Housing Search Trade-Off: Price vs. Commute Time

From Washington, D.C. to New York City, from Atlanta to Portland, a huge part of finding a house is balancing the desire to have a shorter commute to work and the higher price tag that inevitably comes with it. Some people live farther away to spend less, while others simply want more house for the same price. I know people who commute 2 hours each way, every day. They are not alone – According to the NY Times, the Census Bureau states that nearly 18 percent of New Jersey workers leave their homes before 6:30 a.m. every day. Nationwide, over 3.4 million workers take more than 1.5 hours to get to work one-way. That’s a 95% increase since 1990.

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How do you strike a balance? It’s easy to measure how the housing prices drop the farther you go out. Just look at the MLS listings. As one quote puts it – “Keep driving until you can afford it.” However, it’s harder to measure the many costs of a longer commute.

Increased Car Costs: Gas, Depreciation, Repairs, and Maintenance
The more you drive, the more all these costs add up. Let’s say I want to move 20 miles further out. If I get 25 miles/gallon in commuter traffic and gas costs $3.50 a gallon, and I work 22 weekdays per month, that works out to an extra $120 per month in gas alone.

That also amounts to an extra 10,600 miles of driving each year. So more oil changes, more frequent repairs and other maintenance. Your car might depreciate faster by an extra $1,000 per year. That could work out easily at least another $100-$150 per month.

Treating Commute Time As Unpaid Work Time
Now what if we convert that commute time to actual paid working time. If you earned $30 per hour x extra 2 hours commuting per weekday x 22 weekdays per month x 12 months = $16,000 per year (essentially 25% more). Even if you don’t get paid hourly, there is some value involved. Imagine if you used that time to perform better at work and impress your boss, or if you used it to start a business of your own.

Let’s use the very rough multiplier that you can afford a mortgage that costs 3 times your gross income. Saving an extra $270 per month in car costs would let you theoretically buy $10,000 more house by living closer. Earning another $16,000 more per year would let you theoretically buy $48,000 more house. Earn $60 per hour, and that’d be $96,000. I just pulled some numbers from the air here, but the idea is simply that there hard costs involved with that longer commute.

Effect of Fatigue On Work, Family, and Happiness
Forget the extra wear and tear on your car, what about the extra wear and tear on you. If I had just spent two hours in traffic, by the time I get to work I’d be tired and ready for a break. My work quality would suffer. Then instead of arriving back home by 6 or 7 pm, now you’re looking at 8 or 9 pm. You don’t have time to cook, so you buy take-out. It costs more and is less nutritious for your family. You have less time to exercise, less time to play, less time to relax. You get the picture.

From the BusinessWeek article Extreme Commuting:

This is what economists call “the commuting paradox.” Most people travel long distances with the idea that they’ll accept the burden for something better, be it a house, salary, or school. They presume the trade-off is worth the agony. But studies show that commuters are on average much less satisfied with their lives than noncommuters. A commuter who travels one hour, one way, would have to make 40% more than his current salary to be as fully satisfied with his life as a noncommuter, say economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer of the University of Zurich’s Institute for Empirical Research in Economics. People usually overestimate the value of the things they’ll obtain by commuting — more money, more material goods, more prestige — and underestimate the benefit of what they are losing: social connections, hobbies, and health. “Commuting is a stress that doesn’t pay off,” says Stutzer.

Got Public Transportation?
While not a complete solution, all of this gets reduced if you have decent public transportation. The costs are most likely lower than driving, you might get some work done en route, or at least you’ll arrive less stressed. I’ve already noticed that housing near good public transportation commands a premium, and it should.

Our Experience
We really wanted to have a short commute, but we still ended up with a compromise like many others. We looked at houses that were 15 minutes from work and play, but they simply cost too much. So, we moved farther out where the houses were newer and cheaper. But thankfully not too far. Our commute is still about 45 minutes each way if we had to drive during rush hour. However, whenever we can we try to shift our hours earlier or later to make it more like 20-25 minutes. My main worry is that as time goes on the commute will only become longer and longer.

Comments

  1. saladdin says:

    There’s just something that bothers me about intentionally moving closer to work so that I can get to my cubicle quicker just to cut out 20 minutes of extra driving. This is strictly emotional of course. My commute is 100 miles total every day and I still can’t find a good reason to move closer. Of course gas is only days away from being $4374673647863743742364 a gallon…

    saladdin

  2. Congratulations on the home purchase. I wish I had the benefit of your experience when I bought two years ago, but it is comforting to know that we looked at a lot of the same things you did in making our final decision. I enjoy this kind of analysis. Another issue arises when you consider the work destinations of the family members. I work in Natick, MA and my girlfriend works in Somerville, MA, so we were fortunate to find a home in Brighton, MA that is close to Boston (it’s a Boston neighborhood) and public transportation (multiple subway and bus lines within walking distance) while keeping our commute times relatively close.

