4 Huge Mistakes You Might Make Moving From a City to the Suburbs

Warchi/iStock

Warchi/iStock

Excerpted from Janet Siroto | Dec 17, 2018 for Realtor.com

There comes a time in many people’s lives—usually when the words “baby” or “school district” become a regular part of the vocabulary—when people flee the glamorous city to the charming suburbs. Only where, exactly, should you go? How do you find that perfect place where your neighbors seem simpatico rather than psycho?

Everyone starts out with the same wish list—a great school district, a short commute, low taxes—but there’s a better way to approach your next-home hunt.  Here, are some of the key mistakes parents make when moving to the 'burbs.

1. Focusing on the house rather than the whole neighborhood

When picking a new home, most people (understandably!) focus on the property itself—how many bedrooms, bathrooms, how big is the lot? After all, who can resist poring over floor plans and listing photos of sun-flooded kitchens? But no house is an island: It’s part of a community, as you will be, too. To make sure you fit in, get a feel for the community and whether it offers the lifestyle and kinds of neighbors you are looking for.

Our advice: Don’t just visit the well-known towns—what we call the brand-name towns that most people aspire to. Just because a lot of people have heard of a town doesn’t mean it’s right for you. We recommend taking as much time as you can to hang out in different ’hoods.

Try on a couple of towns—check out their cafés, their parks. Are the playgrounds full or empty on a Saturday afternoon? Are the kids there with parents or au pairs?

2. Finding a 'good school district' that's not a good fit for your kids

Let’s be real: Education is one of the top motivators for a move to the ’burbs, Bernstein says, "Everyone talks about wanting a 'good school district,' but the key thing here is, what does that mean for your family? A school that ranks well on standardized tests may be a pressure-cooker that your child won’t thrive in, or it may not have much of an arts program."

Getting hung up on class size is another rookie move. While no one wants their child in a class of 50, also look at the total school enrollment. Would your child do well in a school that typically has a total of 1,000 kids per grade, even if the class size is acceptable? Do you want a district with one elementary school (small-town living) or are you looking for something with several elementary schools and possibly some specialized schools attuned to your child’s interests and talents?

3. Thinking about commute time rather than quality

Before decamping for the ’burbs, most people lock in on a commute time—say, "I won’t be on the train for more than 40 minutes each way."

You won’t be able to really evaluate the commute unless you, well, commute. We suggest you do just that, at rush hour, and see what you are getting yourself into. Sure, it takes time, but can help you avoid locking into a “dream house” that comes with a surprise commute from hell twice daily. (Note: A little research will also yield info on a train line’s “on-time” record—another good bit of data to know.)

While you are doing a dry-run commute, scope out the parking situation, too. Many “hot” towns have packed parking lots with waiting lists and with prized parking permits costing thousands a year. Call the town office and inquire about the details, so you’re prepared.

(Ask your real estate agent for help with this, too.) You might be able to move to one of these places and walk or drive three minutes to a neighboring town’s train station.

4. Assuming you'll easily find child care nearby

Most people moving out of the city do so for the sake of children (current or future), but you can’t assume the child care options are the same in the suburbs as in an urban setting. If you are a two-career couple, see what options exist nearby.

Jo Anne Jedd