Measuring the value of a housing investment in “2022’s best real-estate markets”

WalletHub recently looked at the best real-estate markets. Here is how they described their rankings:

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Whether you’re joining the real-estate business or just looking for a place to call home, it’s important to get a handle on the housing markets you’re considering before investing in a property. This year, the housing market is skewed much more toward sellers, with mortgage rates having nearly doubled in the past year and home values having risen nearly 21% on average.

If you aim for long-term growth, equity and profit with your housing purchase, you’ll need to look beyond tangible factors like square footage and style. Those factors certainly drive up property values. From an investor’s standpoint, though, they hold less significance than historical market trends and the economic health of residents.

To determine the best local real-estate markets in the U.S., WalletHub compared 300 cities of varying sizes across 17 key indicators of housing-market attractiveness and economic strength. Our data set ranges from median home-price appreciation to job growth.

This is very different than Money’s best places to live or other rankings that consider communities. This is about rising property values and return on investment. This is about making money by purchasing property. This is about demand and sales.

What would be interesting to consider is where this consideration of return on investment, a growing concern among American homeowners, overlaps with quality of life or desirable communities. Homeowners often have options about which communities or neighborhoods to select, whether they are looking within a metropolitan region where there might be dozens or more options or if the COVID-19 work from home options now mean people do not necessarily have to live near work. Would a return on investment beat out good schools or proximity to work or affordability?

What I can access in a 10 minute drive from my suburban location

Following up on an earlier post this week on the desire some Americans have to live within 10 minutes drive from what they need on a daily basis, I briefly catalogued what I could access within ten minutes drive of my suburban residence. Ten minutes does not necessarily get my very far from my house given residential speed limits and the number of stop signs and traffic lights in my way. For most of these locations, I can access them by bicycle in about the same time (though I cannot carry as much).

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Here is a rough count of what is within 10 minutes:

Grocery stores: at least 5

Gas stations: at least 3

Fast food/fast casual restaurants: at least a dozen

Parks: at least 5 community parks, two forest preserves, one linear pathway

Schools: at least 4

Other shopping: one second-tier shopping area at a major intersection, multiple strip malls, lots of car repair and automotive parts places, etc.

Transportation: 1 commuter train station

Almost 10 minutes away (usually more like a 12-15 minute drive away): 1 suburban downtown with a public library, local stores and restaurants, civic buildings; 2 interstates; many more stores/schools/parks; multiple big box retailers

All of this within a residential part of suburbia with medium levels of suburban density. The people around me could walk or bike to many of these locations but many do not since a short drive is convenient and normal. I would guess many residents would say the quick driving access to so many amenities is a contributor to the high quality of life.

Naperville at #1 on several Niche.com Best Cities lists

Naperville adds to its rankings accolades with the new 2021 Niche.com lists:

Naperville was also ranked #1 for Cities with the Best Public Schools and #3 for Best Cities to Live in America. See previous posts about Naperville’s rankings: “wealthiest city in the Midwest” and “safest city over 100,000 residents.”

This ongoing praise for Naperville makes sense both for knowing the suburb as well as what sorts of communities make it to the top of these kinds of lists. Naperville grew tremendously in the final decades of the twentieth century but it also developed a high quality of life: vibrant downtown, highly-rated schools, local recreation opportunities, wealthy, and safe. The accolades have changed to some degree because the size of the community changed; for example, Naperville is the list of “cities” for Niche.com while the Best Places to Live in America tend to be smaller communities.

If you browse the Niche.com rankings just a little bit, you see wealthy suburbs from certain metro areas in the United States. That the same communities keep popping up on these lists year after year suggests they have an ongoing high quality of life but also it hints at what Americans – and people who make these rankings – think are desirable communities. Is the goal of American life to ascend to one of these well-off communities, most of them relatively white and wealthy suburbs?

Survey data on wealthy New York City residents thinking about leaving the city

New survey data looks at what New York City residents making more than $100,000 think about leaving the city:

We found that 44% of high-income New Yorkers say that they have considered relocating outside the city in the past four months, with cost of living cited as the biggest reason. More than half of high-income New Yorkers are working entirely from home, and nearly two-thirds believe that this will be the new normal for the city…

Of those considering leaving New York City, 30% say that the possibility of working remotely makes it more likely that they will move. Of New York City residents who earn $100,000 or more annually, 44% have considered moving out of the city in the past four months (see Figure 4). Looking ahead, 37% say that it is at least somewhat likely that they will not be living in the city within the next two years…

The cost of living, more than any other factor, contributes to the likelihood of leaving New York City (see Figure 5). A total of 69% of respondents cite cost of living as a reason to leave the city; that figure is even higher among black (77%) and Hispanic (79%) respondents. Other reasons cited by respondents considering leaving New York City include crime (47%), desire for a nonurban lifestyle (46%), and the ability to work from home (30%)…

Only 38% of New Yorkers surveyed said that the quality of life now was excellent or good, a drop by half, from 79% before the pandemic (see Figure 2). Most believe that the city has a long road to recovery: 69% say that it “will take longer than a year” for quality of life to return to normal.

