From the New York Times:

So the couple did what countless other city dwellers with growing families and a hankering for more space or different lifestyles often do: They moved to the suburbs. Some, like the Simons, may have been priced out; others looked to cash out and take advantage of the steady run-up in property prices. …

“It’s less about the home you want to buy and more about what you’re looking for in terms of the lifestyle,” said Kathy Braddock, a managing director of William Raveis Real Estate, which recently created the Raveis Escapes website to match buyers with towns that best reflect their desired lifestyles. …

For many city residents, the decision to leave is difficult, and often fraught with a whole new set of compromises. You may be happily trading an overcrowded co-op for a commodious colonial, but you may have less time to enjoy it because of the long train ride home from work. And you’re responsible for maintaining it, rather than relying on a super. Forget, too, about hailing a cab to get you around town. …

Another important consideration: where your extended family and close friends reside. “Are they going to be part of your life? This can anchor you to an area,” Ms. Bernstein said. …

Let’s start with the tangibles. Some characteristics of a community will obviously remain constant, like the geographic composition. Others are slow to change, like the population and demographic makeup, along with the infrastructure and housing stock. …

Something to keep in mind: Communities tend to transform every 15 years or so as residents come and go, or local ordinances change. “You have to look at the young migrants,” Ms. Bernstein said. …

Now for the less tangible: discerning a community’s personality. While Ms. White was exploring Bedford, she said, she took note of interactions with the residents there. “Do they say hello on the sidewalks? What does it feel like in the grocery store?” …

“All the data is out there,” Ms. Bernstein said. “But it’s not the data that you necessarily need. Go and see the people who are sitting in the local Starbucks. Go to the preschool you’re thinking of sending your children to and see who’s picking up and dropping off.” The latter can reveal whether the community is made up of families with stay-at-home mothers or commuting couples. …

You can typically afford a lot more square footage in the suburbs, which is one of the reasons city dwellers decide to leave. The median sale price for a home in Westchester, for instance, was $438,000 at the end of last year, compared with $1.050 million for co-ops and condominiums in Manhattan and $750,000 in Brooklyn, according to the appraiser Jonathan J. Miller of Miller Samuel. …

Then there are the hidden costs buyers might not have considered before their move. “Some people may not be getting much more when you look at the longer commute, higher property taxes and additional upkeep on their property,” Ms. Bernstein said. “It’s not necessarily always cheaper living in the suburbs.”

Suburbs 2

The Simons, who paid $1.05 million for their Upper Montclair house, had to buy two cars after their move. Other unanticipated costs included the need to replace the hot water heater, fix a gas leak and buy a new stove, washing machine and dryer. …

Technology has changed the way some people evaluate commuting times. Because more people’s jobs allow them to telecommute, it may not be as crucial to live near a transit hub, which can open up more purchasing possibilities. Mr. Peschiera, for one, regularly works from home part of the week.

For those with less flexibility, having a good commute — one that is an hour or less each way and with more than one transportation option — can be invaluable. Agents, though, recommend that buyers try out the commute during peak hours to get a better gauge.

Adam Van Fossen, 30, a marketing director for a tech start-up, said that having a reasonable commute was a major factor in his decision …  “I’ll really miss the fast commute that I have now,” he said. “It was only a 15-minute subway ride.”

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Conclusion: In some ways, good frequent transit is more important to the lifestyle of the suburban commuter – and hence housing prices – than the city dweller who has choices.  Odd that the debate seems to often assume the opposite.