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7 tips to make it easier to transition from the city to the suburbs

It's more than just mowing the lawn.
/ Source: TMRW

You've probably heard the news: Cities have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic.

But an exodus from places like Chicago, New York City and San Francisco means that some suburbs and rural areas are booming. And yet, many transplants will find that there's a learning curve to living in a smaller place after life in a big city.

Here are a few things that people making the move should know, as well as some tips to make the transition to suburban life easier.

Grieving the City
Grieving city life is a typical experience among people who move to the suburbs, one expert told TMRW. Jackson Joyce / For TODAY

1. It may be harder to meet people

People who live outside of cities are naturally more isolated from other people — they drive instead of walk and their neighbors are farther away, for example.

But it's not impossible to make new friends in the suburbs or the country. It just takes a little more effort than it might in a city, experts told TMRW.

Mat Zucker is the host of "Cidiot," a podcast about adjusting to life in the Hudson Valley after living for years in New York City. His No. 1 tip for making new friends? Have dinner at the bar.

"We have met more people sitting at the bar at a restaurant than we ever would have sitting at a table," said Zucker, who bought a house two hours north of New York City with his husband in 2015, and relocated there permanently in 2019.

His second tip is to join something, be it a book club, a local political or activist organization, or the volunteer group for the farmer's market. You'll have to put yourself out there to find your new community, he said.

Anne DuBray, a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker Realty in the Chicago area who often works with clients moving from the city to the suburbs, suggested networking online. Many suburbs have their own website or groups on Nextdoor or Facebook, for example, where in-person events are planned.

"A lot of the neighborhoods around here do a thing called Flamingo Fridays, where they take turns hosting on their lawn," DuBray said, adding that the get-togethers are a great way to meet new friends. "People bring a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer. It's like a little outdoor happy hour."

2. Grieving the city is normal

Jill Kalman, an interior designer and host of the podcast "Welcome Home to the Suburbs," often works with clients making the move from New York City to the suburbs of Connecticut, many of whom struggle with the idea of leaving the city.

"There's a status to living in a major city," Kalman said. "Moving in general is a top life stressor, but when you're moving from a major city to a suburb, it's a different pace, it's a different space, it's a different everything. There's truly a feeling of grieving. And I think it's really important to talk about, and to allow yourself space to feel it, and give yourself time with that feeling."

One way to get more comfortable in your new neighborhood is to find a place you love, she said, whether that's a coffee shop, a park or a place to grab lunch. "Anything you can get familiar with and help establish a pattern and routine," Kalman said.

3. Yes, you'll have to take care of the lawn — and everything else, too

People moving from cities tend to underestimate the amount of time and money that goes into maintaining a house and property, said Nick Gummow, one-half of The Gummow Brothers, a real estate team for Coldwell Banker Realty in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"When you're in apartment or condo living, you don't have to worry about all the exterior factors," Gummow said. "When you own a single-family home, you have to worry about lawn care. You have to worry about the exterior of the building. Expenses come up at the worst possible times. We just went through a massive heat wave. My AC went out. It's not the most fun thing in the world, but it's an unexpected expense. If you're in a complex, they're going to call a handyman and probably get that fixed the same day. If it's your house, you've got to make the call. You've got to deal with it all."

Of course, a lot of maintenance can be outsourced — it's easy enough to hire someone to mow the lawn, for example — but people should be conscious that while suburban living may seem less expensive than city life on paper, unexpected expenses are bound to pop up.

4. The house will become more central

In cities, people often meet at coffee shops or restaurants, for a walk in the park or simply during an impromptu catch-up in the lobby while checking the mail. It's not uncommon for friends in large cities to have never seen each other's apartments — they're often small, cramped and not ideal for meeting with large groups.

But in the suburbs, the house is where everything happens, which Kalman said often catches her city clients by surprise.

"It's not that we don't have public places in the suburbs, but if there's a playgroup or a PTA meeting, a lot of moms just host at home, and that can be pressure-filled for a lot of people," she said. "The home is more central in the suburbs. It's just functional and convenient here."

5. Yes, driving everywhere can be annoying

"It sounds funny, but the No. 1 thing I hear is about having to get in the car and drive everywhere," Kalman said. "When you're in the city, you're not used to doing that. It seems less convenient to have to get in the car and go somewhere. It's cumbersome in comparison to the city, where you just bundle up and go. There's a convenience that you lose."

While losing walkability can be a bummer for city lovers, most suburban transplants get used to life behind the wheel. And after a while, they say that driving somewhere feels more like a convenience than a burden.

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6. Don't throw away your ratty old furniture

A lot of people moving out of the city want a fresh start and plan to purchase all new furniture, said Kalman. But she tells her clients not to toss anything.

Most people moving from the city to the suburbs or the country are moving into a home with a much higher square footage, and that means more rooms to fill.

"I always tell people, just bring the old sofa you hate," Kalman said. "When the new one comes, you can move it to the basement or the playroom or sell it. Furnishing the home becomes very overwhelming because the amount of square footage is so overwhelming."

7. You don't have to give up culture

A common concern from people leaving a city is that there's no "culture" in the suburbs or out in the country. People who have made the move say that isn't true.

"The things I thought I would miss, I didn't really miss — like theater and restaurants," Zucker said. "There's theater and restaurants up here. They're just different."

And it may seem obvious, but people should remember they can always go back to the city for a visit.

"Suburban people can love the city, too," DuBray said. "You don't have to live there to enjoy it."