Home is where the heart is, but what if your heart doesn’t know where it should be?
From low crime rates to a great education system, there are many variables to consider when choosing that perfect place that you and your family can call home.
To help you make this important decision, I’ve provided an analysis of the most important factors to help you find a home that suits the needs of you and your family.
How to Choose a Place to Live
Begin by determining what is most important to you and your family. If you’re single, living in a bustling city might be an ideal choice for your next home. If you have a family, on the other hand, a small town offers amenities that your kids will love.
Moving from Los Angeles to a small town in New Mexico gives me a unique perspective, since I’ve experienced both life in the big city and the slower pace of rural, small-town America. I did a lot of research before I decided where I wanted to move. Here are some of the tips that helped me the most when I was choosing a place to live.
No matter what your pay grade is, living comfortably and within your means should be your first concern. Affordability includes more than just housing expenses; the prices for consumable goods, like groceries, vary greatly from town to town. The price of gasoline, utility services including electric and water, and taxes, also varies.
When I moved from California to New Mexico, my expenses dropped like a rock overnight. My rent was cut in half, and I now spend a lot less money on groceries, gas, and utility bills. Because I’m a freelancer, my income stayed about the same, so I felt like I had received a big raise! Affordability has since become my top priority whenever I think about moving to a new locale.
Did you know that there are five states that have no sales taxes? That’s right: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon don’t collect sales tax for retail sales and some services. In addition, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming don’t collect individual income taxes.
These are important factors to consider when choosing a place to live. The Tax Foundation measures the state-local tax burden, which calculates the percentage of income that taxpayers pay for state and local taxes. Their latest report, from 2009, states that citizens of New Jersey pay the most taxes, while Alaska’s residents pay the least taxes. In addition, 40 states provide property tax credits or homestead exemptions that can provide homeowners with some additional tax relief. Consider local sales tax, income tax, and tax credits and exemptions when you’re looking for the perfect place to live.
3. Employment Opportunities
Employment opportunities vary from state to state and city to city, so spend some time researching the job markets in different areas of the country. Start by analyzing quality employment opportunities within your industry, then determine where the highest concentration of these jobs are located.
Do you want to be an investment banker? You’ll need to live in a big city, like New York or Boston. Are you a teacher? Your options will expand considerably since education is sought after in just about any city or town.
Income levels for jobs can vary greatly from state to state. Salary.com lets you compare pay rates for various careers across the country. Salaries are often based on where the job is located. For example, a marketing manager job might come with a large salary in San Diego, but the cost of living is very high in Southern California. Do your research before you move, and ideally, find a job before you relocate.
4. Real Estate Value
Since buying a home is the single largest investment you will probably ever make, you need to seriously consider this factor. With real estate in a constant state of flux, it’s important to research current home prices, the length of time homes are for sale, the resale values of homes, and probable long-term value estimates.
In addition, carefully review local housing price trends. Websites like Zillow.com and Trulia.com can help you gain a grasp of the local real estate market. Do you have the opportunity to buy a home in an area where prices are at an all-time high, perhaps representing a bubble? Is the local town or city in the process of being further developed and therefore may become more attractive to future home buyers?
5. Crime Rates and Statistics
No one wants to live in a high-crime area, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can live in a Utopian society where crime never happens. By researching the crime rates and statistics for various areas, you can learn more about the safety of a town or neighborhood.
If you have already decided where you want to live, stop by the local police stations to discuss your new neighborhood. The police will be happy to discuss any concerns you have about the area. You can also check out Crime Reports, which lets you review crime statistics for different neighborhoods.
Keep in mind that just because an area is safe today does not guarantee that it will be safe in the future. The long-term stability for a neighborhood can be a determining factor in how safe your surroundings are. Also, consider the future development of a particular location as you narrow down your choices.
6. Proximity to Family and Friends
Do you have a large extended family? Do you spend the holidays with your family and friends? These are important factors to consider when choosing where to live.
If extended family and friends are important to you, choose a place either within driving distance or within a reasonable distance by plane. Otherwise, you’ll constantly feel torn, and likely spend all of your vacation time and energy shuttling back and forth to visit friends and family.
Like to ski all winter long? Maybe southern Arizona isn’t the place that you should call home. Not a fan of humidity? You may want to avoid settling in Florida any time soon.
I grew up in New England and swore that I would one day escape to a warmer climate; I hated winter that much. I knew that I would be more comfortable in dry, hot climates, so my entire adult life I have lived in California and New Mexico, away from snow, bugs, and humidity.
The climate plays a large role in our lives as it impacts our hobbies, behavior, and sometimes even our jobs. Living in the climate in which you are most comfortable contributes to your mental health, so choose wisely!
8. Education System
A good education is essential to setting up children to better handle the rest of their lives, so the importance of good schools cannot be overstated.
My parents chose the town where we lived because of the public school system’s reputation. I have friends who moved from California to the Midwest so their kids could go to better schools.
Nonprofit websites like GreatSchools are a great source for parents looking for the ideal schools for their children. The quality of the public schools factors into your finances, too, since tuition for a private school can be extremely expensive.