  3. I wouldn’t look it as getting to my cube quicker, I’d see it as spending 20 more minutes sleeping in every morning, 20 more minutes relaxing at the end of each day, and 40 minutes less of stop-n-go traffic. Some people love driving, but I really can’t stand traffic.

    I agree that is can be tough when one person works to the North and the other works to the South (or similar situation). I knew a couple where one worked in Seattle, WA and the other in Portland, OR. They had to live in the middle with each having a 1.5 hour one-way commute.

  4. Why is using decent public transportation not a complete solution?

  5. I did the same analysis when I changed jobs from 50mi one way to 15. I even presented it to my former boss, to let him know the perspective from which I was approaching the problem. In the end, he was willing to match my concrete expenses (i.e. gas), but not the dollar amount that I placed on having less physical/emotional stress (only $3k!). Two years later, I am very happy with my decision.

  6. This is an old issue in southern California. When I bought my present house 20 years ago I had the choice of buying a 50 year old 1200 sg. ft. house in Pasadena or for the same price a brand spanking new 1900 sq. ft. house 30 miles farther out from Pasadena where we lived before we bought. I chose to move 30 miles farther out and commute. It isn’t just about the drive time. We decided then that good schools were going to important for our future kids since we did not want to pay for private schools. Pasadena public schools were not rated that highly compared to where we moved to. My wife and I have changed jobs over the years as well reducing our commute times. My present job has a zero commute time as I work from home. My wife’s is 20 minutes away.

  7. moneyandpf says:

    I do admit the place we are renting from now is perfect for us as far as location. I’m only 5 miles away and my wife is probably 7-8 miles away.

    Once we get a house it will no doubt be further out. I’m afraid I’m getting a little spoiled by getting to work in 10 minutes or less. Either way if it took much longer than 20-30 mintues I probably would not move to that location.

    I do agree though that you shouldn’t see it as extra time at your cube. Those extra minutes I would use to get a quick workout in or relax for an extra 20 minutes.

  8. There are a few more commuting costs as well, which I think are at least as important as the easier to quantify economic cost differences that you have expressed. Some people might say “oh these are political, get that political stuff of this board” but I would beg to differ. These topics are absolutely real costs. To say that all of these costs mean that you should pick the shortest commute time is not true, but they should be considered alongside the others mentioned.

    First, there is a high environmental cost. You are *choosing* to burn many tons more fossil fuels per year, particularly since this is a house that you want to keep for a long time. This cost is not expressed in the price of gasoline that you pay, but is on everyone. While your own contribution is probably insignificant in the grand scheme of things, if we are to ever become energy independent it means that people need to consider how they can reduce their daily use of energy. Reducing commute time, or using public transportation if available (or working from home), are the easiest ways to accomplish this.

    Also, there is a cost of dependency and lack of flexibility. You are making yourself completely dependent on your car to get to/from work every day. Would it still be worth it to you if gas was $6? What if it was $10/gal? What if you don’t like your current job, would another one be at least as close by? This is added risk. Risk is measured as a factor for any investment decision, and should be evaluated in this case as well. This is difficult to quantify, but as far as cars go I don’t think they are going to get any cheaper to operate in the future. You also mentioned the risk of increased traffic increasing your commute time, which would probably fall into this category.

  9. I recently changed jobs and am fortunate to be able to work from home most of the time (only in the office 1-2 days a week). I have to say that I am amazed at how my stress level has decreased. I previously had a 40 minute commute each way. It was even a reverse commute, so I wasn’t stuck in stop-and-go-traffic at all. But now that I work at home, instead of driving 40 minutes to wrap up the day, I turn away from the computer, walk over to the TV and do yoga along with a yoga DVD. What a difference!

    I think that more and more companies are going to embrace telecommuting in the coming years as gas becomes more expensive for employees, office space becomes more expensive for employers, and everyone gets increasingly used to collaborating remotely. Anyone else seeing this trend increasing?

  10. The problem with purchasing a house in relation to distance to work is that a house purchase is MUCH more permanent than your job. You could find a new job working in a different location or be laid off during a “restructuring”. Gone are the days of working for one company out of college to retirement. So why put so much emphasis on the commute? Sure, you shouldn’t ignore it, but it shouldn’t be a deciding factor. This is also made more difficult by the fact that many more households have two working adults. Who’s job do you live closer to?

    I’m all for minimizing commute time, but I wouldn’t focus on it when looking for a house.

