Sure, most people know the concept of suburbs and have a sense of what it might mean to choose to buy and live in a suburban environment compared with a home in the city. But “exurb” is a less-familiar and more mysterious term that you might not yet know. At a time of significant growth into these areas, now is a good time for house hunters to get familiar with the concept of exurbs. Here, we’ll lay out what you need to know about the exurbs vs suburbs in today’s real estate market with expert intel from Ellen Williams, a top-selling agent who works with 66% more single-family homes than the average agent in Chicago suburb of Joliet, Illinois.
Which one will be right for you? That’s highly personal, of course. As agents, “we need to make sure we know what our clients are looking for specifically,” Wiliams says.
“Do you need trains and transportation to a school district? Are you looking for property with acreage? Are you looking for a property with a very large home, with a pond, on a river? It’s really going to depend on what people want and what they want to get for their money.”
Read on as we compare the pros and cons of exurbs versus suburbs for home buyers.
Exurbs vs suburbs: Defining the terms
Let’s start by clarifying the terms and how they differ.
Suburbs are neighborhoods or areas outside major metropolitan areas. They are mostly residential but do typically contain some amenities and stores. They are not as densely populated as a city center.
Exurbs, on the other hand, are located even further out from the city center. They are located somewhere between the suburbs and a rural area; think of exurbs as an additional ring outside a city center.
In these areas, the lots are bigger, and the views might be better (or certainly at least less urban). The property might be closer to nature, with less access to amenities, and less population density.
There are 222 exurb counties containing a total of 34 million people across the country, according to the American Communities Project. The project notes that these communities are fairly wealthy, with a median household income of about $65,500, and a low rate of violent crime compared to the country at large. Populations in these areas tend to be less diverse overall, leaning significantly Republican politically.
Over time, areas like these can gradually turn into suburbs. And they’ve been increasingly popular since the pandemic as buyers seek more home for the money and more space for social distancing — and have more geographical freedom as work life is increasingly flexible and virtual.
Living in the suburbs
Let’s break down the pros and cons of buying and living in the suburbs.
- Compared with the exurbs, you can expect shorter commutes from the suburbs. You’re outside the city, but not too far from it.
- You’ll have more access to amenities of urban living in the suburbs.
- Suburbs may be on public transportation lines, so you have more options for getting around.
“I like living in the suburbs because there’s all the shopping and the amenities that I need, the schools are good, there are parks and those kinds of things,” Williams explains.
“Then I can go to the city when I want to see the big events, a play, a big concert, or a sporting event, or go to the big museums.”
- While less crowded than dense urban environments, expect suburbs to be more crowded and polluted than exurbs.
- Suburbs have higher crime rates than exurbs.
- Given the relative proximity to cities, suburbs will come with a higher price tag. And that may translate to investment opportunities, but it’s not a sure thing.
“Some suburbs are much more affordable than other suburbs. And [potential return on investment] depends on the neighborhood and its growth,” Williams says.
“A few years ago, maybe there was a great, young, up-and-coming suburb and everyone was moving there. But if the market tanks, and there are many foreclosures, the houses do not appreciate compared to some of the other areas that might have people who have lived there for 30 or 40 years and have a lot of equity already in the homes.”
Living in the exurbs
Now let’s consider the pros and cons of buying and living further out in the exurbs.
- Because you’re further away from the city and its denser population, you can expect more privacy (and more opportunities for social distancing) in the exurbs.
- For the same reason, you can also expect less noise and congestion.
- Homes are usually more affordable in the exurbs, meaning you can get more for less.
- Out here, you’ll have better access to nature.
- Some may have small cultural hubs of their own, for a desirable, hyper-local community feel.
- The exurbs are known as safe places to live with low crime rates. In these communities, violent crime rates averaged 188 reported violent crimes per 100,000 people, less than half the national average, according to American Communities Project.
- Further from the city means longer commutes when you do have to go in. “The further you go out, the longer you would have to drive to have access to the things that you at some point will want to access that a major city might offer, such as a medical facility,” Williams says.
- Indeed, the exurbs afford less access to amenities, including health care and hospitals for both emergency and non-emergency situations.
- Don’t expect access to public transportation when you live this far out. Even Uber and Lyft might be a stretch!
- Staples (such as flour or eggs) can be more expensive if you don’t want to drive to get them.
- You may need septic tanks or generators because there isn’t easy access to facilities out here. The same goes for infrastructure you can expect in a big city, like tech connectivity. “Sometimes, the farther out you go, the more spotty the internet and phone services,” Williams notes.
- Because the exurbs are spread out, this environment isn’t very walkable.
- You might find more limited potential for return on investment, but it’s all “going to depend on the area and the appreciation and jobs,” Williams says. “You can build the most beautiful home but if there’s nobody around there that would want to buy it, then your value is not going to increase. If it’s way out there, and the people that have that money to buy live in the city, it’s not going to sell as quickly.”
But all of these details won’t make every would-be exurb buyer’s “con” list.
“If you live in the exurbs, you don’t necessarily need all those services,” Williams says. “You don’t mind driving 15 to 20 minutes or maybe a half hour to get to the grocery store. You don’t mind driving farther if you need those organized sports or activities. Some people just want a little bit more of a quiet atmosphere — more nature, more outdoor activities like fishing and biking and hiking.”
Whether you’re looking for a suburban or exurban home, Williams advises, make sure you work with a local agent and lean into their expertise on the specifics of the region and its own unique pros and cons.
“Real estate is very local, so it’s important to have a local Realtor® who knows the area,” she says.
Header Image Source: (Susan Lewis-Penix / Unsplash)