Luxury in the City Versus Luxury in the Suburbs

ESTATENVY examines what people want in an urban environment compared to what they want in a suburban environment

Life in the city or life in the suburbs? For many, it’s a choice they only passively make. You were born downtown or far from downtown, your family is there, and you stay near. But for others who go away for a period of time, like to college, choices of where to get a job and one’s personal preferences based on commutes and proximity to certain amenities give rise to planting oneself in an area for reasons that aren’t always known. Major life changes, like babies and family illness, cause choices to become more complicated, and weighing what matters in these situations can be a stark task. Which led ESTATENVY to ask, what makes for living above the norm in the city versus the suburbs? It’s not always about price, it’s about choices to try and provide one’s family with access to scarce resources, like parkland in a crowded urban area or a coveted country club membership in the suburbs. So, with reflection, we looked at what makes for luxury in the city versus the suburbs…

Luxury in the City

  1. Access to green space. In the city, there is noise to hear, people to see, a variety of smells, things to touch (or avoid) and smorgasboards of different foods to taste. That’s a mosaic of stimulation, but sometimes all you want is a patch of grass to throw a ball with your friend, dog or child. Therefore, access to open land is a premium in the city. Living near schools is one good way to get the benefits of a playing field, assuming the playground is open to the surrounding community after hours. Another is to be located near a public park. This choice is usually balanced by what happens in the park after dark, but in general, proximity to safe parks is certainly a desired luxury.

  2. View of green space. Or water. Or just a private view. Having a view that avoids looking in another neighbor’s window is an amenity worth splurging on for most. When one lives in a sea of people, oftentimes at home, it’s great to be left alone with one’s thoughts and look out onto a scene that includes imagery evoking a sense of calm. Water, green space, or even a city view that is not obstructed by immediate buildings provides this sense of calm and perspective. Realizing one’s place in a bigger world is positive for the psyche and sense of well being.

  3. Interior space. Especially in areas that are highly desirable in cities, cost per square foot is very expensive, even relatively speaking. Having a three bedroom condo as opposed to a two bedroom condo can make a difference of at least two years when deciding to expand one’s family and stay in the same place, for example. Having private rooms to workout, for an office, to watch movies are all features that don’t come standard and are considered to be highly sought after amenities in the luxury market.

  4. Outdoor living space. Different from access to green space and a view of green space, outdoor living space doesn’t necessarily need to be green space or have a green view. It just means one has the ability to be outdoors while still being in their living quarters in the city. Examples are large balconies with room to entertain, roof decks over garages or roof decks on top of one’s house or condo. Flooring on these outdoor spaces is reflective of the types of people who will use the space and the activities they like. For adults, wood decking sits below lounge sofas, umbrellas, hammocks and outdoor kitchens. For children, artificial turf sits below sports netting, play houses and perhaps even a bolted down personal swing set.

  5. Lot size. Still different than all of the above is the size of one’s exterior lot. For condos, it’s more about interior space and life, but for single family homes, which are rarer in most large cities to begin with, it’s about having a property that is larger than the standard. In Chicago, for example, the standard lot size is 25' X 125'. To get a double lot means to have two of these side by side. The extra lot can be a side yard, or the house may be built to cover both properties, resulting in extra interior footage. Some families take years to keep acquiring adjoining lots, and the results of this labor are impressive to see because of the rarity of occurrence and the tenacity it takes to keep persisting in a game of real life Monopoly.

Luxury in the Suburbs

  1. Lot size. It’s important to start here in comparison to the city, because lot size shows that it still counts for something in the suburbs. Just because one is in the suburbs, it doesn’t always mean that one has a big lot. Yes, it’s bigger compared to the dense living of a city, but one may stare into the backyard of one’s neighbor or still not have enough land to fulfill one’s desire to build a pool or have space for a garden. In the South, it’s called having “acreage.” Having lots of acreage is a sign of importance in some locations. It means bountiful living and ability to roam without restriction over a greater area. However, in most suburbs, it can also mean more maintenance, so there’s a balance between what is suitable to lead the kind of lifestyle that gives enjoyment of space without too much work to manage the upkeep of that space.

  2. House size. Even for smaller lots, a bigger size house, at least compared to the city, isn’t so much of an issue to build on; it’s moreso the size one can afford and how many rooms one needs and wants. When making a decision to transfer from city to suburban living, often it’s the house size and not the lot size that is the biggest draw for families. Having more interior room comes first, and then having a yard to run around on is important. But the yard is usually so large in comparison to what’s available in the city that even a small yard seems huge by comparison. Therefore, the size of interior space is important. Having enough closet space to store linens, for example, in order for a home not to feel cluttered. Being able to have kitchen cabinet space to spread out and not have appliances jammed on countertops. Having space to entertain “properly” and a mudroom to keep jackets and shoes is an amenity that there’s just usually not enough allocated space for in the city.

  3. Access to transportation routes. Being in the suburbs, one is going to have to drive more or spend time in various forms of transport in general. For those still commuting into the city, having access to a direct train line is a luxury. Homes close to central transportation, as long as they don’t sit right on the train line, are generally more costly due to a premium on convenience. Or being close to a highway that goes to work is also a desired luxury. Anything that takes minutes off one’s transport time while still providing a lifestyle that exudes all the benefits of suburban living area features buyers are willing to pay for.

  4. Personalized features. With room to play, what does one want to play? Basketball? Install a basketball court! Like grilling? Install an outdoor kitchen, fireplace and television! Like to swim? Install a pool! The good thing about lots of interior and exterior space is that, if discretionary funds are available to bring to life one’s vision, it’s probably possible in the suburbs.

  5. Access to community. The downside of the suburbs, for those that still like a high level of social engagement, is the lack of regular community gatherings. The city parks are crowded, and sometimes one is lucky in the suburbs to see other families in such areas because people have their own private play sets in their backyards. Daily meet ups aren’t as common or require more levels of connection to get into groups that meet regularly with some common interest. Not everyone has the same experience and some even find a greater degree of connection in the suburbs, particularly as it relates to friendly neighbors and feeling part of a loving community. But getting into a neighborhood that is friendly or is located to community centers such as country clubs is a luxury, whether it costs a lot of money or is simply a matter of the right property being available in such popular spots.