  11. Jobs change, so sometimes it is hard to manage.

    I live in a unique situation where the further out it is the more expensive it is anyway. So I don’t really have to wrestle with that. It’s the opposite. Sometimes the idea of moving out to the country sounds idealic, until you look at prices. I know, quite strange.

    On the flip side, we moved 2 hours away from the Bay Area, because housing cost about 1/3 as much here in the time. I Know A LOT of people who made that commute for years. (Maybe not every day, with telecommuting, and such, but spending 4 hours a day on the train is quite common to be able to have the chance to afford a house, maybe 2-3 times a week). The burn out is quick. Though I still know a few people who commute 3 hours or so round trip every day and have so for a decade. At least on the train you can have the downtime to read and such. But none of these people had kids either. My husband did it for a year. It was okay for a year when we were young.

    I have always had a 15-minute commute max and I think personally that is very important to me. As long as I can comfortably afford a home, I will keep the short commute. Since I couldn’t back home, we moved somewhere more affordable where I could have a 15-minute commute.

  12. We were faced with a similar decision problem 3 months back when we were looking for a place to buy. I work in Manhattan, NY and so all places within reasonable commute time were way too expensive.

    In the end we chose the one thats closer to my work. We could have bought a 4-bedroom house, had we chose to live farther away, but currently are living in a 1-bedroom condo with door-to-door commute time about 15 minutes.

    We are very pleased with our decision, considering that its a great neighborhood, and its a great place to rent out (being closer to NYC, with good public transport), should we decide to move later on.

  13. A commute of less than 15 minutes was one of my top criteria when I was in the condo market a few years ago. Thanks to relatively affordable housing prices in Atlanta, it was pretty easy to do. I would still prefer to live closer to a metro station so I wouldn’t have to drive, though. To me, a 1 hour train ride is far better than a 20 minute car ride. It gives me time to read the paper if nothing else.

  14. I wouldn’t look at it as getting to your cubicale quicker in any way, shape, or form.

    I travel 10 mins to work by car, while my girlfriend travels 1:25 each way by train and subway and that doesn’t include leaving the house and driving to park by the trainstation, than wait for the train.

    She leaves work a 1/2 earlier than myself, and when she gets home I’m already at the gym halfway through my hour workout.

    What I’m getting at is that a closer commute gives the ability to get more done, most important to my is is more of social lifestyle.

    She has three hours of of her day commuting, compared to my 1/2 hour.

    I’d need big commensation and a boost in job satisfaction to forgoe my 1/2 and take on a job with a 3hr/day commute.

  15. I had an hour and a half commute (each way) when I was just out of college. Now it’s about 20-25 minutes. It was a trade off to get experience — no one was hiring inexperienced programmers in my area. But my Dad did it for almost 30 years because his firm was in the city and he was happy there.

    But I used to work in the city and honestly, the environment was much more exciting. It’s different working in an industrial park on the outskirts. The building becomes your home and your life revolves around it — where in the city, you go out to lunch and see the world.

    I think ideally, I would like a job in the city twice a week and work from home the other days. Even with the commute, I kind of miss the action.

  16. i won’t drive a car to work. usually i ride a bike and take a bus. sometimes i ride a coaster scooter. if the commute isn’t easy, i won’t take the job. i guess i pass a lot of jobs over because i won’t drive. it hasn’t mattered, though.

  17. Cleveland is the opposite paradox, the houses become cheaper as you move towards downtown (where the jobs are) from any direction. the problem is that you cant live within 120 blocks of d-town from the west and south, 220 blocks of d-town to the east, and the lake is to the north.

    so everyone is forced to shuttle in, with our horrible interstate layout. you cannot in good conscience live closer to work, because the neighborhoods are no fly zones (and i am not a sissy). so you get your minimum 30 minute commute on a good day, hour on a regular basis.

  18. This is an interesting dilemna for me as well. I live in SoCal and am currently renting an apartment about 5 miles from my work in Pasadena. It is a job I love with real staying power and earning potential. I pay $1000 for rent and all utilities (<25% of take home pay), which might sound like much, but for Pasadena standards is actually quite good.

    On the other hand, my parents live 35 miles or approximately 1.5 to 1.75 hours of commuting (each way) away from Pasadena. I tried living at home for the first 10 months or so of work. It was somewhat manageable and as a donation I paid $650 per month to them to help them out with costs. Not quite a ‘rent’ payment exactly, but just something I felt like doing as a responsible son.

    If I were to move back home with the parents, I would still give them a ‘donation’ each month seeing as I’m not a believer in free rent at their expense. Maybe part of this is being financially independent since I was 19.

