- Exurbs — or towns that are farther from major cities than suburbs — gained popularity during the pandemic.
- Twenty percent of buyers bought homes in small towns last year, a recent NAR report found.
- Insider scoured US suburban home prices to find six that the average American could afford.
So you want to live the small-town life – in a place that’s quiet and close to nature, but also not to far from a big city?
You’re not alone.
Since the pandemic hit, leading to a surge in remote work for certain occupations, there has been a surge in people moving to areas known as exurbs — areas outside of major cities that are further away than suburbs but still able to commute .
According to data from the National Association of Home Builders, the growth rate of single-family home construction in the outer boroughs increased by 22.8% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022. This makes it the fastest-growing region the company is keeping an eye on.
“As a result of COVID, demand shifted to the rural or extra-urban markets,” Robert Dietz, the organization’s chief economist, told Insider. “It has a lot to do with hybrid work, technology work from people’s changing preferences, desire for more space.”
Take Warwick, New York, for example, a typical suburb.
About 60 miles, or less than a two-hour drive, northwest of New York City, Warwick has farms, hiking trails, apple orchards, a mountain-view dairy, a drive-in movie theater, and a small downtown area with shops and restaurants.
The only problem with a place like Warwick? The insatiable pandemic demand for a home close to the city has pushed home prices up.
Amid the pandemic, interest in Warwick has surged along with other outlying towns such as Orange and Sullivan. A real estate agent in the area told a local newspaper, the Times Herald-Record, that the demand is a “feeding frenzy” and there just aren’t enough homes to meet it.
According to Realtor.com, the average home price in Warwick reached $460,000 in February. With insurance and taxes, that’s a price tag that even a typical $107,000-a-year New York City household would struggle to afford, let alone a New York City household that’s further from the city and tends to earn less.
So Insider went in search of places where the exurban dream could be realized.
We looked at cities or small towns within 90 miles of cities with populations over 250,000 where someone with the typical American family income — which is about $67,500 a year according to census data — could afford a home.
Insider’s personal finance desk suggests that total housing costs — including a mortgage, taxes and insurance — shouldn’t account for more than 30% of a household’s income. Overall, a typical family can afford a home between $225,000 and $325,000, depending on the property tax rate.
Using the 30% standard, Realtor.com’s February home price data, and Rocket Mortgage’s mortgage calculator, we’ve compiled a list of six of the best ZIP codes we could find where the typical home costs less than $300,000, which roughly corresponds to the affordability range of the typical American family.
We also tried to capture some of the intangible values that make a place worth living in. The cities on the list all offer access to nature. Each has some kind of historical, cultural or artistic significance. They also have vibrant, walkable downtown areas.
Compiling this list was difficult: many cities close to major cities are overpriced, while cheaper locations are farther away than ideal. And remember that this is not an exhaustive list, but rather a plethora of attractive options for the average family that wants to be close to a big city but want a small town feel.