Hunting for a home is not the most straightforward process if you're facing a number of obstacles like spiraling house prices or intense competition for properties close to a city center. Expanding where you look at real estate for sale is essential, but when does it make sense to buy in a far-flung suburb instead of sticking to your initial goal of a home in a walkable urban core? That's not such an easy decision because cost, it turns out, does not have the final word on where you buy. In some cases, a suburban home may be a much better alternative.
Price Differentials, Commute Costs, and Walkability
Obviously price plays somewhat of a role; if you can't afford the home price, that's that. But if you're looking at homes that are slightly cheaper in suburbs and slightly more expensive in urban areas, but you think the reduced commute or local walkability scores may mitigate the higher price in an urban area, it's time to make a list. You'll have the commute times and gas prices to deal with if you can't telecommute; you'll also have different insurance prices, too, for both your car and your home. Your car insurance could go up because of higher crime (not necessarily in the urban center; suburbs can be just as bad), or go up because you're driving more if you live further away from work.
Another issue is convenience when you have to drive. For example, if you live in an urban center, you might be able to walk to cafes, a market, and work -- but where's the nearest hardware store that sells lumber (face it, you're not going to walk home with lumber), or the nearest big box store that sells those things like lamps and storage containers? If you end up having to drive everywhere anyway, you aren't saving that much money on gas by living in an urban center. Not to mention that the parking lots will likely be smaller, requiring you to drive around a lot more in the search for a space.
On the other hand, if you live in a suburb, you might live close enough to a retail center that has ample parking and enough stores in the center to make it a one-stop shop for most of what you need. You may also find that your far-flung suburb is close enough to a smaller town that you can move a lot of your shopping and dining there, reducing your driving even further.
Space Needs, Inside and Out
The image of a grand old Victorian near the core is a nice one, but it's also one that's often out of reach due to cost. If you need a lot of space, you'll want to look either in an older suburb that has kind of been absorbed by the urban core, or a newer suburb that's farther away. That does mean that you'll likely be looking at some McMansion-type homes that have a lot of space inside but not a lot outside. There is an advantage to that, though: Less land means fewer landscaping costs.
People tend to think of far suburbs as totally remote, but if you think in terms of the future, you might find that your remote suburb is poised to become a smallish urban center itself. The population will likely grow, and chances are there will be more commercial development as cities and states try to mitigate sprawl. You'll find your retail and food choices increasing.
Buying in a suburb is not the wasteful commute that many seem to think it is. As you can see, in many cases you're not driving any more overall in a suburb than you are in an urban center. Talk to your real estate agent about looking further afield and whether there are areas that are targets for further development. You may find a great long-term residence this way.