    For me, those apparent costs savings of living with the p’s and farther from work are a wash. I save about $150 a month on gas, gain 2.5 to 3 hours a day of ‘my time’, have more energy for work/play/exercise/activities and yes sleep, encounter more hourly overtime opportunities, and have seen an increase in my output and ‘visibility’ at work. Plus I felt like at my age (not yet 30) that I was too young to be bleeding away my hours on the LA roads. Commuting that long of a drive, distance and time really takes a toll.

    The situation is different for everyone, but for me the shorter commute is a no brainer.

  19. Colleen says:

    My husband and I dealt with the same decision when we purchased our home back in November. Fortunately, it was a quick decision after we discovered the price of housing around my work was significantly out of our price range.

    My hours were shifted at work as well, which allowed me to save about 20 minutes on my morning commute – which is now about the same time frame that some coworkers who live close commute, but in a much higher traffic volume.

    I don’t regret not living in such a congested area. Though, it would be nice to be able to take my lunch hour outside of work for a change….

  20. FYI, I used to leave early (or late) to avoid rush hour traffic. Now with my first kid hitting school I have a drop off window of 7:30am-8:00am. Prime time rush hour of course.

    One can make other arrangements such as drop off the kid(s) with someone else going to the school, but then you have to get them up earlier and put them to bed earlier too so you still end up spending less time with them.

  21. As the years go by your commute will grow. Simple truth. I’ve worked in a few areas around San Diego and right now I’m in the same locale as I worked from 2000-2003. What used to be a 20 minute drive at 5 pm from this area is now 45 minutes to 60. Rainy day = 1.5 hours. Each direction. That’s 17 miles or 4 minutes per mile with about 4-5 of those miles taking the lion’s share of my time.

    I’m now getting to work at 7 and trying to leave at 4. I never really leave work of course as I’m still answering emails and on the phone until 9-10 pm at night and usually back on both by 6 am. The drive sucks more out of me than the work though. A 20 minute drive home and I’m happy. Stretch that to 45 minutes and I want eat children and feed puppies to guppies.

    For a short-time I worked in downtown San Diego and that was heaven. The drive to work took 10 minutes and the drive home 15 on a bad day. I loved it and miss it. Sadly few tech firms are located downtown as they all opt for the cheap rent of the hideous Sorrento Valley/UTC area.

  22. Living close and spending more time with the kids was really important to us. In case of an emergency either one of us could be there in no time, for example if something happen at school. If my kids were out of school, commuting would not be a problem. People say they commute far because houses are more affordable, true, but the truth is, they just want a bigger house than something smaller closer to work.

  23. DB – remote employees offer challenges though. I have a few remotes and I really don’t like this but I was handed that department as is. In a situation where the EEs come to the office 2 times a week, I see value. Employees permanently working remote…it’s really difficult to monitor work patterns and be certain that we are getting what we pay for. You can opt for more draconian levels of management – send a report of what you’ve done – but in the end it’s quite difficult to make sure the workload is really equitable when many EEs aren’t really seen.

  24. I have found that most people simply value living in a bigger houses with bigger kitchens, bigger great rooms, bigger garages (to store our junk), bigger basements, higher ceilings, his and hers sinks, walk in closets (for more clothes that we probably don’t need), king size beds, etc. The commute usually comes second.

    In most parts of America, one can live in a small ranch or even a townhome close to work or insist on living in a SFH farther out and spend their freetime commuting. The sweet siren of more space and more stuff usually wins out.

    Classic American consumerism. Same reason we drive SUVs, shop too much, spend too much, etc. Ever wonder why our country is dependent on foreign oil and why our energy costs are skyrocketing? I would argue that for a sizeable portion of the population, the commute debate for most people is a simple reluctance to living in a smaller house with less stuff.

    Most people want to live in bigger and newer houses. These newer digs are farther away from most jobs. Choose to live in a smaller house and get over the idea that your kids won’t succeed in life if they don’t attend the best of the best schools.

    I’m including myself as part of the problem I described above.

  25. To find the right balance, you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. There are plenty of jobs and affordable housing in small cities and micropolitans across America. Move to the Midwest or South, and you’re likely to have more house at a lower price with a shorter commute. If you “have to” live in LA or NY, then accept the fact that family time will suffer.

  26. i know someone who takes the train 2 hours each way! thats insane!
    They got a cheaper house but waste money on the commute time. As a consultant, time is very valuable to me.

    if they sold a condo right next to my cubicle, i would buy it. Public transportation is only great in very large cities. In a small one, its HORRIBLE and its usually filled up by the lower income people, who even beg for money on the public transportation.

