Families may move for a number of reasons, like a new job or an expanding household. Of course, plenty of homebuyers seek out a home in advance of starting a family, too. Findings from WalletHub’s research compared more than 180 cities in the country on some key elements for comfortable family living such as cost of housing, school and healthcare systems, and recreation. Chicago ranked 104 on the overall list, though the city did rank pretty high on the “family fun” factor, with some of the most playgrounds per capita. But Overland Park, Kansas was ranked the best place to raise a family when comparing all the factors.
Experts in family studies, psychology, and household finance provided insight on some key elements that real estate agents’ clients should consider if they are searching for a home with a family in mind. Across the board, neighborhood and education quality were the top indicators among experts in determining factors that influence a child’s development.
Public amenities in a neighborhood like parks and transportation alongside its cultural makeup affect the neighborhood’s overall quality and make a difference to families according to Charles Bleiker, associate professor at Florida International University. Crime rates in cities are also important to consider. Moving to lower poverty neighborhoods improves college attendance rates, according to Robert Shibley of the University at Buffalo in New York.
The quality of education available in neighborhoods is another core indicator for families. “A robust school system produces a skilled workforce that can keep a city competitive in the future,” said associate professor of sociology at Eckerd College Nicholas Dempsy. Some of the country’s most successful cities are hubs for education including Boston, Austin and Madison, Wisconsin.
Availability of early education is crucial according to both Shibley and Dunn. The latter emphasized the importance of cities that have a high-quality public education system ranging from Pre-K to post-secondary education institutions. Larger cities offer more educational choices like magnet schools and community colleges along with access to cultural and artistic events. This also makes urban environments more attractive to immigrant families who can find jobs and people from similar cultural backgrounds.
Several of the experts mentioned the presence of recreation and family-friendly activities to be essential factors for families to consider when searching for a home. “A child’s development can be enriched by access to things like museums and performances that are offered in cities,” Dempsy said. Some cities offer social safety nets for lower income children to help give them a better chance of success. Young families might gravitate to cities where there are an abundance of family-friendly places like libraries, pools and community centers.
Cost of living
Having kids is often expensive, so it is also imperative to consider the cost of living, especially in an urban environment. “Think very carefully about the cost of living. Especially now that rent can eat upwards of 50 percent of families’ incomes, a lot of folks seem to be avoiding moving to certain cities like New York City or San Francisco because of the very high rents,” Dempsy said.
Some advice the experts have for young families is to first and foremost set realistic financial expectations. “One of the biggest mistakes that young couples make is having children before they have finished their education and settled on a career in the interest of maintaining financial stability for the future with the added expenses of having children,” Bleiker said.
Quality of life
Access to fresh produce and healthy and nutritious foods can vary from place to place throughout the country, but is critical for a child’s development. This proved imperative to most of the experts. “If one lives in a food desert, where fresh food is expensive and difficult to access, development will be hindered,” Brown said.
It is also essential that neighborhoods have diversity among their population. Being surrounded by a variety of cultures and backgrounds and different kinds of people can be another important experience for families. Cities that ensure their municipality is diverse and inclusive for all social groups and has a diversified, technology-based economy tend to attract more families. Public safety and affordable, functional public transportation were other indicators experts considered key in attracting families to certain neighborhoods. Equity and inclusion are also important factors to evaluate.
Heeding these considerations can have a significant impact on families hoping to live better lives upon moving to a new home.