Mortgage 101

Location vs. Commute: How To Decide Where To Buy a Home

Wondering where to buy a home? You’ve probably heard the realtor’s mantra: “location, location, location.”

It’s true that location matters for your budget; the more in-demand an area is, the more a home is likely to cost. On the other hand, a top location can offer good schools, a low crime rate, and convenient access to shopping, which may all be important to you

But what about the cost of commuting to work from your new home?

As a remote worker, I’m able to sidestep a lengthy commute, but most Americans aren’t so lucky. The average one-way commute time is 26.1 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That adds up to 4.35 hours weekly, assuming you work a five-day schedule.

If you’re going to spend time commuting each week — not to mention money, if you’re paying for gas or public transportation — you need to be sure the home you choose makes the trip worth it.

Get clear about what you want

Deciding where to buy a home starts with finding a neighborhood that fits your lifestyle and has a cost of commuting you’re willing to accept.

Selecting the right location is critical to your life and family development, says Alison Bernstein, a residential expert with real estate education site Suburban Jungle. “The goal is to find you and your brood in a place where the culture and values of the town match yours.”

Say you find a great home in a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs that has everything you want: a gym close by, a big yard where your kids can play, a farmer’s market you can head to on the weekends.

But, living in that location means a 50-minute commute driving one-way. That’s almost two hours a day and just over eight hours a week you’re spending in your car.

Now, say you find another home somewhere closer to work, with a 20-minute commute one-way. Instead of living in a low-key neighborhood in a larger house with a yard, however, you’re getting a smaller home on a busy city street.

At this point, where to buy a home really becomes a question of what matters most: a low cost of commuting, or a house that matches up with everything on your must-have checklist.

“Most buyers will agree the slightly longer commute is worth it to have a home you love,” says Tripp Cade, a licensed real estate salesperson with The Corcoran Group in New York City.

But, how much of a commute should you be willing to commit to? Cade says 30 to 45 minutes is typically viewed as a reasonable commute by the clients he works with. Remember, though, that a longer commute could mean a better bargain on a home.

“Just 10 more minutes on the train or bus could perhaps score you a lot more for your money,” Bernstein says.

Know where to draw the line

Compromise can play a part in deciding where to buy a home when you’re facing a potentially steep cost of commuting. What you have to figure out is what kind of tradeoff you’re willing to accept.

Let’s go back to those two earlier examples. Buying the first home would mean sacrificing over eight hours a week of your time to your commute, but you’d get more of what you want lifestyle-wise.

While the second home might not fit your ideal mold to a T, it gives you back five hours a week because of the shorter commute. That’s more time you’d have to be with your family, pursue your hobbies, or just relax.

You need to be clear on just how long you’re willing to commute to get what you want from a home. Cade says buyers shouldn’t agree to a commute longer than one hour each way, as “it interferes with their personal life, which will eventually affect them professionally.”

If you’re not comfortable giving up everything you want in a home, but you also don’t want to deal with the time drain of a longer commute, consider splitting the difference.

Choose a home with some of the things you want and a moderate commute time.

And remember, deciding where to buy a home is just one link in the chain. Once you’ve found a home and made an offer, get in touch with a Finance of America Mortgage advisor to get the ball rolling on your home loan.

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