For generations, the dream of young families was to leave the noise and chaos of the city and buy a house with a yard in a leafy suburb. But that dream is fading for more Americans, whose satisfaction with suburban life is in decline, says Leigh Gallagher, author of "The End of the Suburbs."
"People who would have left for the suburbs no question are staying in the cities and raising their families there," she told CBS MoneyWatch.
Recent data on the housing market reflects a weakening market for new homes so far this year -- although bad winter weather is bearing the brunt of the blame. Homebuilder confidence plunged in February, registering the largest month-to-month drop on record, according to a Feb. 18 report. And new housing starts declined 16 percent in January over December, according to government data released Feb. 19.
Gallagher says recent monthly data, weak as it is, doesn't necessarily support her thesis because she's addressing longer-term trends. Along with the weather, higher mortgage rates explain the slowdown so far this year. And overall, the housing market is far stronger now than it was in the years after the housing bubble burst, she notes.
Since her book was published last summer, Gallagher says the suburbs vs. cities debate has grown more nuanced. Not only are urban areas getting more popular for families, but suburbs are adopting some of the most popular traits of downtown areas.
Developers and town planners are creating suburban communities with vibrant downtowns and public transportation. "It's not the end of all suburbs," says Gallagher, "it's the end of the suburbs as we know it."
She suggests first-time home buyers ask themselves these questions before picking a location:
- How much space do you really need? Is 4,000 square feet necessary? Maybe you'd be happy with a smaller home and a shorter commute.
- Do you enjoy working outside and taking on repair projects? Many people who move to the suburbs find themselves burdened by home and yard maintenance.
- How difficult will it be to commute? Think realistically about the high cost and stress of a long trip to work each day.
- Will it be important to be able to walk to a "gathering point" -- a center of town with some vibrancy? Many suburban residents Gallagher interviewed reported feeling isolated in subdivisions and numb from spending so much time in the car.