Thinking about relocating? Here's all the info you need to make your decision — and where to find it.
You may have been impressed by a city you visited once on vacation or that you discovered while scrolling through, say, a list of the Top 100 Best Affordable Places to Live. But if you’re considering a move and looking for a new city to call home, a lot of factors influence your decision.
Here are a half dozen questions to answer before landing on your next place to live, and where to gather the information so you can find a city that’s just right for you.
1. “What’s the cost of living?”
Knowing just how far your hard-earned dollar will go in a new city is a top priority when you’re looking to relocate.
As more companies – particularly those in tech, finance and insurance – allow their employees to continue working remotely on a full-time basis after COVID-19, more people have the option to move out of big, expensive metro areas and find more affordable places to live. The appeal of affordable small and mid-sized cities has never been stronger or more attainable; imagine working for a Bay Area tech company, but living in a smaller, friendlier city and paying a fraction of Bay Area rent (seriously, don’t read these median home prices unless you’re sitting down). This trend also allows employers to hire top talent without hefty relocation and cost of living fees. This could bolster the appeal of places like Tulsa, which has been setting up incentive programs to convince remote workers to move to their cities through the Tulsa Remote program.
Of course, housing affordability is a good metric to begin with, and you can plug U.S. cities into Livability’s “Find Your City” tool to easily access data on median home prices, median rent, and a housing affordability ranking.
But cost of living isn’t just about housing costs. Other considerations include things like retail sales tax rates, parks passes, fishing licenses, parking fees, the price of an average lunch out, and how much it costs to register and insure your car, says Baron Christopher Hanson, lead consultant and owner of RedBaronUSA, who has worked as a consultant with chamber of commerce groups. If you travel frequently (in normal times), are flights affordable from your home airport? Do local museums, zoos, and botanical gardens offer free days? How much are bus passes?
“Tailor your list to your own life, family, career and interests,” Hanson says.
2. “How much are property taxes and HOA fees?”
While you may have a good idea of what median rent prices or home costs are in an area, go a step further and review property taxes and HOA fees to get a true snapshot of your cost of living.
To find an area’s property taxes, you can use an online calculator.
Homeowner association fees have been on the rise throughout the country, according to a study from Trulia. Average monthly HOA fees were $250 in 2005 but ballooned to $331 by 2015, which outpaced the growth in housing prices and inflation rates. Metros with the cheapest monthly HOA fees included Nashville, Tennessee ($194); Las Vegas, Nevada ($198); Indianapolis, Indiana ($213); Charlotte, North Carolina ($218) and Warren, Michigan ($218).
HOA fees can be tricky. They may seem outrageous to former renters or those who lived in a neighborhood that didn’t have associations, explains Tracy Jones, a realtor with RE/MAX Oak Crest Realty in Elkhart, Indiana and Sarasota, Florida. “But these fees might include trash, cable, security, a gym, internet,” she says. “So, you might actually save money.” The takeaway? Research what’s included to decide if it’s worth it for you.
3. “How diverse is the economy?”
One way to determine how healthy a local economy is, and how it might weather a recession, is to check out the diversity of its industries and how evenly employment is distributed across these industries and occupations.
Economic development offices make information available about key industries and will often have data on the area’s major employers and how many people each company employs. Labor market analytics firm Emsi has reported on industry diversity and Livability recently shared a list of the 10 Most Diversified Economies in the U.S.
4. “What opportunities are available for young professionals?”
When you move to a new city, it helps to have a network that will help set you up for success. Check with the local chamber of commerce to see if there’s an active young professionals branch.
Some areas excel when it comes to embracing young professionals. For example, in Chattanooga, ChattaNewbies hosts happy hours to bring young professionals together and hosts events so newcomers can learn the history of Chattanooga and where the city is headed next. Plus, Protege Chattanooga runs a mentoring program for early and mid-career professionals, allowing them to learn from local executives and a Young Professional Summit includes expert-led career sessions.
In Kentucky, the Northern Kentucky Young Professionals program provides those under the age of 40 with professional development and community involvement opportunities.
A number of young professional groups have formed throughout Wisconsin, including Madison Magnet, a group that hosts professional development events, organizes volunteer opportunities and holds happy hours and social gatherings.
Thinking of starting your own business? Check in with the area’s economic development office, the state’s small business office or the local chamber to see what kind of incentives and grants are available for entrepreneurs.
5. “How easy is it to get around?”
Getting around town with ease makes everyday life more enjoyable. You can find out just how walkable a city or neighborhood is by plugging it into Walk Score, which layers in factors like whether there’s “a center” like a main street or public space, if there are parks and public spaces to gather, if there are streets designed for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as transit and if there’s affordable housing located near businesses. (Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live list also factors in walk score and accessibility.)
As for transportation, in addition to checking for existing transit lines, city shuttles and bus routes, pay attention to what investments a city is making in its infrastructure by checking out City Council or transportation authority announcements and meeting minutes.
And if standstill traffic is a dealbreaker for you, consider one of these 10 great cities that has little to no traffic (yes, really).
6. “What outdoor recreation is available, and how easy is it to access?”
As we’ve all been cooped up in COVID-19 quarantine and lost access to many of our favorite indoor gathering places, we’ve realized just how important it is to have access to the great outdoors. If you’re making a move, it’s important to ask what types of amenities – mountains, rivers, lakes, large public parks – are in your greater backyard, and what kind of access will you have to them.
Information about how many miles of trails and the number of public parks and golf courses are often made available by communities. But some cities have particularly interesting outdoor amenities. Take for instance Castle Rock, Colorado’s “Challenge Hill,” which is a heart-pumping 200-step incline that shows off sweeping views of Pikes Peak and the Front Range. Or, in Prattville, Alabama, a wilderness park in the city has a trail shaded by 60-foot bamboo trees. Yes, please!