How to Compare Cities and Neighborhoods to Find the Best Place to Live

Woman with goden doodle dog walking in the street
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When trying to find the best places to live, it's always a good idea to compare cities and further, to compare neighborhoods. After all, when you go to buy a car or a house or any big ticket item, you usually try out a few models or visit a few homes before you decide. The same tactic applies to finding the best places to live - do it before you start planning your move.

Best Places to Live: How to Compare Cities

There are lots of tools out there, but here are some of my favorites:

  1. Overall Comparison: Sperling's Best Places takes the comparison tool and adds in some commentary. Makes for an interesting read with some very solid facts. Great for an overview of the two cities. We used this tool when trying to decide where to live when moving to the East Bay in California.
  2. Crime Rates: provides a very easy and quick way to compare crime rates of two cities, then measures them both against the national statistics. The data is currently from FBI records of 2004, with an update using 2005 data to be available soon. Very informative.
  3. Neighborhood Comparison Tools: There are so many great neighborhood comparison tools that will help you choose the best place to live within any given city.  We're in the process of looking at neighborhood options in LA and without actually going there, I can see some pretty interesting facts about the various communities all from my desktop.Neighborhood Scout: Neighborhood Scout lets me enter in an address or zip code and provides an overview of the neighborhood. And better yet, you can compare where you currently live to another neighborhood or use the tool to find a similar neighborhood to the one you're living in. I can also see at a glance where the highest crimes rates are or where the best schools are located. Most of the overview information is free. If you want to dig deeper, they do charge a fee. I suggest using the free version to get a sense of the area then if needed, sign up for a subscription. Note that a one-month subscription will cost you about $40.00 but cheaper options are available if you sign up for the six month option.
    Area Vibes: I use Area Vibes all the time when hunting for real estate in another city and neighborhood. It's a great free tool that provides information on crime, education, jobs, housing and even weather for most areas in the US.  It allows me to also look up commute times, and provides a map with all the local amenities for any particular address. Highly recommend it.Walk Score: Unlike the other two neighborhood comparison tools, Walk Score focuses on walkable communities and provides detailed information on amenities, commuting options and bike-ability with heat maps showing restaurants, for instance. At a glance, it provides a listing of neighborhoods within the area you're searching to show which receive the highest ratings. It also provides links to apartment rentals and has locals available to answer any of your questions.  It's a great tool to begin any search in particular if you're more interested in a walkable community than one where you have to get in your car to drive to the grocery store. Again, highly recommended.
  1. Cost of Living and Salary Comparison: Again, Sperling's has the best tool for comparing salaries and cost of living. This tool provides stats on food, housing, utilities, transportation and more. Great way to find out if your salary will measure up in the new city.
  2. Salary Comparison: The Spruce's Expert on job searching has a list of really easy-to-use salary calculators that provide detailed information on salaries across a wide variety of careers. For instance,  some of these tools listed over 270 career titles and provided base salary information for a specific city or zip code when I searched for information in the health care field. They are very useful tools in determining salary expectations, bonus information as well as benefits for a specific job title and location. Highly recommended.
  3. Compare Schools: is a parent's dream in finding the best school. This tool lists schools in the city of your choice, providing extensive statistics on test scores and teacher and student ratios, including teacher's experience. The tool also allows you to compare two schools within the same city or from state to state. Highly recommend this site.