How to Decide Where to Live

Before you make the choice to call a new city or neighborhood home, consider costs, job options and whether you'll be happy in a new place.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Decide Where to Live

Family taking a walk down the street

For millennials, finding a new job was the No. 1 reason they moved to a new city, according to a 2019 survey.(Getty Images)

Sometimes you're ready for a change to a new city, and sometimes that change is thrust upon you. Whether you're carefully weighing your options to find the city where you want to live for the next 10 years or you're trying to decide if a cross-country job offer is worth uprooting your life, there are a lot of factors to consider.

These considerations can vary depending on the reason for the move and other factors, but many priorities remain the same, explains Moira Taylor, co-owner of Taylor Made Realty in Atlanta.

"Traditional concerns such as price, access to a good school system, nearby shopping and low crime still are the deciding factors that help people choose where they want to live, and (the) majority of clients continue to seek homes near metropolitan and surrounding suburb areas," Taylor wrote in an email.

How to Decide Where to Live

The U.S. News Best Places to Live ranking looks at key criteria for the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., in categories such as affordability, quality of life, job market, desirability and net migration. The scores in each category are weighted based on the results of a survey of roughly 3,000 U.S. residents, asking what they believe is the most important factor when choosing where to live.

For your own move, you may be focusing on the job market, or you may be most interested in finding a great neighborhood.

Here's a breakdown of the most important factors to consider when moving:

Whether you're moving across the country or across town, the cost of living plays a major role in whether you'll be able to live comfortably. Based on your salary, would you be able to afford monthly mortgage payments or rent, property taxes and utilities where you're looking to move?

Depending on the reason for your move, you may consider a metro area with a lower cost of living to afford a home closer to work or your preferred type of home, as opposed to living on the outskirts of a pricier metro area.

"During my first chat with clients we are establishing budgets, home styles (and) size, timelines and ideal locales. I have had a few clients from out of the area become interested in the Baltimore market because of affordability and an influx of renovations in the area," Jayde David, a Realtor with eXp Realty in the Baltimore area, wrote in an email.

For the Best Places to Live ranking, cost of living is calculated in the value index, which accounts for 23.4% of a metro area's final score. It looks at how a metro area's median household income compares to the median total cost of living, considering mortgage payments, rent, taxes and utilities.

It might be a job that's taking you to a new city.

In a 2019 survey of 980 people who had moved to a new city within the last decade by mover booking network HireAHelper, 42.7% of respondents said their move was because they or their significant other found a new job. For millennials, finding a new job was the No. 1 reason they moved to a new city, according to the survey.

The Best Places to Live ranking weights job market as 21.6% of the final score, considering average annual salary and area unemployment rate, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Your ability to be happy in a new city shouldn't be overlooked.

If you love the amenities that come with a big city, selecting a small town outside a major metro area may not be the best choice for you. If you thrive in hot weather, Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Anchorage, Alaska, may not be the best place to move for work.

The Best Places to Live ranking looks at the desirability of a metro area, based on a SurveyMonkey survey of U.S. residents asking where they would like to live, which makes up 16.4% of the final score. It also considers the overall well-being of a metro area's residents, based on the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, which asks people about their happiness, sense of community pride and sense of security where they live (3.9% of the final score). Additionally, net migration to a metro area over a five-year period, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, accounts for 13% of the final score, which shows whether people are acting on a desire to move to a specific place.

Even after you've picked an area that appeals to you, you still have a variety of choices, from the city center to a quieter neighborhood, the suburbs or even the outskirts of the area.

"Budget and lifestyle are going to determine the areas for my clients," David says. "A (single-family home) with a yard? We will look to the outskirts of the city. Looking for a starter home with a high walk score near bars? Let's look downtown."

Crime is often a concern when people look to move to a city or neighborhood they're unfamiliar with. The idea of being the victim of a crime is a very real fear for many people, and even prevalent property crimes, like car theft, can have additional ramifications, like higher average car insurance rates.

However, crime statistics rarely show the full picture, often fail to reveal built-in bias and shouldn't be taken at face value. Rather than basing your opinion of a city or neighborhood on crime data, visit the area and experience it for yourself, explains Danielle Samalin, CEO of Framework, an online platform focused on empowering homeowners.

"It's important to spend time in a neighborhood, ideally at different times of the day and evening. Are people outside of their homes? What kinds of activities are they doing? This can give you a sense of how people interact with their neighbors and how safe they feel," Samalin wrote in an email.

Property crime and murder rates are a part of the methodology for the Best Places to Live ranking because consumers often place an emphasis on this information, but it remains a smaller portion of the overall score. The crime score for a metro area accounts for 7.71% of a place's total score.

If you're moving with school-age children or plan to have children, education likely weighs heavily on your mind. Most metro areas offer a variety of schooling options for children, and it's important to look closely at the information about a school that will help your student succeed.

"Another bias is the myth that more diverse communities are less desirable, and that the schools will not be as good. Cutting edge research on neighborhood opportunity suggests that more segregated and unequal neighborhoods can actually limit opportunity for kids from higher-income households," Samalin says.

The Best Places to Live ranking pulls data on college readiness among high school students from the U.S. News Best High Schools ranking and accounts for 6.43% of the final score. When narrowing down neighborhoods, the Best High Schools ranking can help you see a more holistic view of a school, including graduation rate, performance of underserved student groups and more.

In the age of COVID-19, working from home may or may not be permanent – for many people, it's still unclear. Real estate agents across the country are reporting that many people are opting to move to the suburbs or outskirts of major metro areas for more space, with the belief that they will not need to commute into the city daily for the foreseeable future. When the pandemic subsides, however, the share of people working remotely may drop significantly.

"Right now, I recommend that homebuyers should continue to factor in their commute when it comes to buying a home, because even though many people are currently working remotely due to the pandemic, it may not mean it is here to stay," Taylor says.

If you're at the peak of health, you may not place priority on living within 10 minutes of a major hospital, but it can be a concern if you find yourself not near a health care system you feel you can trust. Best Places to Live pulls from the U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings for proximity to quality health care, which accounts for 2.57% of the final score.

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