Finally some data on New Yorkers leaving the city! (Of course, this is more about attitudes than actual behavior.)

If I am interpreting the data above correctly, it sounds like COVID-19 has brought some other issues to light. This includes:

(1) If I can work remotely, do I value city life enough to stay there even though I do not need to be close to work?

(2) If the city is not what it was – and it is not clear when it might return to normal – because of decreased social activity due to COVID, the cost of living may not be justifiable.

Ultimately, is it worth living in a global city – with all that comes with it for high earners including jobs, cultural amenities, and a high cost of living – when the positive features of this city are muted during a pandemic?

Naperville named best place in the US to raise a family

Niche’s 2020 rankings put Naperville at the top of the list of best places to raise a family. Here is how they rated the large suburb:

NicheNapervilleJul2020

This is not an unusual plaudit for Naperville; a variety of publications have rated Naperville highly over the last two decades (previous posts here, here, and here). The community is wealthy, has a lot of amenities, and grew tremendously in the last few decades of the twentieth century.

Still, it is interesting to see what Niche says is better or worse about Naperville. Schools excellent. Housing good – not the cheapest suburb in the Chicago area but Midwestern and Southern home values are cheaper compared to coastal locations. Lots of good things for families. Good nightlife. Good diversity (perhaps for suburbs but not so much among America’s bigger communities).  Crime and safety is the lowest – though still a B- – even as Naperville is one of the safest big communities in the country!

Across rankings of communities, Naperville tends to do well. Whether it can maintain this reputation remains to be seen as city leaders and residents consider possible changes in future decades to a suburb that has little land remaining for single-family homes or low-density housing.

The budget gap facing Chicago area suburbs due to COVID-19

An online forum with House leaders provided details on how suburban budgets in the Chicago area are affected by COVID-19:

Not only are sales taxes plunging but costs of preventing the respiratory disease are mounting, suburban leaders explained to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer at an online forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Sean Casten Monday.

Glen Ellyn expects a 20% to 25% reduction in revenue over the next three to six months in the general fund, half of which goes to the police department, Village President Diane McGinley said…

Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said not only is the village shelling out for items like face masks but so far there’s been a 26% reduction in sales taxes revenues…

He noted Hanover Park is facing about $242,000 in COVID-19 expenses and a drop of almost $5.6 million in taxes.

If a retailer or business cannot open or sell at the same level as prior to the pandemic, this affects all sorts of outcomes. As noted above, communities have limited numbers of ways to fill this budget gap. They can look to governments above them – states, the federal government – but that puts their fate in the hands of others and that money may not come quickly or in sufficient amounts. In the short-term, this likely means putting off projects. Longer-term, it could mean some hard decisions about services and local amenities that suburbanites enjoy or think are essential.

The tax revenues might just be the tip of the iceberg; if retailers have to close (already an issue from urban shopping districts to shopping malls), this puts pressure on landlords as well as on communities to fill vacant space (already an issue in suburban communities whether filling big box locations or office parks) both to generate revenue and avoid the appearance of economic loss or blight. Local jobs are affected.

It will be interesting to see if these budget issues widen the gap between suburbs with a lot and those with less. There is already a bifurcated suburban landscape: some communities really struggling and some with a lot of resources, amenities, and status (and many somewhere in between). Those who have more can likely weather this storm better than the suburbs already struggling.

Will a major need for affordable housing lead to population gains in less desirable places?

As I read another story the other day about a need for affordable or reasonably priced housing – this time for aging baby boomers – it led me to a hypothetical question: would people move to less desirable locations if housing there was significantly cheaper? Many Americans have retired to cheaper locations that also have other amenities like nice weather (think Florida and Arizona). But, would they move to cheaper suburbs within a metropolitan region that perhaps has a lower quality of life or move to a new state that is cheaper but less glamorous (think a move from the Chicago region to Kansas or Youngstown, Ohio)? In other words, would they trade fewer amenities for cheaper housing? Is cheap housing so big of an issue that many people will move to acquire it? Conservatives argue that people should vote with their feet. And the continued population gains of the Sunbelt suggest that they do, to some degree. But, people have particular ideas about what they expect when they move. For retiring, they often want to go somewhere warm. For affordable housing, they want to go to nice communities.

These desires strike me as normal in our society: people want a nice yet affordable place to live. However, is this possible? Does the movement of people to particular locations drive up prices and long-term costs (providing a higher quality of life has to be paid for by someone)? In the end, can you really have it all: an affordable place to live but with great care or nice amenities or a high quality of life? Maybe not.

