The Best Places to Live in Georgia in 2021

Georgia, also known as the Peach State, features everything from fun city amenities like a thriving nightlife and the latest art openings to outdoor opportunities right in your suburban backyard.

It’s no surprise that Georgia has plenty of options for great places to live.

Atlanta’s growing economy with Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines at the helm entice any visitor to move to the city. Farther south in Macon and Savannah, you can enjoy a growing music scene and fresh seafood, respectively, too.

Georgia provides a full spectrum of experiences for those visiting and considering moving here. Seriously, there are more than 100, just in Atlanta.

To help your search for your next home, here are the best places to live in Georgia, arranged in alphabetical order:

Alpharetta, Georgia.

  • Population: 67,213
  • Median household income: $113,802
  • Average commute time: 29 minutes
  • Walk score: 30
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,635
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,052

The Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta continues to make the best places to live lists, thanks to its vibrant culinary spots, shopping districts like Avalon, thriving tech and manufacturing industries and of course, education.

The city offers easy access to the airport, only 35 miles south via GA-400. You can head on your way to your next business trip or vacation in no time.

If you’re looking for the outdoors, you’re also less than 45 minutes from the North Georgia Mountains and cabin towns like Blue Ridge and Ellijay.

Downtown Alpharetta offers a walkable experience with boutiques, breweries and fine dining establishments lining the streets. Every weekend, the city comes down to stock up on local offerings at the Alpharetta Farmer’s Market.

With a one-bedroom average rent of under $1,700, you can find an affordable place with good schools nearby in Alpharetta.

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Athens, Georgia.

  • Population: 126,913
  • Median household income: $38,311
  • Average commute time: 19.4 minutes
  • Walk score: 35
  • Studio average rent: $712
  • One-bedroom average rent: $739
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,259

Sure, when you hear Athens, you think of the University of Georgia and the accompanying football tailgating. However, the city has more to offer than college fun.

While Athens is a small city, it does come with a great perk — affordability. You can rent a one-bedroom for $739 a month on average.

You also have access to arts and entertainment, thanks to Athens’ thriving music scene. Check out your favorite entertainer at the Georgia Theatre or discover a new one at the intimate 40 Watt Club.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia and Sandy Creek Park offer opportunities to enjoy the mild Georgia weather and nature. End your weekend with a pint from local brewery Creature Comforts — yes, the one you saw in Thor’s hand during the last “Avengers” movie.

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Atlanta, GA.

  • Population: 506,811
  • Median household income: $59,948
  • Average commute time: 27.2 minutes
  • Walk score: 55
  • Studio average rent: $1,605
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,655
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,140

From Fortune 500 companies to good music and food, Atlanta has plenty to offer as one of the best cities to live in Georgia. With more than half a million residents, the city has a diverse community that provides everything from an indie clothing store to large coffee chains.

Atlanta’s 45 neighborhoods all have their unique personality. You can find a luxury condo in Midtown or a charming craftsman home in Grant Park — just minutes from each other. Depending on the neighborhood, your walk score may improve, but you’ll have access to city parks and local dining options that range from Mexican to Italian and Ethiopian.

With those city amenities come high rent prices — you can find a studio on average for $1,605 a month. Keep in mind that easy access to MARTA rail and the bus line can help you skip long commutes at the end of the day.

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Augusta, Georgia.

  • Population: 197,888
  • Median household income: $42,592
  • Average commute time: 21.1 minutes
  • Walk score: 33
  • Studio average rent: $1,000
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,013
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,153

While many know Augusta for the annual Masters golf tournament, its residents enjoy a rich history, a charming downtown and a growing economy year-round. The walk along the Savannah River in downtown Augusta indeed shows the beauty of the city.

The Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art and the Augusta Museum of History give you a glimpse of this Southern city’s history. The Summerville neighborhood has some of the most beautiful historic homes, preserved thanks to a local ordinance, with large columns and manicured lawns.

On the weekends, you can explore Broad Street and its small boutiques and restaurants on foot. During the warm months, the Augusta Market brings local artisans to the Savannah River’s River Walk park.

From tapas to nightlife, you can find it all here.

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Columbus, Georgia.

  • Population: 195,769
  • Median household income: $46,408
  • Average commute time: 20.6 minutes
  • Walk score: 35
  • Studio average rent: $553
  • One-bedroom average rent: $833
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $983

For those looking into affordable living, Columbus tops our list of best places to live in Georgia. You can get a two-bedroom apartment in the city for under $1,000 per month on average.

