REPOST: How to find the right suburb

Finding the right home is easy. Finding the right home in the right town, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. Amy Hoak of MarketWatch writes about the factors in finding the right suburban town to move into.

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Finding a suitable house to buy wasn’t difficult for the Silverbergs, who just moved from a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a three-bedroom, two-bathroom colonial in Glen Ridge, N.J.

Deciding what suburb to live in, on the other hand, was daunting.

“We’re both city people, in that we like to walk more than drive, and we like an eclectic mix of people,” said Sarah Silverberg, who works for a children’s summer camp organization. “We loved Brooklyn so much, we weren’t sure we were ever going to find anything.” But she and her husband, Steve, an attorney, wanted more room and access to good schools in the future for their 11-month-old son. They knew they couldn’t afford to stay where they were and get everything they wanted. 

It’s a situation in which many young, urban families find themselves. They’ve spent their young adult years living in bustling cities; now, with kids, they’re considering heading out.

And when they live in New York City, their first call may be to Alison Bernstein.

Bernstein’s firm, the Suburban Jungle Realty Group, specializes in helping families (including the Silverbergs) identify the suburb in which they want to live. Clients complete a questionnaire about their needs, then the group provides in-depth information on everything from school districts to child-care options to commute times. It then connects clients with “local town consultants,” people from all walks of life who can speak about what it’s like to live in the area; it also connects them with local real estate agents. In return, Suburban Jungle gets a cut of the seller-paid commission on any resulting home sale. The company offers services in the New York City area, with plans to expand into the Chicago market.

“There are two types of people out there. One will sacrifice anything to stay in the city. And cities are more family-friendly than ever,” Bernstein said. Then, “there are those who are saying ‘I am here temporarily, and I’m going to be here until the kids reach school age,'” she added.

Numbers back up the continued popularity of the suburbs. The fastest population growth is in suburban counties, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia, a real estate website. People are more likely to move from the city to the suburbs than the opposite; U.S. Census data shows that between early 2012 and early 2013, there were 1.8 people who moved from a city to a suburb for everyone who moved from a suburb to a city, he said.

“Suburbanization has slowed down, but it hasn’t reversed,” Kolko said.

Areas attractive to families with school-age children tend to be of lower density with affordable housing and high-performing school districts, as noted in a past Trulia analysis on the districts that people flock to and flee from. Those benefits are often weighed against longer commutes.

For those looking to make a move to the ‘burbs, “it can be overwhelming if they don’t know what they’re looking for,” said Sally Mabadi, a real estate agent with Koenig & Strey Real Living, in Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. “Every suburb has a different personality.”

Below are some of Bernstein’s tips on finding the best suburban community.

Don’t focus on the real estate. Start by picking the community in which you want to live. Focus on the features that are most important to your family, such as the schools, the commute time, the recreational amenities and housing affordability. “It’s easy to get sucked into a great house,” Bernstein said. “Let that come completely last.”

Don’t be influenced by Main Street. Don’t fall in love with a downtown area and let that dictate where you begin a home search. The Main Street may have charming shops and cafes that are a delight to shop in, but often they don’t offer everything a family needs to sustain itself year-round. There’s a good chance your regular errands, such as grocery shopping, will be done elsewhere.

Understand the school system. Schools are much more than how well the students perform on standardized testing. Tour them. Learn about class sizes. Go to preschool drop-offs to scope out how parents interact with each other. If the arts are important to your family, make sure that they’re adequately funded in the district. Even if your little one isn’t in kindergarten yet, think about whether the high school district is one you’d want them to attend.

Know what your commute would be like. “Don’t just look at the train schedule,” Bernstein said. Understand where the station is and how long it would take to get there. If you’re driving to the station, know whether parking is an issue. If you’re taking another form of transportation, research how long of a commute time you’d have.

Marian Khosravizadeh is a realtor with extensive experience in selling homes within the Woodland Hills and Los Angeles County. Visit this website for more details on her work.

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