Imagine affordable housing is such an issue in the Bay Area that a large group of retirees decides to move to a small town in North Dakota. With the money made on the sale of their homes in the Bay Area (or the large rents they save), they have money left over to both save for the future and put into the local community. Granted, North Dakota doesn’t have the same kind of life as the Bay Area – no major city, different weather and topography, and social connections left behind – but the housing is certainly cheaper and the anxiety about day to day existence might be reduced. This might sound far-fetched outside of some odd religious group…but if housing is such a need, why couldn’t it happen?

Niche names Naperville 2nd best place to live

This is not an uncommon accolade for Naperville: Niche recently named the suburb the second best place to live in the country.

Niche looked at 228 cities and more than 15,000 towns and based rankings on crime rate, public schools, cost of living, job opportunities and local amenities…

Niche also took into account reviews from residents in the various cities and towns. Out of the 397 reviews, 111 people gave Naperville an “excellent” rating, 187 said it is “very good,” 91 called the city “average,” six said it is a “poor” place to live and two said it is “terrible.”

Naperville got an A+ for both its public schools and being a good city for families, an A in diversity, an A- in housing and a B+ in both nightlife and crime and safety.

Niche ranked Ann Arbor, Mich., the best city to live in America. Rounding out the top five cities to live in America are Arlington, Va.; Columbia, Md. and Berkeley, Calif.

Several quick thoughts:

  1. In Money‘s 2016 rankings of the best places to live, Naperville was #10.
  2. Including reviews from local residents is an interesting twist. Why did a few respondents give Naperville a poor rating? Weather and a few other issues. And the two terrible ratings are both related to the state of Illinois.
  3. Where doesn’t Naperville do well? A C+ for cost of living as well as for weather.
  4. The top five cities are all within major metropolitan areas where they are sizable communities but nowhere near the biggest community. This may be notable until you look at Niche’s list of the “best places to live” and there you find smaller suburbs.

Bringing food waste recycling to the suburbs

The next step in recycling may be coming to a suburb near you:

So far, food scrap collection programs have been voluntary. But starting in May 2017, it will be mandatory in Highwood, a first in Illinois. Several towns in Lake County and other suburbs have or will have some option to recycle food scraps this year.

“We’re going to be trend setters, I like to think,” said Adrian Marquez, assistant to the Highwood city manager. “We know this is going to be big test.”…

U.S. residents throw away up to 40 percent of their food, which amounted to more than 35 million tons in 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported…

With an overall recycling rate of 48 percent but a goal of diverting 60 percent of waste from landfills by 2020, Lake County has emerged as a regional leader in residential food scrap collection. That diversion rate is priming Lake County’s effort, but DuPage, Will, Cook, and Kane counties also are promoting food composting as municipal hauling contracts go to bid or are renegotiated, Allen said.

This article leaves me with a number of questions:

  1. When the program is mandatory as opposed to voluntary, what does that mean? Residents have to participate as opposed to not participate?
  2. I assume this is more effective in the long run in encouraging participation and disposing of more food waste but are there numbers to back this up? As noted, some people have composted for years; is that a viable alternative to promote in suburbs or are very few people willing to go to that trouble?
  3. Is being the first to this a marker of a particular quality of life in some suburbs? In other words, do communities want to participate partly because it signals something important about what their community values?

It will be interesting to see if this does become the new normal within a few years.

More Chicago suburbs hiring staff

Perhaps this is another sign of a more positive economy (and more tax dollars): some suburban governments are hiring again.

According to a Daily Herald analysis of 61 suburbs, 31 of them added the equivalent of 139 full-time jobs during the fiscal year that ended April 30, 2015, for most suburbs and Dec. 31, 2014, for others.

But 16 suburbs eliminated the equivalent of 46 full-time jobs and 14 towns held the line on the head count from the previous year, the analysis of the suburbs’ most recent audits show…

Still, the vast majority of towns are operating with much smaller staffs than just a few years ago. At its peak seven years ago, employment by the 61 towns was nearly 10 percent higher with the equivalent of 13,251 full-time jobs, compared to a low point of 11,977 full-time equivalent positions two years ago, according to the analysis…

According to the analysis of the audits, the 61 towns in suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties first saw significant job reductions in 2010, when they reduced their workforces by 3.8 percent.

While this analysis is interesting, more background might be helpful. Suburban governments today have to balance efficiency (meaning keeping tax increases small or cutting the budget) and quality of life (the suburban life that many of the residents who moved to the community want to continue and enhance). This is not easy to do; residents tend to want more for their money and many might be convinced that government can always cut waste (or at least cut the money they don’t personally care about or benefit from). But, at some point, employees are needed.

This article suggests that a number of the new hires in suburban communities are part-time employees to limit the benefits costs. I’d be interested to see data on whether having more part-time employees in local government leads to better service and community outcomes.