Only 90 minutes from Atlanta, Columbus is an outdoor lover’s paradise with the Chattahoochee River flowing nearby. The river provides incredible opportunities to whitewater one of the country’s longest courses and even zipline across it.

Elsewhere in the city, you can find a farmers market, artists market and free concert series set up in the downtown area.

The Springer Opera House features some of the best talents throughout annual performances and leads one of the most prominent theatre programs in the Southeast.

The city is also home to Fort Benning and the National Infantry Museum, the only one of its kind in the U.S.

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Decatur, Georgia.

Photo source: Agnes Scott College
  • Population: 25,696
  • Median household income: $106,088
  • Average commute time: 27.3 minutes
  • Walk score: 39
  • Studio average rent: $1,323
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,403
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,587

The city of Decatur is only about five square miles, but it packs a lot of goodness. With three MARTA rail stations and a robust bike lane program, you can easily navigate the city without a car.

Agnes Scott College, an acclaimed women-only liberal arts college, provides interesting arts programming for residents to enjoy.

Only a few miles from downtown Atlanta and high-quality schools, Decatur’s housing is highly sought out. You can find a two-bedroom on average for $1,587 per month.

However, you’ll have access to some of the best restaurants in Georgia, like Kimball House, Leon’s Full Service and Brush Izakaya, along with regular community events in the square.

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Macon, Georgia.

  • Population: 153,159
  • Median household income: $41,334
  • Average commute time: 21.3 minutes
  • Walk score: 35
  • Studio average rent: $610
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,050
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,172

Right at the heart of the Peach State and only two hours from Atlanta, Macon is a hub of job opportunities, higher education options like Mercer University and, of course, entertainment on the weekends.

Warner Robins, 20 miles away, offers job opportunities at the Robins Air Force Base as one of the state’s largest employers. Plus, your average commute time hovers around 20 minutes.

Downtown Macon features new, cool boutiques as well as iconic places that have regulars. Listen to the latest tunes at Fresh Produce Records and then hop to the Tubman Museum, an essential visit.

To learn more about Macon’s music history, The Little Richard House and Otis Redding Museum are both must-see stops for music lovers.

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Marietta, Georgia.

  • Population: 60,867
  • Median household income: $57,452
  • Average commute time: 28.5 minutes
  • Walk score: 31
  • Studio average rent: $1,018
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,162
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,426

One of Cobb County’s gems, Marietta, offers good schools, a tight-knit community and rich history. Marietta City Schools hosts a diverse student body with high rankings in the state.

Near Marietta Square, a hub for most community events, you can find the Marietta Museum of History in a preserved 1845 warehouse building. There are a few other historical sites within the city center like the William Root House Museum & Garden and Kennesaw Mountain.

Not too far, at Truist Park, you can cheer on the Atlanta Braves and enjoy a meal at The Battery.

While Atlanta’s infamous traffic can keep you on I-75 for longer than you want, the average person commutes nearly 30 minutes to work.

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Sandy Springs, Georgia.

  • Population: 109,452
  • Median household income: $78,613
  • Average commute time: 26.1 minutes
  • Walk score: 44
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,630
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,007

Sandy Springs’ proximity to downtown Atlanta, Buckhead’s business district and the outdoors makes it one of the best places to live in Georgia. You’ll also have to the public transportation via the MARTA rail to avoid the 26-minute average commute.

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and 16 city parks offer plenty of opportunities to get outside, explore new trails and even go on a kayak or two. You can also find Vickery Creek Falls nearby in Roswell.

For those into nightlife, you can check out Battle & Brew as well as plays at the City Springs Theatre Company and Act 3 Productions.

You can find a one-bedroom in the area for $1,630 a month on average.

If you’re looking for close proximity to the action while keeping a little quiet at home, this is the place for you.

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Savannah, Georgia.

  • Population: 144,464
  • Median household income: $43,307
  • Average commute time: 20.5 minutes
  • Walk score: 46
  • Studio average rent: $1,244
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,197
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,346

Home to River Street and the Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah’s Spanish moss-lined streets take you back to the past. The city’s downtown grid street system makes it incredibly walkable and easily enjoyable.

Despite all of the ghost stories and dark past, the city has plenty to offer delicious dining options, museums and outdoor opportunities. You can both enjoy fresh oysters on River Street next to the water and not too far, walk around the area that inspired the “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” book.

The Port of Savannah played an essential role in local cotton and tobacco industries following its opening in 1744. These days, the port is a historic landmark and one of the fastest-growing ports in the country.

If you want a hop and a skip from Tybee Island, you can find a two-bedroom apartment for $1,346 a month on average.

