Home Prices vs. Commute Times in Michigan

From the thumb of “The Mitt” to the Upper Peninsula, there are plenty of diverse, beautiful towns and cities to call home in Michigan. But the Wolverine State has had more than its fair share of homeownership-related hardship in the past decade — it was one of the country’s hardest-hit states during the 2008 recession, and local economies nosedived.

As a lack of jobs forced workers to relocate, many communities became effectively deserted. Those who stuck around moved farther away from their workplaces to the more affordable rural areas.

With the recession behind us and the economy looking up, jobs are coming back to more urban areas like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Detroit. As a result, homeownership in Michigan is beginning to look a lot more appealing to many Americans.

One of the most important considerations for those looking to move to Michigan is the relationship between home prices and commute times. Here, we’ll explain why they’re both important factors to think about before signing the dotted line on a new Michigan home.

Where You Live Impacts Your Commute Time

Home prices in many urban counties (like Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Livingston, and Macomb) are now at or near their pre-recession values, according to a review of housing sales data by the Detroit Free Press. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that increased traffic (not to mention expensive, limited parking) can lead to lengthy commutes, even for city-dwellers. For those who live in counties directly outside urban areas, the drive is considerably worse.

Consider metropolitan Detroit, for example, which is in Oakland County. The median price of homes listed is currently $299,000. Nearly 12 percent of drivers have a commute between 10 and 14 minutes, while 14 percent commute between 30 and 34 minutes, and less than 5 percent commute between 60 and 89 minutes.

Then look at Lapeer County, just outside of Detroit, where the median price of homes listed is currently $159,000. Almost 10 percent of drivers have a commute between 10 and 14 minutes, while 11 percent commute between 30 and 34 minutes. About 13 percent commute between 60 and 89 minutes — more than double the amount in Oakland County.

Even though homes are cheaper outside of metropolitan areas, you’re likely to spend a lot more time (and money) getting back and forth to work. It’s a compromise that could cost a lot in terms of your work-life balance.

Buying a Fixer-Upper May Cost More Than You Think

Let’s say you find a fixer-upper with a ton of potential in Heritage Hill, which is famous for its historic architecture specific to Grand Rapids. The low price seems so tempting for the privilege of homeownership and a shorter commute.

But remember that a fixer-upper is just that: a house that needs some serious fixing-up. It can take years, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars, to restore the most dilapidated of homes to a livable condition. In other words, a $500 house is never really $500 when you take the necessary expenses into account. Home restoration inevitably comes with a lot of headache, so a shortened commute shouldn’t be your only motivating factor for buying an urban fixer-upper.

Home Price Versus Commute Time: What’s Right for You?

Even though the cost of living in one of the state’s bigger cities may be more expensive on average, it could potentially be worth it when it comes to time spent commuting. On the other hand, suburban living — though it may bring longer commutes — has the perk of cheaper homes and living expenses.

It all comes down to what’s right for your situation: how much you can afford to spend on available housing, how much your commute time is worth to you, and where you actually want to live. Michigan is experiencing exciting changes not only in its housing and job markets but in its culture and national reputation as well, making it an enticing place to live regardless of locale.

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