How do I choose a town to buy in when I don’t live there? That is one of the most frequently asked questions by prospective buyers. They live in an apartment now. They know it is too small for their long-term use. They want a yard. But, where?

You’ll make a better decision if you decide on some big factors beforehand. The first step to finding a new town to live in is to identify your top three important factors. Successful choices balance these factors with the ever-present restriction of price.

The most common features that my clients consider are these:

  • Commute time and distance
  • Schools
  • Housing types and size
  • Yard sizes
  • Social/cultural activity.

Think about things you cannot change, like how far the town is from places you frequent.

Orange line train MBTAThe commute to work is a daily cost, not just monetarily. It costs you time and energy. Choose a maximum time you are willing to commute to your present job and the area where your job could potentially relocate.

Also consider your travel time to friends, family, and favorite activities. If you are a symphony annual ticket holder, or a Red Sox season ticket holder, consider those trips as well. Some places are just too far.

Decide if you want only a town served by mass transit, or are you willing to depend on your car. This can affect both adults and children in the family. Google maps has a feature in the directions app that will tell you the travel time by mass transit.

Beware that some places are actually marked “Sorry, your search appears to be outside our current coverage area for transit.” However, many towns and cities have both MBTA bus service and local carriers. Find out whether those services will make it reasonable to get around town without always being in a car. Towns that are spread out, without bus service, create a car-dependent social life for everyone. Thus, the term “soccer Mom.”

A lot of my clients think that they will overcome the car-centered life by living within walking distance of a town center. This works to some extent. However, a car or bus will still be necessary for visiting friends in other neighborhoods in town, and going to school and sporting events.

Since distance and transportation infrastructure is not something you can control, making decisions about how far to commute should come early in the process of choosing a town.

The Covid Factor

In 2020, housing choices changed. Whether this is a reaction to a one-time event, or a planning for times ahead, is uncertain. Locally, Covid is not causing an exodus far from the cities, but things are changing. Since we are buyer’s agents, we like the lessening of demand for condos, especially, in the near-city areas.

When they can afford it, buyers are choosing to increase the size of their personal space, indoors and outdoors. That will make it more comfortable if more stay-at-home orders are in our futures.

We are a small company. Each agent works with only 4-6 clients at a time, max. Therefore, our sampling is small. These are things we noticed this year:

  1. Buyers are mostly not using the MBTA now; however, being near subway lines remains important to them.
  2. Although buildings with shared hallways and elevators are not popular in Covid times, we have clients who moved from renting to owning in a building like that.
  3. Condos in small associations frequently have yards. Private yards are better than shared ones.
  4. Single-family houses in cities are hot! There is a lot of competition for houses with yards in Somerville, Cambridge, and Brookline. Similarly, there is steady demand in the towns around Boston, like Arlington and Watertown.
  5. Interior spaces with three bedrooms are always worth more than properties with two bedrooms. But, more so this year. There is higher demand and sometimes that leads to higher prices.