Can’t Afford Your Dream House? It Might Be Time to Find a New City

If you're a city dweller and the cost of living has become too much, relocating somewhere smaller can put money back in your pocket, expand your options, and bring you newfound peace of mind.

Change can be tough, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to your current lifestyle. But when it comes to relocating to a place with a lower cost of living, a change of scenery can be one of the best financial adjustments you’ll ever make.

While big cities offer one-of-a-kind experiences, suburban and small-town living come with their own set of perks. For first-time home buyers, the opportunity to find something with more square footage for less money goes up significantly in areas with an overall lower cost of living. The same is true for renters.

Look at where you’re at in your life, what you need, and what you don’t. The stage in life you’re in now might be very different than when you first moved to the place you’re currently in. Perhaps once you needed to be in the center of it all and now, you’re longing for a backyard garden and enough room for another pet. For many, the permanent transition to remote work has allowed for new housing possibilities. And if your zip code doesn’t affect your employment, you have an opportunity to find the house of your dreams, wherever it may be.

Here’s some food for thought when it comes to making a big move with your budget in mind.

Change Can be Good For Your Financial Health

No matter why you’re considering the move, the suburbs, small towns, and rural areas are an affordable, underrated, and uniquely appealing alternative to city life. Transitioning from a more populated, urban area to a smaller town with a slower pace is not a new trend. It’s a choice people frequently make with financial freedom in mind. And with remote work on the rise, the move is happening for many workers much earlier than life.

Whether you have a child on the way or you just want more breathing room on a smaller budget, relocating is often the right move. Many worry that their quality of life will have to change. While some adjustments will obviously take place, the trade-off can prove well worth it, especially with the cost of living forever on the rise in urban areas.

Close up of stacked removal boxes and house plants in lounge ready for moving in or moving out of home
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According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, around 13% of Americans relocate every year. About 40% of those people chose to move because of housing reasons. Some wanted to go from renting to owning their first home, some wanted more bang for their buck, many noted family-related reasons, and others just wanted to be in a more affordable area in general. And many of those same movers noted choosing areas in close proximity to the city, without being in the thick of it all.

Finding something you can afford is always a change worth making. Plus, moving to a smaller place doesn’t have to mean giving up a connection to others or your surroundings. Much of the time, smaller towns offer more intimate experiences when it comes to local businesses and connecting with others. You just have to find a place that has the atmosphere you’re looking for.

A Lifestyle Change Doesn’t Mean Your Settling

You might be hesitant to move out of the city you’ve grown to love because of lifestyle trade-offs and amenities. But life is full of worth trade-offs, and you’re like not giving up nearly as much as you think. In fact, you may gain a few newfound perks that just weren’t possible in a densely populated area.

For instance, when you’re hitting the town, you’ll often trade off heavy traffic and crowded parking lots for a stroll to your venue in a walkable downtown and prices that allow you to get out and about more often. With the money you save, you’ll be broadening your possibilities, not limiting them.

moving truck on Moving day in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Moving somewhere with a lower cost of living can improve your quality of life way more than you might realize at first. For those who dream of traveling, moving can be life-changing in the best of ways. As city dwellers know all too well, the cost of living often prevents building a stable travel budget. Instead of viewing leaving the city you’ve loved for so long as a loss, it’s time to start thinking of all you will potentially gain.

Prepare For The Big Move by Assessing Your Priorities

While you’re on your hunt for your dream home, be sure to look into each area’s Walk Score. How you’ll get around might become one of the biggest changes you make, but it could also prove to be one of the most beneficial, depending on where you go.

Whatever you want and need most in an area, keep those factors at the top of your list when shopping around. If you’re a foodie, look into the restaurant scene and if you’re a parent or plan to be, learn about the school district. Local “best-of” lists can be particularly insightful when it comes to ranking options.

Allow local news sources and local organizations to educate you on diversity in the community. And figure out what each area has to offer that falls in line with your interest. Finding your home is about more than finding the right house, it’s about joining a community where you feel a sense of safety and belonging. Obviously, you will have to make some compromises, but you shouldn’t have to give up the things that matter most to you or your sense of self.

Do Your Research

If you’re considering a move away from your current city to find a home that aligns with your budget, it’s time to narrow your search accordingly. First things first, you’ll want to have a realistic and well-researched picture of what you can truly afford.

Financial experts say to start by comparing median prices per square foot of homes in desired and nearby areas. For some, especially those moving with their families in mind, giving up certain amenities for more space is not just desired, it’s crucial. Moving could mean a second bedroom within a budget that only allowed a studio space where you’re at. Or you may finally get that home office you’ve been dreaming of.

girl in jeans sits comfortably in living room on couch and holds laptop
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Figure out the areas you’d like to do more research on. Moving can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to go very far to reap the benefits of changing up your scenery. And the move doesn’t have to be cross country or drastic. Most times, people make local moves, staying close to where they work or the city they’ve come to love. The suburbs are a great option for having access to city life while getting the most bang for your housing buck.

If you are game for making a big move, look to your priorities for guidance. What do you wish you had where you currently live that somewhere farther away could offer you? Do you live in a concrete jungle and long for nature? Would you swap out your windy city for a warmer, more temperate climate? Acknowledging what you feel are must-haves will point you in the direction of where you should go next.

Read More: The Real Cost of Working From Home

Determine What Can’t Live Without

 family with cardboard boxes in new house at moving day.
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Inevitably, there are going to be certain things about city living that you won’t want to part with. And if it really matters to you, you shouldn’t. It’s important to decide what you don’t want to give up and go on your house hunt accordingly. If there are things you just can’t bear losing, use those amenities to help narrow your search.

Maybe you don’t have a car and so, you need a city with solid public transit and/or walkability. If a zesty nightlife is a big part of your life, look for somewhere that prioritizes the same. On the flip side, ask yourself what you wish you had more of, whether it be space, money, nature, or peace and quiet. Some things are worth giving up for others, and some simply aren’t. But it’s up to you to decide what’s most valuable and worth moving for.

Figure Out What You Can Afford

Young couple unloading their car on moving day
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I’m sure it goes without saying, bud deciding what you can afford is critical. Just because you’ll be living in an area with a lower cost of living doesn’t mean there won’t be any costly expenses. There always will be. And when you begin evaluating what it takes to become a suburban homeowner, you will likely notice it comes with a unique range of unforeseen costs, such as property taxes.

Start by figuring out your budget. Calculate what you’ll be able to afford while incorporating all possible housing fees beyond your mortgage, including new monthly expenses. Figure out how much space you’ll likely need and not just how much space you want at this moment. It’s important to think this move through, especially if you plan to buy and not rent. Are you planning on living here long-term? Do you plan on growing your family? When you’re figuring out what you can truly afford right now, you must also consider what the future looks like.

And if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the mere thought of moving, there are professionals who can help you get to where you need to be.

Invest in a Real Estate Agent

owners shaking hands with real estate broker after a deal
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When looking at desired areas, search for local real estate agents. Once you’ve got a solid idea of what you want in a home and what you can afford, reach out to a real estate agent to help you navigate what’s available with ease.

Come prepared. Bring a list of what your must-haves and be upfront about your needs as well as your limitations. They’ll be able to help you find what meets your criteria, and you may even get more than you bargained for or dreamed of.

Meeting with a real estate agent will also present you with an opportunity to spend some time in the area and see how you like it. Turn to local even calendars for guidance and stay open to new possibilities. You never know who might have a lead on a home that turns out to be your dream house. So before you make the big move, make sure to mingle. One of the best sources of insight into any area will always be its locals.

Read More: Our Guide to Down Payments for First-Time Homebuyers

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