5 Things to Consider When Renting or Buying a Home Downtown
Downtown revitalization and urban renewal programs seem to be a modern phenomenon of the last two decades but have historically been underway in America since the early 1900s as city planners and business leaders seek to remove slums, reduce crime and increase tax revenues.
Interestingly, the economic failings of downtown districts in the 1970s, characterized by empty warehouses, vacant malls, and low real estate prices, were a driving force behind many current downtown renewal programs, as developers sought to leverage those vacancies and low prices in order to give residents of increasingly crowded suburban neighborhoods an affordable option for home ownership.
In recent years, politicians, real estate developers, and business owners have been working together to breathe new life into struggling downtown business districts, driving economic growth, and striving to recapture the tax base of residents who fled to suburban communities over the last few decades. Often conducted hand-in-hand with Historic Preservation efforts, these downtown renewal programs can offer singles and families with an affordable option to living near work, avoiding long commutes, and returning to a model of comfortable urban life.
Living in or near a downtown district can be a wonderful option with numerous advantages that might appeal to individuals, but it’s definitely not for everyone and may present hidden costs down the road. Consider carefully all of these variables when deciding if downtown living might be right for you and your family.
Location, Location, Location
Access to work, schools, and retail entertainment might single-handedly be the major variable in the decision to live downtown. Some downtown locations are in old malls or warehouses and consideration must be given to the standards and codes used to convert those spaces. Are the walls adequately insulated for residential use? Are fire alarm systems up to date? What sort of businesses are in the immediate vicinity which may impact the liveability of a specific location? Before considering to move downtown, take some time to walk around the neighborhood, becoming familiar with the local amenities.
Groceries and Local Services
Most revitalized downtown residential districts have access to at least a decent market, but their selection may be limited and prices may be higher. Think about if the local market carries the types of foods you like. How do costs compare, and how will those costs impact your bottom line over the years? In addition, are there other services like a barber, pharmacy, pet grooming, library, clothing shops, etc, nearby? Spend some time thinking about the types of stores and services you typically use in a month, and whether those be readily accessible in your new neighborhood.
One of the most popular reasons for selecting downtown living is the possibility of avoiding or minimizing traffic, potentially eliminating that long commute to work and freeing up your time for other things. But if you are going to keep a car, take some time to look into parking options if your place does not offer complimentary parking. Purchasing a parking spot or paying long-term parking can add thousands of dollars to your annual expenses, eroding any savings you may be expecting by not having to drive into work. Also, take the time to really look into public transportation. A well-revitalized downtown district should have safe, reliable and affordable public transportation, and may eliminate your need to keep a car.
Cleanliness and Safety
Unfortunately, some people equate downtown districts with trash, deteriorated buildings, and crime, and a city’s commitment to reversing that perception can be an important barometer of their dedication to the success of revitalization efforts. Walk around your new neighborhood looking for trash and the presence of trash cans, notice the relative number and spacing of street lights, and talk to neighbors to find out how the city handles residential waste. To research local crime statistics, call your local police department or do a quick search on the internet.
Noise is one of the leading variables that most downtown residents underestimate before moving in. If you’re used to the relative peace and quiet of country life, cities can be a very noisy place to live and play, particularly at night. Before you commit to a rental agreement or purchase, visit your planned neighborhood late on a weekend night to hear first-hand what sort of noise levels you might encounter. Also look into local laws and restrictions – some residential downtown districts have regulations regarding noise levels after a certain time in the evening, generally 10 pm or midnight.
The Great Outdoors
Just because your family is considering downtown living doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to give up playing outside. Recognizing that families are a vital part of any neighborhood, many downtown renewal projects have involved the deliberate creation of outdoor spaces such as parks and playgrounds. Even if you don’t have children or pets, it can be very pleasant to sit on a bench and enjoy the fresh air of a small city park, so take the time to see what resources your new community might offer.