The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Best Place to Live

Ready to move but aren't sure where to go? These 20 questions will help you figure out the best place to live for you.

Matt Carmichael
On Monday, August 29, 2016 - 01:40
Find Your Best Place to Live

A friend recently wrote they were considering a move. Originally their family was from the North but they’d moved to the South on what was supposed to be a temporary assignment. One year turned into three and they found themselves liking their new home more than they’d anticipated. They’re now confronted with a tougher choice about where to live than they had thought they would face. There were considerable pros and cons on both ends.

My advice was to consider the question: Does where you live allow you to lead the life you want?

The 100 Best Places to Live in America 2016

What do I mean by that? I mean you should ask yourself the following questions when considering a new place to live. Some answers are objective, some subjective but I think it helps to get you thinking about the vital role of quality places in our quality of life.

With that, let’s play 20 questions:

1. What do you like/dislike about the place’s climate and how much does that matter to you?

Also consider air quality and the effect this can have on your health.

2. What kind of house do you want to live in?

Single family home? Apartment? Condo? Airstream trailer?

3. Do you feel safe here?

If you don't know, you should probably take a trip and find out. This is very important.

4. What kind of yard do you want?

Big yard? Small yard? No yard?

5. How many cars will living here require?

This question depends highly on your place in life. Are you single, in a committed relationship, or married? Do you have children of driving age? This brings us to the next question.

6. How will you get around? Is there public transportation? Is the city walkable? Will you have options?

Here are some great resources that might help your decision:

The 8 Best Cities for Walking to Work

The Key to a Happy Commute

7. That being said, how long will your commute be? Are you OK with that?

You may have no idea because you don't have a job lined up yet, 

8. Can you afford all of the above?

Affordability is one of our favorite things to highlight in American cities. Each year, we put out a list of the 10 Most Affordable Cities in the U.S., and here are the lists from the past two years:

The 10 Most Affordable Places to Live 2016

The 10 Most Affordable Places to Live 2015

We also look at affordable cities in individual states, like Florida, Colorado, and California. Be sure to check out the state you're interested in moving to!

9. How’s the economy? How hard will it be to find a job if you want one (or a different job if you want to change?)

Clearly one of the most important questions to ask yourself before moving. Most of our city pages, and some of our state pages, list the top employers for each location; so that's a good place to start when considering a move.

I got a job in another city. Now what?

10. How long do you plan to live here? If you’re wrong about that would you be happy if you wind up staying significantly longer or shorter?

This is especially important to consider when deciding whether to buy or rent.

11. What are your hobbies? How easy will it be to take part in them in this city?

Fishing, biking, hiking, skiing, knitting, running, etc. Thankfully, we also have a few lists for these activities.

The 9 Best Places for Fishing

The 10 Best Hiking Trails in the U.S.

The 10 Best Cities for Winter Sports

12. Will you find a church that fits you?

If not, hopefully you can just stream the one you love into your living room!

13. What other community (AA meetings? Senior center? Girl Scouts?) needs do you have? Can you fulfill them in this place?

Community engagement is a big factor in all of our best places to live lists, but especially in our small towns guide. Check out the most recent three below:

The 10 Best Small Towns 2016

The 100 Best Small Towns 2015

The 10 Best Small Towns 2014

14. Do you have any special health issues? Can the hospitals/providers support them?

A good resource for helping answer these questions:

The 10 Most Affordable Healthcare Cities in America

15. What kinds of foods do you like? Are their good restaurants/grocers for that?

The team is comprised of some of the biggest foodies in the country (or so we think). Thus, we make it a priority to list the 10 Best Foodie Cities in America each year. Here are some of the recent ones, as well as the best cities for beer and wine.

The 10 Best Foodie Cities 2015

The 10 Best Foodie Cities 2014

The 10 Best Cities for Wine

The 99 Best Cities for Beer

16. Is the city near friends and family? Is that a good thing?

Not keen on mom, dad, brother, sister, etc. stopping by? Or are you? Perhaps this a move to settle down and raise a family, which is a big step in life, and why we put out a list each year on the best places to raise families. Here are the two most recent:

The 10 Best Places to Raise a Family 2016

The 10 Best Places to Raise a Family 2015

17. While we're on the topic of families: How are the schools?

Ok, this might not matter to you because you don't have a family; so disregard if not. But if you do, this is clearly an important question. As well as some others: How do you want your kids to get to school (bus, car, walking, etc.)? Will your kids all go to the same school(s) and how will that impact how they get to school?

18. Do you want your kids to play in your yard, a park, or both?

Again, another one to disregard if you don't have a family. If you do, though, the amount of greenspace a city offers is something to consider. Here's a list that might help in this decision:

The 5 Best Cities for Parks 

19. How does this place vote? Is that how you vote?

In other words: What are the political leanings of the city/area you're considering moving to? These three lists might help you better decide--in case politics isn't something you're willing to compromise on.

The Best Cities for Liberals

The Best Cities for Conservatives

The Best Cities for Moderates

20. And finally, as your answers to these questions change over time, can this city accommodate those new potential needs/wants or will you need to start over at question #1?

The basic point of this guide is to provide some quantitative, but mostly qualitative ways to look at your decision. More to the point, it’s to get you thinking about where you live in broader terms. You’re not just buying a house, you’re buying into a community. Everything about that community – from its leaders to your neighbors to the way it’s physically laid out – will have very real impacts on how your live your life day-to-day and year-to-year.

I’m sure there are more questions. So let us know if you have them! 

Good luck!


Matt Carmichael is a contributing editor and former editor-in-chief of He is a recognized authority on demographics, consumer trends, economic development and best places to live.