Skip to content
Bright lights, big-city condo versus a suburban house
They're the new urbanites: age 26 to 34, often recently married. In the past they might have opted for a small house in the suburbs.
But the trend nowadays is to buy a condo-apartment in the city, provided the neighborhood suits their tastes.
"Younger buyers are increasingly attracted to an amenity-rich lifestyle -- to the dynamism of an area with pubs, restaurants, shops and city parks. This demographic doesn't identify with neighborhoods where soccer moms drive around in minivans," says real estate expert Mark Nash.
Of course, the suburbs retain a certain appeal to many young adults. Some believe a traditional house in the suburbs will gain and hold value better than an urban condo. And many like the autonomy of a detached house with its own garage and garden plot, however diminutive.
"For young buyers, the struggle comes down to this: Which of the two options has the most pros and the fewest cons? This is a personal choice no one can make for you," says Nash, a veteran real estate broker and author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home."
Here are several pointers for young people debating between a city condo and a suburban house:
- Ponder your lifestyle preferences seriously. If you grew up in the suburbs, you may be programmed to think that's the best habitat. It's likely your parents aimed for a suburban abode as soon as they could afford their initial home.
But much has changed since your parents first went house shopping. Among other factors, many downtown neighborhoods have been revitalized in recent years, making them more appealing. Perhaps a number of your friends -- who've yet to have children -- now live in the city and talk up the benefits of urban living.
"The access and amenities of city living can outweigh the smaller size of the home you can afford there. Anyway, a suburban house doesn't have the same status it did before," says Ray Brown, co-author of "Home Buying for Dummies."
- Think through the implications of commuting from your city condo. How will your housing choice affect your daily commute? That depends on where you work relative to the neighborhood where you choose to buy.
"Living downtown could be wonderful -- a huge time-saver -- if you also work downtown. Maybe you can walk to work or take a short trip on mass transit. Possibly, you could save an hour or two each day -- time that could go to better purposes. Then, too, there's the saving on gas," Nash says.
But suppose you work in the suburbs and are counting on easy sailing to work from your downtown condo due to a "reverse commute."
If so, make sure you test-drive your route to be sure congestion won't be a problem. Because many employment centers are now suburban, you might be surprised how many downtown residents head out of the city each morning.
Evaluate downtown parking in light of your social life. Most potential buyers of downtown condos ask about the availability of parking within or around any building they're considering. And for most people, one or two spaces is enough. But will your friends and family members have easy access to on-street or off-street parking? This question could be important to your social life.
- Consider possible ways to attract your urban friends to a suburban house. Suppose your friends are predominately city dwellers. But you're convinced that buying a classic three-bedroom suburban house is a better investment. Can you buy in the suburbs and still keep up your social connections?
Nash says this is realistic, so long as you schedule parties and get-togethers at your house that would make the trek to the suburbs worthwhile for your urban friends.
- Mull over your space needs before deciding where to buy. If you're like most first-time buyers, your housing budget is finite, and a large penthouse in a tony city neighborhood is well beyond your reach. The most you can afford in a nice section of the city will be a midsize condo.
Can you afford to buy a city condo large enough that won't feel crowded? Couples vary in their space requirements, Nash says, but most need at least two bedrooms and two baths to feel comfortable.