The Move to Exurbia: 10 Issues to Consider Before That Lifestyle Kickstart

“Moving to the Country” represents a strong desire to those fed up with urban ills. Reasons range from whether to make a major step toward retirement before or during the golden years, a need to get closer to the land, a preference for a healthier lifestyle, or perhaps to pick a great place to raise a family… or all of the above!

Some want an extreme move, going totally off the grid as a survivalist. Others want a close-in place that gives them privacy and distance from neighbors yet community-connected.

Here in Fallbrook, a prototypical exurban southern California “village” surrounded by open spaces, ag-intensive areas and Native American reservations, we see these and nuanced scenarios in between as reasons people make their move to this country. Fallbrook is roughly equidistant from the Pacific Ocean, local mountains and about an hour from the raw desert that runs from Mexico north into the Great Basin.

Many of those determined to “go exurban” come here and test the idea by buying a second home.

The more committed to a “move to the country” take the plunge, pull up stakes in their urban/suburban community, completely, and purchase their exurban dream house.

Then there are the “tire-kickers” who spend week-ends here, staying at resorts including those easily accessible casino operations run by local Native American tribes, or as “guests” in rented homes brokered by AirBnB and VRBO.

Regardless of the motivation and their research methodology, questions, considerations and concerns whether coming here or going elsewhere focus on ten overarching issues.

1. Acceptance by neighbors

The degree of interconnectedness and interdependence is almost always the top priority among many making the move to exurbia. Some want more contact, others less.

The style and personality of the community can be open or closed, and researching this aspect can be difficult at best.

Some remote locations near small towns have reputations for being notoriously insular and suspicious of outsiders, while others are warm, friendly and inviting to newcomers.

That’s human nature. It exists everywhere.

You can check this facet out several ways during a personal visit:

a) Does the chamber of commerce actually welcome new business?

b) Are the local realtors really accessible?

c) Is there a welcome sign somewhere on the outskirts of town?

d) What’s the feeling you get walking into a local restaurant?

Check out whether a nearby hub community may be on a growth trajectory that eventually makes your projected exurban lifestyle suburban. New housing projects may be on the books for what was cheap land, or, perhaps worse to the family looking for peace and solitude, a strip-mall mall may be projected in your preferred area.

It may seem obvious, but verify the exact location of property boundaries before you buy.

Nothing taxes a new homeowner more than to think you got one property footprint and ended up with more or less acreage. Insidiously, you could end up in a boundary dispute with a neighbor, be it a person, corporation or a government agency!

Woe be unto those who buy a property in the boonies that eventually ends up next to an exurban housing development that belies the very reason for a “move to the country’ in the first place. Stop, look and listen to many inputs before making the leap to that often over-romanticized “move to the country”.

2. Access to urban amenities

In a related vein, how close or far do you want to be from cultural events, sophisticated shopping centers with high-end or big box stores, entertainment venues and fine dining?

Trade-offs abound between something as simple as getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks versus a local diner. Nordstrom’s, Whole Foods and Tiffany’s, to name a few, place their stores in high-traffic areas, most often quite a distance from rural areas.

How close or far away do these have to be to your chosen exurb?

3. Life On/off the grid

With solar energy facilities becoming affordable and less of a hassle to maintain and cellular technology more pervasive, it’s easy to cut a tether to electricity and/or telephone lines. Urbanites can adopt these technologies and approaches to electricity and phone services, too.

But what about other utilities? Here, natural gas can replace a propane tank, which a supplier refills on a demand or subscription basis. In some areas, a well is practical, though drilling costs to find potable water can be expensive.

If on the grid for these and other services, it’s legitimate to ask the seller for a copy of any or all utility bills to their cost. Some can be expensive to install if not already present.

4. Cost of living

Closely associated with life on or off the grid is how you manage your lifestyle; which depends on where you live and your proximity to many different kind of preferred services.

A remote location accessible only by four-wheel drive might be costly to get to and from in a rugged gas-eater, but buying a home far from town could be cheaper to acquire and maintain. Similarly, a remote home with space for a decent-sized garden filled with seasonal produce or acreage with an orchard or grove producing fruit or nuts can, after deducting for water and other expenses, offset travel to other sources of food.

Think of property taxes as a wild card. They can be more or less than what you have in the city. California bases taxes on the property’s purchase price, but there are always add-ons.

Then there is the inevitable insurance policy. In some areas, fire insurance is pricier the further you go from a fire department’s nearest station.

Finally, how much land can you afford to support and how much will you want to let go fallow as a buffer zone between you and neighbors?