    I hate traffic and it makes me very restless and gives me a headache. I had to go to the doctors because the commute made it unbearable that I thought I was losing my eyesight and needed glasses. I quit that job and dont need glasses anymore. Weird huh!

    Nice editing feature jonathan!!

  27. commuting is a complete waste of time as far as I am concerned. there is not much you can do while driving. The only positive thing for me was that I got to listen to some really great audio books. That was the only way I could tolerate to it. I became a big fan of audible.com

  28. I went from a 20-minute commute to a 3-block commute. I didn’t think it was so bad at the time (and compared to others, it isn’t), but now that I’m spoiled, I realize how much that luxury is really worth and I’d be hard-pressed to give it up.

  29. I am a recent college graduate living back at home with my parents to save as much money as I can to eventually purchase a home. I currently leave my house at 6:50am and get home around 7pm. My commute consists of a 20 minute drive to the train station and then take a 55 minute train into the city. While the AM commute does not bother me, (I literally fall asleep 5-10 into the train ride) it is the ride home that I cannot stand. When i get out of work after a long day I just want to get home, and sitting on the train that hour litterally knocks me out. I hardly hit traffic after I get off the train since it is normally after rush hour, however when i do hit traffic because of an accident, etc, i get even more agitated. Getting home at 7pm is the killer and what i have trouble with most. By the time I eat it is 7:30-7:45 leaving me around 3 hrs of free time before i go to bed at 11pm. The last thing i want to do is use one of those free hours to work out (which i used to do 3 times a week in college). I have been doing this for almost 2 years now, still can’t afford a house, and do not want to pay rent when i can just stay at home and save…arrgggg, commuting sucks. :)

  30. Michael says:

    I will echo Vern’s comment. There’s certainly nothing wrong with living in a huge city, and I would never tell anyone that the only way to be happy is not to live in a big city, but moving to a mid/small size city can provide many of the same benefits you’re getting in LA/NY/Chicago for a fraction of the cost. And by cost I’m referring to monetary and emotional. I live in a city with around 1.1 million people in the metro area, commute 30 minutes each way, have almost all of the conveniences of the nearest mega-city, and have a very affordable mortgage payment (16% of gross). Its a nice balance.

    That said, even my current 30 minute commute is the outer limit of what I’m comfortable with. We plan to save for a large down payment to move closer to town in the next few years. Having the great, affordable house, great schools, reasonable commute, modern conveniences, and time for family can be done if you are willing to think outside of the box.

  31. Vern, there are many benefits to living in So Cal. To people who do not want sun, outdoors, ocean, mountains, Mexico, easy flights to vegas, napa, etc it may not be evident.

    I’ve been offered far more money to work in houston but having worked for 4 months there, I couldn’t see taking less than a 50% bump in pay to move somewhere inland.

    Sadly, outside of a major cities/regions, the tech world is not very job rich. My wife works in healthcare and she could find work anywhere. For what I make now and the field I’m in, the choices are limited.

  32. I live in Oakland, and my commute to San Francisco is approximately 25 minutes. I ride in the casual carpool into the City, and take the bus back home ($3.50 per day commute cost). My sister lives in a 3400 s.f. McMansion 60 miles north, and I remember when she bought the house in 2004, she was trying to convince me to sell my small 1200 s.f. bungalow, and move up there. Her arguments at the time would seem very attractive to many people, I had a lot of equity in my current home, and would have been able to make a sizable down payment. The purchase price of a new house out there wouldn’t have been much more than what I owed on the little house. But my time is much more valuable to me, and I told my sister there was no way that I was going to commute 2 hours each way daily for a house. I wouldn’t have enough time or energy to enjoy my mosaleum, let alone clean it. I do not regret my decision one bit. I am very relaxed when I get to work, because I get to sleep in. My commute costs are minimized because I get to use pre-tax dollars, I am not adding extra pollution into the environment. When I have a doctor’s appointment I don’t have to take off the whole day, and can get home rather quickly to take care of any unexpected urgent matters.

    But I will add some caveats. First, we don’t have any children (and aren’t going to have any), so school districts are not a concern for us. Neither is there a need for more than two bedrooms and one bathroom. Also, my husband works in construction all over the Bay Area, and has to drive no matter where he is working, because many of the locations are new sites and have no streets yet. We do not need to factor in his commute when selecting a residence; he will have to drive anyway. The good thing for him is that he works 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to avoid most of the heavy traffic.

    Although I do have a relatively short and convenient commute, I’d be willing to give up a few thousand dollars in salary to work in my hometown.

  33. Your example of the further you live out the cheaper it is true for my situation. That’s the case in the city in which I live compared to the city in which I work.

