Last week, the Globe’s real estate blog had an entry about the “value” of living in the city versus the suburbs.

It’s something I often think about.

Could you pay me enough to live in the suburbs?

Well, first off, for a lot of people, the reverse is an even better question – could you ever pay them enough to live in the city?

What are the true “costs” of living in one over the other?

According to the Globe:

The cost of driving keeps accelerating. The Brookings Institution believes those costs should change the way we think about housing affordability. The traditional measure is that a family can afford to spend about 30 percent of its income on housing. Brookings argues that families instead should spend no more than 48 percent of income on housing and transportation combined.

The point is that some urban neighborhoods are more affordable than they seem, because it costs less to get around, while some suburban areas seem more affordable than they are: Cheap homes, expensive commutes.

There are the direct costs. For myself, I don’t own a car (I know, right?). So, the savings are probably $250-$350 for a lease, plus $200 per month in insurance. (I’d have to have a really nice car, being a real estate agent, and my insurance might be more, since I keep hitting pedestrians or their dogs whenever I drive.)

But, most people who live in the city own a car. And, they pay for parking, either renting a space or as part of their condo purchase. Figure $200 – $300 per month, in Boston Proper.

Meaning, more expensive than if you own in the ‘burbs.

I, myself, use ZipCar, which costs me around $100 – $200 per month. (My favorite is a yellow Mini Cooper.) Cars right across the street at around $8 per hour, inclusive of gas and insurance.

But, there’s more benefits to living in one place over the other than owning a car, of course.

The biggest expense to me would be the cost of sitting in traffic. The amount of time and aggravation it would take would drive me absolutely insane. Insane. Like, Michael Douglas in that movie when he snaps. You know what I mean, you put up with it anytime you’re on the Southeast Expressway at rush hour.

Anyway, there’s no way for me to quantify that cost. My guess is it’s somewhere around the cost of having a guy pick me up in a black car, each day. Say, $3,000 per month?

If each $100,000 in home loan will cost you around $650 a month, then that cost is an additional $450,000 on your purchase price.

Meaning, the equivalent home in the city is worth $450,000 more than one in the country, because you don’t have to put up with traffic, each day.

So, if you spent $500,000 on a single-family home in a nice suburb, you’d be willing to spend $950,000 in the city, so that you wouldn’t have to drive.

Of course, for $500,000 in a nice suburb, you could get a 1,800-2,400 square foot home with a yard and driveway, whereas for $950,000 in the city you’d get 1,200 square feet in a cramped two-bed condo with uneven floors and the distant sounds of police sirens.

Meaning, there’s no real way to measure the difference.

That’s when I lost interest. But, maybe it’s fun to think about for a couple minutes while you’re at work today.

Source: The Cost of Commuting – By Binyamin Appelbaum, The Boston Globe

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