This is the fourth in a series exploring city vs. suburb for homebuyers
Location, location, location. Even before you start thinking about how to buy a house, you’re thinking about where to buy it. Most younger homebuyers are hooked on an urban or urbanesque location. Buy maybe you’re not big on demographic loyalty. We tracked down a first-time buyer who chose country living for its familiarity, privacy, and affordability.
Meet Carly, 29, who with her husband, Peter, bought a house in Gill, Massachusetts, population 1,400. A Malthusian nightmare compared to where she grew up, actually: nearby Heath, 800 strong.
“I was definitely born and raised in the country,” says Carly. “I don't consider Gill far out at all. At Amherst College, where I work, most people live in town, and the thought of having a commute that's twenty minutes is out of the question. But growing up in Heath, that was just part of my life.”
Not that she would choose Heath now. “It's not close to anything. Here, we can get to the Wagon Wheel in like four minutes.” The Wagon Wheel is known locally for its “creative road food.” “We didn't want to be far away from general stores and that kind of thing, but we also didn't want to be in even a suburb.”
If the Wagon Wheel makes this sound like tumbleweed territory, rest assured, there’s much more within reach. Massachusetts is, after all, the country’s third most densely populated state. Amherst College is one of five in the area, which makes for a diverse and energetic community. And Boston is a two-hour drive. Yet Gill is isolated enough to offer privacy and affordability.
The luxury of privacy
“We have two acres,” says Carly. “My parents have ten, and my grandmother has thirty-five, so I grew up with that as part of my life. In Gill, We can't see any houses from our house. That wasn’t a specific goal. It just happened to be a total bonus that we now feel we could not live without. We don't have blinds, because we don't need them. It's a luxury. It’s nice to be able to go outside in the morning with the dogs and not worry about what you’re wearing—a bathrobe, a nightgown.”
The couple looked at a few places in downtown Greenfield (population 14,000), about 7 miles from Gill, but it was too cramped for their taste, especially for Peter, who also grew up in a small town. “Peter had a really strong reaction to having neighbors that close. I loved the inside of the house; it was gorgeous. But he grew up with no neighbors. He was willing to have neighbors we could see, but not that downtown feeling.”
Carly did sample urban living for a while. She took a job near Boston and was living north of the city, in suburban Concord. But it quickly became clear that density did not sit well with her or with Peter. “If you were out grilling,” Carly recalls, “you were practically part of someone else’s conversation. We had neighbors we liked, and neighbors who just wanted to talk your ear off. We really enjoy that that’s not part of how we live anymore.”
And of course there’s the fact that there’s simply less competition for homes in less-populated areas. In affluent Concord, according to city-data.com, the median home value is over $700,000. In Gill, it’s about $213,000. Even locally, Gill is “far out” enough to be more affordable. Amherst’s median home value is about $327,000.
A garden and a clothesline
On the sustainability front, there is the problem of all the driving (see our post “Which location is greener: city or suburb?”), although Carly does make her commute in a Prius. On the other hand, she and Peter have a vegetable garden well underway, and they use a clothesline. “It was just being able to spread out and have those things that was always a desire of ours. In the country, it’s easy to hang a clothesline and have a garden.”