There’s a lot to like about buying a home in the suburbs instead of the city. Houses are bigger and more affordable on the outskirts. Arguably, the quality of life is better too. Small communities have quality schools, low crime rates and plenty of amenities nearby, which is desirable when you’re raising a family.
On the other hand, most jobs are located in the city, so if you live in the suburbs you’ll be faced with a long commute each day. That means more time and money spent travelling to work. With gas prices touching $1.40 in some provinces, the extra costs can really add up.
City vs. Suburbs
Friends of ours, Dan and Heather, built a house in a small town about 35 kilometres from Lethbridge, AB. Their home cost $320,000 – about $100,000 less than a similar home in Lethbridge – and their lot is twice the size.
Heather works in town, and Dan works in Lethbridge. His drive to the office takes about 35 minutes each way. Between his daily commute, and their trips into Lethbridge for grocery shopping and entertainment, they spend $550 a month on gas.
We chose to build our house in a new community in Lethbridge, which is only 3.5 kilometres from where I work. Our home cost $420,000, and the lots are smaller than what we’d get out in the suburbs. Since I have such a short commute, we only spend $125 a month on gas.
Which is cheaper?
Most people assume that living in the suburbs is much cheaper than living in the city. And while Lethbridge is not exactly downtown Toronto or Vancouver, the comparison between city and suburbs is still valid.
So who’s better off? Financially speaking, it’s a bit of a draw. Let’s look at the numbers.
Dan and Heather put 20% down on their home, and have a mortgage of $256,000. Their mortgage payment is $1,210 a month, and property taxes are $200 a month, for a total monthly cost of $1,410.
We put a bit more than 20% down, and we’ve increased our monthly payments to pay off our mortgage faster. However, to keep things simple, let’s assume we also put 20% down. That leaves us with a mortgage of $336,000. Our monthly payments are $1,590 and property taxes are $250 a month, for a total monthly payment of $1,840.
Related: How Much House Can I Afford?
So, we’re spending $430 more on housing costs than Dan and Heather, but that’s offset by the $425 more they’re spending on gas.
It’s about lifestyle
If there’s no financial benefit to living in the suburbs vs. living in the city, it must be about lifestyle.
Dan and Heather enjoy spending time with the kids in their big backyard, and having friends over for BBQ’s in the summer. They live on a quiet street in a good neighborhood, and their kids will go to a small school and get lots of attention from their teachers.
But I like to bug Dan that I can get home from work, change my clothes and be at the driving range before he’s even halfway home. I like that it takes less me than 10 minutes to get to and from work, and that’s something many downtown residents in larger cities enjoy as well.
Many people I know who live and work in downtown Calgary have a quick bus ride or a short walk to and from the office. Other friends bought houses in Airdrie and Okotoks to get out of the city, but they drive 45 minutes to an hour to and from work each day.
You’ll pay less to live out in the ‘burbs, but the savings will be off-set if you commute daily in-and-out of the city. So if it’s a wash financially, you’ll need to evaluate other factors when deciding where to live.
If you value your time and can’t stand a long commute, then you’ll need to pay more for a house in the city closer to work. But if you’re looking for a quiet life with a big yard to enjoy, maybe a house in the suburbs is right for you.
Do you prefer to live in the city, or the suburbs?