Urban or Suburban: What’s a Home Buyer to Do?

Journalist and ecologist Lakis Polycarpou recently penned a Polis blog article titled “Is it Time to Transcend the ‘Urban-Suburban’ Divide?” An admitted city lover, he concluded that suburbia (at least today’s suburbia) isn’t so bad after all.

Then again, a recent article in Atlantic Cities spoke positively of the trend to urbanism, whereby homes in many walkable, centrally located neighborhoods have held or increased their value while that of their suburban cousins declined.

Across North America, experts are predicting a trend toward urban living sparked by immigration, economic factors, the increasing price of gasoline and “most of all” demographics, as the two largest demographic groups – baby boomers and millennials – appear to be driving the urban boom.

Some cities are welcoming the influx and making changes to make city living more appealing, including upgrading infrastructure and transit systems. However, the suburbs are changing, too, morphing from car-friendly cookie-cutter developments that excluded pedestrians and transit riders to today’s suburbs that are anything but.

While many developers haven’t lost their taste for McMansions, some innovative architects are designing smaller homes in town-like settings around greenspace. Targeted to appeal to downsizing boomers and millennials who don’t want the expense or bother of big properties, this new suburbia competes with the “urbs.”

Also competitive, new developments are arranged around golf courses, waterways and community centers – making them more livable. Even the auto is downplayed, thanks to bike paths and trails. Developments also include a mix of housing: Once the preserve of single-family homes, many suburbs now host the fastest-growing segment of the real estate market: multifamily housing.

Something to ponder. But for our confused home buyer, we point to a sentiment expressed recently by one real estate watcher: There’s only one right answer, and it’s whatever is best for you.

Buying With Help: If They Pay, Do They Get a Say?

The high cost of education, poor job prospects and rising prices in many housing markets mean more young prospective home buyers are turning to their families for help to buy their first home.

Traditionally many parents have opted to contribute toward a down payment, but in recent years, that contribution has become bigger and the practice has grown in popularity.

It’s becoming so common that house-and-home channels have a whole show – My House, Your Money – focused on buyers who can afford to buy only with their families’ help.

For the contributors, it’s not as simple as writing a check and waiting for the housewarming party. Now, in time-honored “pay the piper” tradition, many families want a role in the buying process; they attend viewings, push their ideas and even try to hijack the real estate agent/buyer relationship.

The gap between what young buyers want and what families feel the kids need can create a dramatic tug-of-war that makes great fodder for a TV show. Episodes of My House, Your Money show adult children asking their parents to take a step back and parents using their investment as a bargaining chip.

It isn’t always this way: Just because they’re investors doesn’t mean that family members can make the big decisions. As real estate agents who have dealt with these situations point out, most parents want what’s best for their kids, and while it might not be what they would pick, that condo in the sky may be what makes their offspring happy.