Suburban life ain’t cheaper

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Extraordinary real-estate costs in cities like Vancouver and Toronto are pushing people further and further away from said cities.

A single detached house in Vancouver costs close to 1.5 millions. A townhouse costs  about 500K and a condo 350K. No wonder people rush to the suburbs in hopes of snapping-up properties at a somewhat lower price.

The problem with this approach is two-fold: first, it drives prices up in the suburbs as well. Bidding wars and no-subject offers have become the norm there too. Second, it will cost you more if you have to buy a car or two.

A recent study compared the costs of housing in Langley with the costs of commuting Downtown Vancouver for 25 years. There are very few properties assessed at over a million  in Langley. However, the transportation costs would be close to 565K over the course of a quarter century. Staggering! On the other hand, someone living in Vancouver would spend “only” 298K in transportation costs, over the same period of time.

The choice of Langley is not random. Public transit is fairly limited in this city, making a car a necessity. Technically, one could go Downtown Vancouver from Langley with bus/skytrain but it would take them close to 2 hours. There are also fewer job opportunities.

Case in point with my own story: before buying my first condo in Surrey, I rented in North Vancouver and New Westminster. I worked mainly Downtown Vancouver and have been calling New West my workplace for close to 5 years. I never rented Downtown Vancouver, as I simply couldn’t afford it and didn’t want to. Rents are a waste of money in this part of the city!

With some previous salaries I made, I simply couldn’t afford a car, but I also didn’t need one. When I was in North Van and worked Downtown, I would simply take the Seabus. It took me 15 minutes to get to work. The best was when I moved to New West and also found a job there. I would walk to work.

If I needed a car, I was member of a couple of car-share organizations. It was way cheaper than owning one. I would also claim the monthly bus pass as a tax credit. Financially, it looked like an idyllic situation, when it was not necessarily the case.

The black point is that I was renting when it no longer made sense for me to do so, both financially and personally. I am not getting into the rent vs.buy debate here!

Back to my own story, I didn’t qualify for anything in Vancouver or closer suburbs, so I turned to further suburbs, namely Surrey and Langley. With public transit more limited, I had to buy a car, which added $ 800 to my monthly budget. Buying was cheaper than renting, but when I factored in that extra $ 800, I wasn’t so ahead anymore!

The yearly cost of a compact car in Canada is just under $ 10 000. If you have a bigger car or a truck, that amount will be higher. If you have 2 cars, it will be double.

Living in the suburbs used to be a no-brainer. It is definitely no longer the case. Nowadays, suburban vs. urban living is a trade-off between housing and transportation costs. Before deciding to move to the suburbs, whether as a renter or owner, take a look at your transportation costs and commute time.

As for me, I do not regret buying in the suburbs and getting a car, despite the extra expense. My car will be paid off next year and I anticipate my transportation costs to actually be lower for a few years after.

Most importantly, I enjoy my suburban life.

4 thoughts on “Suburban life ain’t cheaper

  1. John L. says:

    Life in the suburbs has its advantages and disadvantages. For single young people have no reason to live in the suburbs, their whole life is in the downtown. And when you have a family and children you want a quiet stable life. That’s when the time comes to consider the possibility of living in the suburbs. Of course, transportation costs are increasing, but it is not so important. You have changed the priorities in life.

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  2. Barnaby says:

    I think you are right with big cities. With mid-size cities like Baltimore, where I live, the public transportation isn’t very good, so you end up having to get a car anyway. So there isn’t a car-free cost savings for living in the city.

    Like

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