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

Woman walking a dog in the suburbs
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When trying to find the best places to live, it's always a good idea to compare cities and if possible, 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 or to help narrow down your choices.

Comparing Cities

There are lots of tools out there that can help you asses different factors when comparing two cities.

  1. Overall Comparison: Sperling's Best Places is a comparison tool that looks at several different factors. Because it looks at the same factors for each city, it's great for an overview of the two cities. Some of the popular factors include population, cost of living, average rent, crime rate, tax rates, and air quality.
  2. Crime Rates: provides a very easy and quick way to compare the crime rates of two cities, then measures them both against the national statistics.
  3. Cost of Living and Salary Comparison: Sperling's has the best tool for comparing salaries and cost of living. This tool provides stats on food, housing, utilities, transportation and more. This is a useful way to find out if your salary will measure up in the new city.
  4. Compare Schools: helps find 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 the teacher's experience. The tool also allows you to compare two schools within the same city or from state to state.
  5. 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. These sites allow you to see some pretty interesting facts about the various communities.

Other Research Tools

  • Neighborhood Scout: Neighborhood Scout allows you to enter an address or zip code and provides an overview of the neighborhood. And better yet, you can compare where you currently live in another neighborhood or use the tool to find a similar neighborhood to the one you're living in. Most of the overview information is free. If you want to dig deeper, they do charge a fee.
  • AreaVibes: This is a great free tool that provides information on crime, education, jobs, housing, and even weather for most areas in the U.S. AreaVibes allows you to look up commute times and provides a map with all the local amenities for any particular address.
  • 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. 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 especially 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.

While all of these tools are useful, there is nothing like visiting the actual city, seeing the neighborhoods, and speaking with residents. If it's possible, an in-person visit is highly recommended before making a big move.