    I take public transportation to work for the first time in my life. I sleep, read, or just sit there while I’m on my way to and from work. No need to sit in traffic. I pay less for transportation than I did when I drove to work. And that’s one less car on the road and less gasoline for me to buy.

    My savings on housing is worth the commute and I earn a great salary.

  34. I’m moving to Atlanta from Boston later this year and after enjoying walking and biking to work for the past 7 years in walkable Cambridge MA, there is no way that I would trade a big house for a 1 hr commute. Living in the city will offer restaurants, culture, and community in addition to an enjoyable, short commute. Its only in the past 30 yrs (as Jonathan posted recently) that home square footage and demand for it have skyrocketed. My wife and I would consider a 1000 ft2 condo/townhouse/old fixer upper over a megaplex in the burbs at half the price. If we have to, we’ll rent for a year or more to save for the mortgage. Every major city has affordable apartments in town. It’s a choice to live in the burbs and commute.

  35. For couples, chances are one of them has to commute, if not both. At least one of their jobs is likely to change in the duration of living at the residence. Therefore, I’d pick a house based on schools, neighborhood, etc, and not commute.

  36. I lucked out. Straight out of school, sharing an apartment with my girlfriend, I’m starting a career just one block away. I walk home for lunch everyday!

    My girlfriend wasn’t as lucky. We live within walking distance of downtown, but her office happens to be in a hard to access (by bus) neighborhood across town. But then, I have nothing to do when I get home so usually she comes home to an apartment cleaned daily.

  37. bgdc…I’m just sayings it’s a give and take. If you’re willing to have a big commute just to live in southern California, then that’s your choice. My wife and I moved 700 miles from our family, but we we’re willing to make the sacrifice so we could start having kids. I took a good paying job with a 5 minute commute. To me the routine during the 5 days I work are more important than the 2 day weekend. I spend much more time at home each night with my kids. Once they are older we may move back, but for now I get to see my kids grow up on a routine basis instead of living for the weekends and vacations.

  38. MinnesotaSaver says:

    This is an emotional topic for me after having lived in Europe. I bought my condo so I could walk to my (then) job in 3 minutes! I was laid off less than 5 months later. Then I drove through a construction zone that was always clogged to get to my short term job as a contract employee. No sense moving for a contract job. Next job I was able to take an express bus. Loved it for all the reasons mentioned by others, including PREDICTABILITY. I knew what time I would arrive home within 5-10 minutes. That’s not true in my city when traveling by car. That ended with a spin-off of my employer. I’ve been driving 40 minutes each way since and HATE it. It drains me even listening to books and podcasts. The public transit would take 2 hours to get to my work site. My department does not approve of working from home though others at the company can work from home. This causes hard feelings in the workplace. I do not want to move to this part of town but my quality of life is suffering. The wear and tear on me and my vehicle is awful. I keep looking for a job closer to home or better commute options since I know I like where I live, but may not like this job or a new job. I believe I’m more likely to change how I feel about my job than how I feel about my home.
    Thank you, Brian, for mentioning the environmental impact of driving alone to work! I feel so guilty and BROKE.

  39. I still genuinely want to know why public transportation is not a complete solution for those who live in cities with a good mass transit system.

  40. Anne – Here’s how I look at it. Would you accept a 5 hour commute each way if you had a good mass transit system? If not, then it’s not obviously not a complete solution. You’re still losing time with your friends and family, not reaching 100% productivity even with a laptop.

  41. Thanks Jonathan. I guess I was thinking that you have to start from the assumption that there will be some commuting time if you don’t work from home–I mean, until someone perfects the teleporter. 5 hours is unrealistic, but I see your point.

  42. Problem is, as many have stated, jobs and companies change. We bought an 1100 sq/ft expensive house, because it was close to the office, 10 minute commute. The office park had a gym where I would workout early AM, and go home for lunch, it was wonderful. On the weekends I would go in for 1-2 hours, since it was so close and convenient. After 18 months in the house the company moved due to growth. Now the drive is 45 minutes. We could move closer, but I love my small house, the location, and we don’t want to go through the financial setback of selling and moving.

  43. Gates VP says:

    Jonathan: thanks for this post, this has been on my mind for a very long time. I’ve spoken with tons of people about all of these points.

    In fact, I just moved to Kansas City with several co-workers (company buyout and move). Public transportation here is anemic and the whole area is very vast. There is this small group of people who live close to the office. Me & 2 of the co-workers moved in to upscale places within 10 minutes walk. I hear that 2 other people live in my apartment block and a few more people live within 2 miles. After that, it seems like every spends 30+ minutes on the interstate. My office already has excessive working hours (paperwork says 8-5:30) and on snowy days half of the office is empty b/c the commute for them is like 1.5 hours long.