In some areas, the cost to maintain acreage rises exponentially with the amount of land that requires water, personal management and perhaps upkeep mandated by fire considerations, zoning requirements, livestock support, etc.

5. Environment and local hazards

Where ever you go, Mother Nature has tricks up her sleeve to keep you alert to changes in ground movement, seasonal weather changes, pollution patterns, fire dangers, ravening wildlife, flood areas, etc. Then there are the non-natural environmental factors such as crime rates, proximity to hazardous wastes, presence of military bases, noise ordinances, pest abatement programs, to name a few.

A good local realtor should be your first stop to get answers to these issues, but personal due diligence is always advised.

6. Recreation

It’s said that all 330 million Americans could move somewhere along one of our coasts and have an ocean view. At what cost and how far from the water would you have to be?

Similarly, there are infinitely attractive locations from mountain or hilltop homes with stunning vistas, little homes on the prairies, lake or riverfront properties and rustic cabins nestled in the woods. Some places even back up to or are embedded in national parks and forests.

Others can be found near acres upon acres of flower fields and agricultural preserves. In many parts of the country, unsullied and dramatic changes in scenery can be as close as seconds away by turning 180 or can be had in hours by driving a little.

Some might want to be able to walk out the door and be on a hiking or riding trail while others want the ability to be at the beach in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. And there are those who want an endless array of golf courses or tennis courts to keep them active and fit.

It may seem obvious, but a simple Internet search with terms like: Hiking trails in Fallbrook can turn up a host of inputs.

7. Commuting/telecommuting

From active involvement in investments to providing in-home services to clients, many today maintain an active economic profile from their residences, even after formal retirement from “the grind”. Scalable activities with a home-based business range from white-collar office operations to sophisticated machine or sewing shops.

Transitioning from a part-time hobby to one designed to enhance a fixed income, residential facilities can be tailored to fit what is allowed by budget and local rules and restrictions. But if you need the property to support making a living, answers to a few questions can make a difference between go and no-go in an exurban environment:

· If still in the work force or self-employed, how long will it take to get (drive/fly) to work or clients?

· If you work at home, what is the quality of online services to connect with a customer-base?

· What utilities or other infrastructure will you need and at what cost (is it economically feasible to work from home)?

· How much space will you need for an office or workshop?

· And what are the local zoning or association restrictions and allowances for that kind of home-based business?

8. Emergency services

Not to be overlooked are availabilities of health care delivery services, proximity to fire and law enforcement and evacuation routes. Some rural areas are thin on basic services we take for granted in more populous areas, like quick response by police, fire and EMTs.

The more remote, the longer it takes for those services to respond. Quite often there can be overlapping jurisdictions. A 911 dispatcher might be confused on which service to send.

For seniors with life-threatening medical issues, this could be a deal breaker that forces a move closer in.

There are also private services like mechanics to fix farm equipment or automobiles, a ready supply of laborers for ad hoc work on the spread, animal husbandry and ag specialists, financial services and even reliable “sitters” when called away on family emergencies. A quick check of the chamber of commerce directory or a local phone book can reveal those within a reasonable distance of the community.

9. Civic infrastructure

More than access to schools needs consideration as you make the exurban move. Yes, the ease of getting junior to and from school or a bus stop is important if you have school-age children, but what about the distance to and from that school for parent-teacher meetings?

Perhaps a major issue can be navigating through the machinations of dealing with planning and zoning authorities. In rural areas, the rules are often different and either more or less stringent than you might encounter in densely populated areas.

Far distant exurbs, especially those on or near federally managed lands, can have conflicting environmental regulations designed to preserve endangered species, which requires a different set of hearings and approvals than for close-in properties.

Here, again, a knowledgeable realtor can set you on the right path to learning as much as you can about restrictions that encroach on your life style AND remedies available to you.

10. What if it doesn’t work out?

Here’s where that top-notch realtor once more comes in to help you figure out a resale value when you give country-living a decent go and it turns out wrong. That good realtor can advise on the prior nine topics to help you decide if the location you select fits your agenda.

But, if even that fails to dissuade and you end up with a white elephant, that realtor can be your best friend in helping you sell the property to the next person on the exurban-track.

In other words, have an exit-strategy.

While throwing in the towel can be a big blow to the ego, it can make a bigger dent in your economic situation if you over-invested in unmarketable improvements on a property and end up with a homestead that has limited resale value.

Remember those three famous words in real estate: location, location, location. As you can see from all ten of the above considerations, each one is an aspect of location factors.

Weigh them all together and separately before making the leap to exurban living, whether you buy-to-build, buy an existing home or purchase a fixer.