to the suburbs can seem like an idyllic alternative to many of the hassles of city living. But inevitably you’ll wind up wondering: Will the burbs really be all they’re cracked up to be? Will you be homesick for your former jampacked, hectic lives? Will you lose your minds completely out there in the sticks?
To help you suss out the pros and cons, we’ve spoken with real estate agents and culled the most important questions to consider before making the big leap from the city to the suburbs.
1. What will my commute be like?
Long, you might be assuming—especially if you have to commute to the city from your new home in the suburbs. But that’s not always the case, says Realtor® Roh Habibi with the Habibi Group in San Francisco.
“The reality is that commuting in the city may be a shorter distance and fewer miles, but traffic and congestion can create longer and more stressful commutes than most people realize,” he points out.
He cites a commute between neighborhoods in San Francisco (Marina District to Potrero Hill, for example) that can take the same amount of time as someone commuting into San Francisco from Oakland.
You’ll also want to figure out your public transportation options: Can you take a bus or train, or will you need to drive each day (which can really rack up expenses and stress levels)?
Check out the logistics of the transportation, including the convenience of the schedules, says Alison Bernstein, founder of Suburban Jungle Realty, which specializes in families who are moving to suburbs from the city.
2. What should I know about the schools?
Everyone wants great schools (the added resale value is enough to make even childless home buyers crave an A-plus district). But what makes a school “great” could be different for each family, Bernstein says. For instance, a highly touted school might not be the right fit if it’s a total pressure cooker that focuses exclusively on test scores or piles on the homework.
Make sure the school offers the services and educational opportunities that meet your family’s needs, whether it’s a robust arts program or special ed, says Rob Nelson, a real estate broker for Center Coast Realty in Chicago.
You’ll also want to find out if it offers before- and after-school care, which is important for working parents, and whether it provides bus transportation and how much it costs.
3. Is there anything to do?
Urbanites are used to walking out the front door and having a world of possibilities within close proximity. Unfortunately, it might require a little more work to find something to do in suburbia—but don’t worry, it’s there.
Check with your local chamber of commerce or township website to see what’s going on, recommends Victoria Shtainer, residential real estate specialist at Compass real estate agency.
“For example, many think of the Hamptons as a summer destination—however, there are great events going on all year such as food and wine festivals, fall events, and a film festival,” she says.
4. What are the town’s child care offerings?
Will you be wanting to use a day care center? Is there an active community of stay-at-home moms or dads? Consider these factors, because they’ll have an impact not only on the logistics of your childcare, but also on your socializing and lifestyle.
Bernstein suggests that you check out a school drop-off and pickup, and bounce around town to check out who’s around during the day. You should also peruse the school calendar to see if most events and meetings are scheduled for the day or the evening.
5. Can I get a meal at 9 p.m.?
Most city dwellers are used to options being available 24/7, but in many burbs, it might feel like the streets are being rolled up at 9 p.m. Even more of a potential shock: Not everything is a quick app order or short walk away.
Shtainer recommends suburban newbies consider places that have a town center, with a cluster of shops and restaurants to bridge the gaps between the two lifestyles.
6. Who is going to fix my leaky toilet and maintain my yard?
The short answer: you. (Or at least someone you hire.)
If you’re considering a move to a single-family home, be prepared to master some basic maintenance and repair skills. Try using a monthly maintenance calendar to keep things manageable; if your home isn’t properly maintained, it could lead to hefty repair costs down the line.
7. What’s the tax bite going to be?
Depending on the town, taxes can be higher than what a homeowner could be used to paying in their current city, Nelson says.
He advises finding out the property taxes and sales tax differences, since they can can have a big impact on the cost of living and could make one neighborhood more affordable than another. It’s also smart to find out if there are plans for significant property tax increases in the near future.
8. What does everyone do in the summer?
Schools are important, but what people do in the summer is also critical to assessing the town’s personality, Bernstein notes.
Were you were envisioning block party barbecues and lemonade stands—when in fact the neighborhood clears out as everyone heads to Nantucket or sleep-away camp? Does everyone belong to a private club?
Do a little recon by asking potential neighbors or checking online events calendars. These days, there are lots of smartphone apps and websites that can lay out the neighborhood vibe without your actually being there.
We won’t promise that moving to the suburbs will be an easy transition, but doing your homework ahead of time can help manage your expectations. And who knows? You might love it so much you’ll wonder why you ever lived in the city.
Cathie Ericson is a journalist who writes about real estate, finance, and health. She lives in Portland, OR.