    I think the fundamental problem here is that most people don’t actively place a value on their own time. You, Jonathan, have explained your decision in a rational fashion and I trust that you are making active decisions based on the known risks. But I simply can’t say this about most people that I know. :(

    Derek: I have been doing this for almost 2 years now, still can’t afford a house, and do not want to pay rent when i can just stay at home and save…arrgggg, commuting sucks.

    Buddy, see my paragaph above, what’s your time worth? What’s your independence worth? Heck, what are your reasons for really wanting a house? And how much money have you saved over the last 2 years by living at home?

    You say that you still can’t afford a house, but that’s tough math to swallow. If you can’t save enough money for a downpayment over 2 years while paying zero rent, then you simply cannot afford to own a place in your region. (or you’re not saving enough)

    If it’s any confidence, home ownership is not a requirement for achieving financial independence. If your goal is financial independence, then just keep saving and investing your money. If your goal is truly home ownership and you can’t save enough money for a downpayment in two years, then you’re going to have to take a very long look your goals.

    bgdc: Sadly, outside of a major cities/regions, the tech world is not very job rich.

    Given your previous mentions of regularly answering calls & e-mails at 9 pm, I’m going to call BS on this comment. It sound to me like you’re making an apples to oranges “annual salary” comparison and imposing your own limited view of the tech job market onto the greater world.

    If you’re regularly doing work outside of work, then you can’t measure your salary by year, you have to measure it in dollars per hour. Scott Hanselman works for Microsoft and lives an hour outside of the city (Portland I believe) and he definitely makes great money. He telecommutes most of the days, so the one-hour commute is moot.

    Personally, I more just wonder about your own lifestyle, you made three posts to this blog during work hours on the 6th of March. Why the heck are you even at the office if you have work time to surf blogs, but then have to answer calls at 9?

    Employees permanently working remote…it’s really difficult to monitor work patterns and be certain that we are getting what we pay for.

    Oh that’s why, you’re one of these people.

    If you feel the need for “face time” to ascertain performance (especially in the tech world), then you’re a really shitty supervisor. If you want to “get what you pay for”, then you ask the remote workers for deliverables commensurate with what you’re paying them. Either they meet these deliverables or they get fired. Seems pretty simple.

    Feel free to argue this point.

  44. With the uncertainty in the job market (as some previous posters have pointed out) you never know where your next job might be. This is all the more reason I consider renting for the flexibility and convenience as compared to owning a house.
    Strangely I have never seen this in a buy v/s rent decision matrix.

  45. Gates VP says:

    Hey John; I’m with you on the flexibility factor. I’ve seen it listed once or twice, but it really seems to be a paradigm thing. If you live in a world where opportunity is everywhere and the next big step could be anywhere, then it’s tough to buy a house.

    I know that flexibility is one of my primary reasons for renting. I don’t know where I’m going to be in two years, but if the last 2 years are any indication, it’s probably not where I’m living right now.

    But most people don’t live within that paradigm. Very few people consider their next job, lots of people don’t think with the mindset that “there’s probably going to be a next job”

    But this is very similar to how people look for jobs. Most people live in a world where they apply for jobs by looking in a local newspaper and sending out a stack of resumes hoping for a reply. Some people live in a world where they find companies they want to work for and just apply there. The latter group would actually appreciate flexibility, but they’re also in the vast minority.

  46. I’ve owned a house for the past 4 years. Let me give you some advice:

    When you rent, you know exactly how much your costs are every month. Homeowners rarely know this. Rent also enables you to move quickly to blocks within your next job.

    Rent is the way to get rich and to stay flexible enough to live within blocks of your next job (just keep rent below 20% of your after-tax income). Commuting absolutely sucks and when gas hits $4/gallon this summer, you’ll have other reasons to live close to work.

  47. Doctored says:

    James Surowiecki in the New Yorker recently referenced research that home owners are more likely to be unemployed than renters. The cause was the fact that they get tied down by their houses when jobs move to other areas.

  48. sfordinarygirl says:

    I interviewed for a job recently in my company’s other office. The only reason the job was available after 10+ years because the guy was commuting an hour and a half each way from the Central Valley to the East Bay.

    After 10+ years of driving he finally took a lower paying job at a fitness center so he wouldn’t have tos pend the money on gas and in traffic. I still don’t understand how during the housing boom in Silicon Valley people were flocking to the Central Valley to buy houses and commute. That just didn’t make any logical sense.

