Comparing the Rural & Urban Rental Markets
You wake up to the familiar melody of noises surrounding your apartment that serve as your alarm clock every morning. You smell the pleasant outdoor aromas wafting in through the windows. The world has woken up, and it’s encouraging you to do the same.
Your legs slip out from underneath the soft sheets and settle on the hardwood floor. You slowly stand up, stretch, and walk to the window. Like every morning, you look out and take in the incredible expanse in front of you. It’s the view that you've always wanted, even if it almost broke your bank when you signed your lease. But you have never regretted it, because it’s worth it.
After appreciating the scenery, you go through your morning routine: shower, breakfast, toothbrush, suitcase, door. You begin your commute to work, and a half hour later you’re at your office, looking forward to when you can return to your dream apartment.
As you read the last few paragraphs, what did you picture? Were the noises you heard birds chirping? Or, did you hear the excited chatter of city goers outside? When you imagined the outdoor aroma, was it fresh cut grass from your neighbor’s yard, or was it fresh brewed coffee from the café on your block?
When you envisioned your view, was it a stretch of open fields, or was it the towering buildings in a city’s skyline? Did you think of your commute as a short drive to your office building, or a quick ride on the subway?
Though these are generalized ideas, they illustrate several important distinctions between rural and urban renting.
Other differences between urban and rural apartments matter more than whether you can see a tree from your window. The contrast is evident from the minute you begin researching the housing markets in both areas. Renting is more popular in cities than in towns, so there are more properties to rent there, and consequently, more selection.
For example, In Boston, there are currently over 3000 apartments listed. As you move further from the city, availability decreases. In Newton, a suburb, there are only a couple hundred, and even further out in Wellesley, there are less than a hundred. This same trend is standard in most of the country’s largest metropolitan areas.
Some buyers desire specific amenities to be included in their apartment. These amenities can be as common as elevators and fireplaces, or as unusual as pet concierge, a roof garden, and radiant floor heating. If you look for an apartment in a large city, there’s a chance you will have some -- if not all -- of your specific desires met. However, in a rural area, you might have to compromise on amenities because of the smaller market.
It’s well-known that urban areas have more crime than rural areas. How safe you feel in a city community depends on, like most things in your apartment search, a price. If you want to blow up your budget, there are upper crust neighborhoods in cities that have lower crime rates than most small towns. However, some people don’t mind renting in cheaper, more dangerous neighborhoods so long as they take precautions. They stay away from bars and other problem areas, use street smarts, and don’t walk alone at night.
The difference between a dangerous and safe neighborhood in a rural area usually isn’t as drastic. A renter can easily settle down in a safe rural community without having to overspend.
If you’re able to look past an urban community’s crime rate, then you can find an apartment in a low-income neighborhood with incredible city access and low value. However, if safety is a high priority, whether for yourself or for your family, you should look rural -- or be prepared to pay extra for it in the urban market.
One advantage urban living has over rural digs is transportation options. If you live in a city, you can get around by bus, trolley, streetcar, taxi, rail line, bicycle, or the subway, depending on the services offered. You don’t need a car, and in some urban areas walking is a viable option as well.
In a rural area, unless you rent near a bus stop or a park and ride, you need a vehicle to commute. The expenses of maintaining it and buying gas would most likely dwarf any public transit fares. Owning a vehicle also creates the need for parking spaces. Depending on your living situation, you could need anywhere from one to three.
However, the growing national interest in public transportation will largely benefit rural areas. New light rail systems are constantly being proposed, which would link the suburbs and beyond to urban centers. With such easy access, renters could live in rural communities, yet enjoy the city anytime they please. A number of metropolitan areas already have this privilege, and as rail systems are built, the renting dynamic will shift. Renters won’t have to overpay for an apartment close to downtown anymore -- public transportation will allow them to live the city lifestyle from afar.
The urban lifestyle is what attracts young professionals and families alike to cities. They can live in close proximity to restaurants, bars, sport and music venues, and their job. Not only is it convenient, but it feels different than a town. A vibrant energy runs through the city’s streets by day, and glows in the streetlamps and building lights by night. There’s a rush that you feel living in an urban center, and nowadays it costs a healthy sum to experience it.
There’s also an energy in rural areas, although it’s more of a tranquil, soothing pulse. It’s easier to relax here, and it’s more private, safer, spacious, and easier to enjoy nature. A city park will never compare to actual wilderness, like a winding path through the woods or a hike up a mountain. Stores and jobs may be further away here, but people who find the city to be claustrophobic won’t mind the extra distance.
Reaching a Decision
There are certainly advantages and drawbacks in both urban and rural living, some that I mentioned and others that require area-specific research (schools are a good example). Rural areas typically have lower crime, more privacy, more nature, and cheaper price tags. But they also have fewer transportation options, a greater distance to travel for everyday necessities, and less of an apartment selection than an urban area.
If you have evaluated the pros and cons of both areas and believe they’re even, then think of your personality. Would your fast-paced, outgoing personality thrive in a small town? Or, if you’re mellow and value privacy, would you feel comfortable in an urban center? More than anything, knowing who you are will help you know where to look in the rental market.
-- Nick Dumont