The Extra Challenges of Buying a Home in a Big City

by Holly WellesOctober 12, 2018

Researchers estimate that around 68 percent of the population will live in urban areas by the year 2050. The population has been on an upward shift from rural to urban areas for decades. The human population is growing and creating a bigger need for urban living spaces. The good news is, there are lots of conveniences to living in the big city. You’ll be close to public transit, have access to more eating and entertainment venues, and gain faster and more reliable internet access.

However, there are also some additional challenges to buying a home in a big city versus a small town that home buyers must consider. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons before deciding if you want to buy in the city or out in the countryside. Some of those challenges might not be as obvious as others.

1. Quality of the Schools

Big cities have big education budgets. Unfortunately, they don’t always allocate those funds in a way that is most helpful to students. Add in areas stricken with poverty and revenue may fall short, leaving schools and students without the resources they need.

If you love the area where a house is located but the schools leave a lot to be desired, you’ll have to factor in the cost of either transporting your children to another school district or investing in private school. Homeschooling is also an option for some families who want to live in the city but aren’t happy with local school choices.

2. Available Parking

Urban homes tend to have a lack of available parking, which can be a real challenge — especially for families with more than one car.

On-street parking is in short supply and back alleys are narrow and without much available space. Some people choose to pay for parking at a nearby lot or garage and use their vehicles only when necessary. This might look like carpooling part of the week or only using the car on the weekends and seeking out other forms of transportation throughout the week, such as bikes, walking or taking public transportation.

3. Older Building Standards

While not a hard and fast rule, many urban homes — particularly on the East Coast — were built long before the modern building codes we know today became a reality. Potential buyers need to lean on the home inspection before making a purchase, and also be prepared to deal with changes like asbestos and lead paint.

Asbestos was a standard building material from the 1930s through 1978, meaning properties built in this period are likely to contain anything in it from insulation to hot water pipes, unless the home has already been updated. Lead paint was similarly used up until the 1970s and tends to be more dangerous for exposed children.

This isn’t to say older urban homes are more dangerous. Asbestos and lead paint are both safe unless exposed or disposed of, and can be removed or repaired with the help of a professional. While not an immediate threat, it’s important to be aware of the risks and discuss your concerns with the seller.

4. More Expensive Homes

A similar home in an urban area costs more than the same home in a suburban location, as a general rule of thumb. This means you are paying for location, so you may wind up with a smaller home for the same amount of money or a home that is in need of repair. Of course, you’ll also be closer to the heart of the city — so you may save money on commuting and other costs. It’s important to factor in both the higher cost of buying a home and the property taxes for the area.

5. Historical Homes Require Special Care

If you choose to purchase an older home in a historical area, the neighborhood and city may have requirements about any renovations you undertake. Generally, the outside will need to remain true to the original design, which may create a situation where repairs cost more than if you could upgrade to a different material, such as vinyl siding. At the same time, inventory is low in most urban areas right now, so taking on an older home and fixing it up may allow you to buy into the area you want.

6. Lack of Inventory

Because people are moving to urban areas, real estate inventory is low. This creates a situation where you might find the house of your dreams only to be outbid and end up losing it. If you want to live in a specific neighborhood in the big city, you’ll have to be patient and flexible. Don’t allow yourself to get emotionally tied to a single structure, because you might not get it — and feeling disappointed can take the wind out of your sails during your search.

7. Overcoming the Challenges

Even though there are challenges associated with moving to a big city, there are also plenty of advantages. For every negative, you can find a positive that makes the extra costs and considerations worth the effort. If you want to be in the center of everything and closer to work, a house in the big city is a must-have for you. Just be aware of the things you’ll have to deal with and plan for them accordingly.

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About The Author
Holly Welles
Holly Welles covers real estate and home improvement tips for the uninitiated homeowner. She believes in the value of making the most of any space, which is why she also runs The Estate Update. Catch her on Twitter @HollyAWelles or email her at