    I’m lucky my commute is 15 minutes walking each way to and from work. And if this job I’m waiting to hear back from works out, my commute won’t change at all. Same nice and leisurely walk to work.

  49. The Center For Neighborhood Technology did a comprehensive review of the financial benefits of living near public transportation. There argument is that these benefits should be factored into peoples income when being considered for mortgages on properties near public transportation. A very good argument

  50. jenise johnson says:

    I was offered a job 10 min. from my house, however is is paying less than what I’m making now. I currently have to leave my house 2 hrs early to get to work on time. I have to drive to the Park & Ride, pay $7.00 a day ($3.50 going and $3.50 coming) it takes 45 min to get to the park and ride and an hour to get to work. I leave at 7:30 in the morning and get home by 8:00 pm. I cook when I get home and don’t eat until 9:00pm. This job pays more, (not that much more) but it takes all my time. My whole day is going to work and coming home. By the weekend I don’t have the energy to do anything. Should I take this job thats 10-15 min from my house with less pay or continue the commute until something else comes along. Please help!

  51. Hey Jenise;

    It’s sounds like you have a pretty good bead on the answer just based on the tone of your reply.

    But the easy answer is to compare your hourly salary at both jobs. Right now you work 12.5 hours/day (with the commute). At the new job, you’ll likely work 9. All things equal the current job should be paying 33% more just to break even.

    i.e.: if you’re making 100k right now and the new job offers you 75k, then they’re paying about the same amount.

    Honestly, my math is a little sketchy here, but it has to be. You have to figure out what your time & health is worth and then go from there. Barring a few exceptions, the goal of your work is to earn the maximal dollars per hour worked. How you do that math is up to you, but spending two hours getting to work isn’t my idea of fun or productive.

  52. Daniel says:

    Great post Jonathan!

    In the Detroit area there often is no trade-off between housing cost and commuting time. You can often get lower cost homes close to work. The expensive homes are usually buried deep within subdivisions and away from main roads while the bargains are closer to main roads and office buildings.

    Also, from what I hear in most large cities there are downtown business district where a vastly disproportionate percentage of jobs are. The suburbs are often “bedroom communities” with lots and lots of homes but few jobs other than your standard retail establishments like car dealerships, WAL-MARTS, etc. Everything is much more spread out around Detroit. Blue-collar and white-collar jobs can be found in many different parts of the tri-county area.

    I walk 10 minutes to work every day at a good paying accounting job in a high-rise office building and I live a suburb about four miles north of the very northwest tip of Detroit. My 1,500 sq. ft. condo cost me just under $100,000 last year. If for some reason I lost my job there would be many other oppurtunities in the northern suburbs close to where I live. My city actually has more total office space than downtown Detroit does. It sounds like in other places like say, Chicago, office jobs are heavilly concentrated downtown and you would have to pay a hefty premium to be close to work.

  53. My husband and I rented an apartment only 0.3 miles from work. We loved it so much we sacrificed a large yard with forest for it when we decided to purchase a house only 0.8 miles away from work, and we still resent the increased commute. We can walk or drive if we are running late. We can go home and cook for lunch and see each other or even watch a TV show. I used to have to budget $300/month for gas for just my car, and now it’s down to $35 for 1 tank. My sister in law, on the other hand, spends 5 hours a day on a train, home schools her daughter, and works nights. For me, it is a no-brainer. The convenience if you live in a city simply cannot be beat!

  54. Nightvid Cole says:

    I must live close to work. I only make $22,000 per year before taxes/health insurance (but not including tuition remission) and cannot afford a car unless I line up a continuous stream of arrangements to squat in apartment living rooms for $300/month or less. Having said that, if I could arrange to live in someone’s basement less than 15 miles from work (but more than 2 miles and too far to walk) for $150/month or less beginnning when my current lease ($500/month + util, 1 room in shared apt.) expires (07/31/2013), a car would be a better investment than the stock market. But I am almost certain that will not happen. I’m sticking with the stock market. No car until I can make more money, must live walking distance to work (< 2 miles). Would need to save $55,000 to have a car otherwise ($10k up front, $45k in stock market, use earnings to subsidize operating expenses and insurance). That's going to take a very long time to reach. I intend to be making more by then anyway…

  55. It is so hard in today’s day and age to support a family with one income. Yet when you have children you have to pay for daycare, increased gas prices for yourself and miscellaneous costs for eating out. If you cannot land a great paying job it is useless to go to that trouble in working full time just to pay so you can work. This is something many families battle with and why most of them cannot gain any ground. It is a tough subject.

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  2. [...] at My Money Blog wrote about the trade off of housing prices vs. commuting. This was a key factor in buying my first home in Boston. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to [...]

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