Want to leave city life behind for a suburb with affordable housing, low taxes, and a cheaper cost of living? Don't look in these places.
Even with last year's home price declines, the most expensive town in your metropolitan area probably has a median house price in excess of $1 million, with a property tax rate well over 10, or even 20, per $1,000 of home value.
But if you have the means and the stomach for such elevated prices, you can, luckily, expect to get your money's worth in a costly suburb. The school systems are best-in-class, the crime rates are nil — and if suburbia's dull, conformist image has deterred you in the past, a wealthy community packed with mountain trails and luxurious beaches may finally win you over.
BusinessWeek.com asked Portland, Ore. research company Sperling's Best Places to come up with a list of the most expensive suburbs in 20 of the nation's major metropolitan areas using home prices, cost of living, and property taxes as determinants. The results are varied — with median home prices ranging from $772,000 (Dellwood, Minn.) to $2.8 million (Hillsborough, Calif.) — but uniformly unaffordable to all but the richest American families.
Every suburb on our list has a cost-of-living index of at least 196.8 (Greenville, Del., and Dellwood, Minn.), with 100 being the national cost-of-living average. Hillsborough, in the famously expensive San Francisco area, has an index of 535.1, or five times the national average, while Old Westbury, N.Y., on Long Island, has an index of 498.1. Property tax rates run as high as 26.2 (Piney Point Village, Tex.) per $1,000 of home value.
Surprisingly, not all ultra-expensive suburbs feature gaudy estates and celebrity neighbors. Take Rolling Hills, Calif., an equestrian-oriented community of less than 2,000 residents just 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.
Rolling Hills is a gated, strictly residential community on the Palos Verdes Peninsula featuring white ranch homes with ocean and city views on spacious two-acre lots surrounded by three-rail white fences. There are no traffic lights, and there are more horse trails than roads. Residents work, shop, and go to school in surrounding towns.
"We call ourselves the only gated city in America," says Bill Ruth, a realtor with Keller Williams in the Palos Verdes area. "We've been playing off that one for a while."
The median home price in Rolling Hills is about $2 million, with sales last year ranging from $1.5 million to $3 million. Although the median household income in the community is $256,944, the highest on our list, there aren't many $10 million mansions here. No flashy Hollywood types, either: Most residents are business owners, doctors, or attorneys, and the wildest event you are bound to attend is a children's party or a Little League game.
"It's a unique community where you can still leave your front door unlocked," Ruth says. "There's zero crime. Though a horse was stolen last year."
Well-off folks who want to live large but still enjoy a good deal (and who doesn't?) may consider relocating to Philadelphia's priciest suburb, which happens to be in the inconspicuous state of Delaware, amid the open spaces and sprawling golf courses of Brandywine Country.
In fact, Greenville, Del., buoyed by Delaware-based chemical giant DuPont, is also a commuter community for workers in Wilmington, Washington, and New York. Houses in Greenville range from DuPont family-owned colonial estates to 10,000-square-foot McMansions to houses commissioned by the Texas oilmen who came to the area when DuPont acquired oil and gas company Conoco in the early 1980s. Today the community's residents are of a mix of old and new money, with many lawyers, bankers, and businesspeople employed by the local industry.
"There are some trust-fund babies around, but the majority are working types," says Wendy Bunch, a local agent with Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby's International Realty.
While $5 million homes are not at all uncommon in Greenville, the median price in the area is just $805,300. Property taxes run at a rate of 8.17 per $1,000 of home value, and the cost of living is less than twice the national average. And forget about sales tax—there isn't any in Delaware.
"It's a wonderful place to live, and it is still a bargain," Bunch says.