If you crave constant cultural stimulation, you definitely want to choose a place that has a lot of cultural offerings. When I lived in Los Angeles, I could see concerts, operas, sports teams, plays, and musicals all the time. I took full advantage of Los Angeles’ cultural scene when I lived there, but I’ve become less active over the years. Now that I live in New Mexico, the options for cultural experiences are much more limited, but that is OK with my new lifestyle.
Many people need to be near their favorite team, or a vibrant music scene or the theater. If you have a favorite hobby or recreational activity, make sure that you can continue to pursue these interests in your new home. Finally, if you enjoy being around a specific religious or ethnic community with your same beliefs and interests, this should be a factor in where you choose to live.
10. Commute Time and Public Transportation Options
The explosive growth of the suburbs surrounding metropolitan areas have made commuting times in many areas unbearable. A recently released report from Sweden indicates that long-distance commuters actually have an increased risk of divorce. The length of time it takes to get to work can be a determining factor in the decision to move to a new locale.
I commuted in Los Angeles for years and you couldn’t pay me enough money to do it again. If you have a family, commuting can also drastically reduce the amount of time you spend at home. With gas prices rising and commute times becoming longer, utilizing public transportation options like light rail, train, or bus can be an inexpensive, time-saving way for you and your family to get around – and cut the cost of commuting to work. It can also help your kids get around when you’re not home to drive them. A good public transportation system is a major plus when choosing a place to live.
11. Food Options
If you’re a foodie, you may want to try to find a place to live near the ocean or near a metropolitan city center. Grocery store fare, while plentiful, doesn’t replace the quality of fresh food from the ocean or fresh produce from the farmers’ market. If eating locally and sustainably is important to you, consider whether you can pursue this lifestyle in your new home.
For me, the ability to grow my own food year-round with a home vegetable garden is a determining factor for choosing where to live. I don’t want to shut my garden down from October to April. However, if trying new, diverse cuisines is one of your passions, a bigger metropolitan area is going to offer more choices than small-town America.
12. Town or City Size
If you enjoy a friendly wave from everyone you pass while driving to the post office, then a smaller town is definitely for you. If you wish to remain relatively anonymous, a larger town or a big city is better suited to your personality.
I grew up in a smaller-sized town, moved to Los Angeles, and now I live in a rural town, so I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. I sometimes miss the anonymity of living in a big city, but I also like going to my favorite small-town diner where my waitress always knows my usual order.
13. Healthcare Facilities
Healthcare facilities are important at any stage in life, but they are especially relevant if you have children or if you are nearing retirement age. Easy access to good healthcare can increase your quality of life exponentially, so be on the lookout for towns and cities with good hospitals and medical schools. Often, there will be a correlation between cities and the quality of the healthcare.
14. Proximity to an Airport
If you travel a lot, you may need to live within close proximity of an airport. If you live more than an hour away from the closest airport, traveling to and from the airport can become very time-consuming and expensive. If you spend a healthy amount of time traveling, definitely consider the distance to the airport.
While the above factors should be considered when choosing the ideal place to live, there are many more factors which will all play a role in your decision-making process. Luckily, there are several websites available to provide additional assistance when conducting your research:
- City-Data. Full of geographical data and statistics on crime, cost of living, climate, hospitals, schools, and air pollution, along with a vast social network with 1,000,000 members, City-Data.com is a great place to start your search for a perfect place to live. The information can seem endless at times and it can take quite a bit of work to find exactly what you are looking for. However, it’s a tremendous resource for all sorts of useful data.
- International Living. This site offers a 45-second quiz designed to help you decide where to live overseas.
- Kiplinger’s Find Your Best City. Answer eight questions to see five areas in the U.S. that match your individual needs.
- Money’s Best Places to Live. Money Magazine compiles a list of the Top 100 places to live each year, and it’s a valuable resource for people considering a move.
- NeighborhoodScout. NeighborhoodScout lets you research neighborhoods, real estate, and real estate brokers all over the U.S. The website requires a paid subscription, but if you are serious about finding the ideal place to live, it may be a worthwhile investment.
- Sperling’s Best Places. This website has a quiz that asks a series of questions about climate, economy, housing, and education, and then provides you with a list of places to live based on your answers. I took the quiz and was told that my ideal places to live were in Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Right on the money!
- WalkScore.com. This site lets you calculate your “Walk Score,” designed to help you determine how accessible nearby resources are for a particular address. Enter the address on the website and the site instantly populates with a list including stores, restaurants, coffee shops, book stores, banks, and movie theaters in the immediate area, along with a Walk Score. Rural areas will have a low Walk Score, and indicate that the neighborhood is “Car-Dependent.” On the other hand, addresses close to an urban center will have a high Walk Score, with a “Walker’s Paradise” rating.
- Which City Fits You Best?. A series of 17 questions will help match your personality to your ideal locale.
The reality of choosing a new place to live encompasses an incredibly large series of factors, all competing for your attention. In order to be successful in your search, you must determine what is most important to you and your family, do your homework, and then continue to be vigilant in your search until you find the right place to live. It can be intimidating and frustrating at times, but all that effort is worth it in the end once you are settled in your ideal location. Happy hunting!
Where are you living now and how did you decide to settle there? What are the factors that are most important to you?