Where Do You Prefer to Live: City or Suburbs?

When Zahra Safazian and her husband bought their first home in 2006, their criteria seemed obvious: They wanted to live in a walkable area of Arlington, VA, close to the train and a few stops from Washington, DC.

They were not suburbs people. They found a 2 bedroom condo that was perfect for them.

Seven years later, things are cramped. The couple has two daughters, one of them fast approaching kindergarten age. But houses in their area had appreciated faster than condos. They felt stuck.

“At the time, when we chose the neighborhood, we thought about things like, ‘Oh, we can Metro into the city all the time.’ But then the funny thing was, we never did that,” she said.

Safazian and her husband aren’t alone. Among first-time home buyers surveyed in a recent Zillow poll, almost half said they regret something about their purchase. Their top regret: size and layout. 62 percent of first-time home-buyers with regrets say they should have bought something bigger or with a better layout.

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“Every first-time home buyer gets excited about just about every home they walk in. They’re adrenaline-driven,” said Bobby Harding, a Keller Williams agent in Louisville, KY. A good agent should help buyers think through the practicalities, hopefully avoiding regret down the line.

Sometimes that means talking buyers into considering the suburbs. The top regrets of first-time home buyers, besides size:

  • 40% say they regret the cost of their home.
  • 28% say they wish they had quieter neighbors or better schools.
  • 24% say they regret their yard choice, whether they want more space or less maintenance.
  • 17% wish they had more available parking.

All those things could be remedied with a little drive out of town. And surprisingly few first-time buyers said they regret their commute: only 11 percent wish they had bought closer to work.

“It’s really cool to say you live in Park Slope or the Upper East Side or Brooklyn, but yeah, after you have that second or third kid, it gets really crowded,” said Phil Faranda, of J Philip Real Estate in the New York City suburbs.

“What, do you think you’re going to walk to Little League? You’re gonna walk to taekwondo? … Move to the suburbs. You know, you can still get falafel. You might have to drive, but you can still get it.”

Safazian  and her husband sold their condo. They close next week on a bigger place in the perfect school district for their 5-year-old to start school in the fall. It’s actually the same neighborhood in Falls Church where Safazian grew up — and they can’t wait.

“It just makes sense for us right now,” she said. “Just thinking we can have more space, and not have to think about private school.”

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Emily Heffter, a reporter and writer for Zillow Blog, covers celebrity real estate, unusual properties, and other real estate topics. Read more of her work here.