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Find your own best place to live in Georgia

Georgia’s four seasons, affordability and growing economy have attracted people from all over. It’s no surprise that the Peach State has several great cities to pick from.

Whether you’re looking to relocate with your job or just looking for a new city to love, Georgia’s Southern charm and delicious food will reel you in.

Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in March 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Other demographic data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

Wondering How to Become an Audiobook Narrator? Here’s How

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. 

While readers and writers have skeptically watched the fluctuating publishing industry in recent years, one literary market has caught us all a bit by surprise: audiobooks.

Somewhere along the path of lengthy commutes and ubiquitous smartphones, a market for audiobooks erupted: people who don’t otherwise read much.

This exploding market makes it imperative for authors and publishers to get books into audio form and on the most popular platforms — Audible (Amazon) and iTunes.

Enter Amazon’s Audiobook Creative Exchange (ACX), which connects audiobook narrators with books to narrate.

Like other publishing services you’ll find at Amazon — CreateSpace for print-on-demand books, CDs and DVDs; and Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks — ACX simplifies the process of producing an audiobook from start to finish.

If you’re an actor or voice-over artist, you could make money working in this market.

Not sure where to start? Here’s our guide.

How to Become an Audiobook Narrator

Actor Kris Keppeler has been doing voice-over work for over a decade.

“I got started through freelancing and bidding on work,” Keppeler said. “I bid on a short audiobook and got that, and it went well. When ACX came along, I started auditioning there… It’s taken a little bit to discover where my voice fits.”

Based on her experience, Keppeler shares some advice — and warnings — for anyone interested in doing audiobook work.

What You Need to Know Before Auditioning

Before you spend months auditioning to land your first gig, we have some tips to help you get started.

“My voice just fits with audiobook work,” Keppeler said. “Actors are especially tuned in for audiobook work, by the nature of our training.”

That’s because actors learn how to represent multiple characters, necessary for fiction narration in particular. Even for nonfiction, acting training can help you animate narration and make a book interesting.

“You definitely have to have some training,” Keppeler said. “If you regularly listen to audiobooks and like them, that’s a good starting point. But you have to have a real desire to do this kind of work, because it’s a lot of work.”

How is narrating an audiobook different from just reading a book aloud?

“When you read a book, you’re seeing and hearing things in your mind,” she said. “When you’re narrating that book, what you’re seeing and hearing in your mind you have to then vocalize. That’s not easy!”

Because an audiobook listener relies entirely on your narration, painting the picture just right (and meeting the author’s vision) is vital. It’s a distinct difference from other voice-over work, like commercials, where images or video complement the narration.

Because of this need to draw the reader into a made-up world, narrating fiction requires acting skills. Not everyone is cut out for it.

But, “nonfiction has its own challenge,” Keppeler said. “Sometimes what you’re reading is kind of dry, but you still have to make it interesting.”

She says it doesn’t necessarily matter whether a book is interesting to her.

“At this point, whether it is or not, I am narrating it and finding the interesting bits for me and putting it into my voice,” Keppeler said.

Even if you don’t enjoy the subject matter, you can still enjoy the process of producing the book for readers.

Learn Proper Technique

Before landing her first gig through ACX, Keppeler submitted auditions to the platform for well over a year.

Why does it take so long to land a gig?

Some of it, Keppeler says, is just learning how to narrate correctly. “I had some coaching that finally brought me to the point of doing a fairly good job.”

Author Joanna Penn recorded the audio versions of some of her own books. If you can’t afford coaching, she offers some tips for beginners at The Creative Penn to help you get started.

Some tricks to consider:

  • If you’re new at recording, schedule sessions a few days apart to ensure you have enough energy.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording. Same goes for foods like peanut butter or anything that clogs up your mouth or throat (yeck!).
  • Try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. This has a real effect on stamina.

Find Your Niche

Once she’d mastered the audiobook reading techniques, Keppeler said, she had to find her niche.

She used trial and error. She took whatever narration work came her way, and listened to client feedback. When an author liked her voice, she knew it was a good fit.

“In voice-over in general, there are so many different genres,” she said. “Most people find you have certain specialities and certain ones don’t fit.”

Once you know your voice and which genres are the best fit, she says, jobs come much more quickly.

Only audition for gigs that fit your voice, and the success rate is much higher. You can even search for books by genre.

“I’m becoming a bit of a nonfiction specialist,” Keppeler said. “[When it comes to fiction], it’s hard to learn to do the different voices… Fiction books are heavily character-based, so you’re going to have to handle [those] unless you’re hired to work with a group, but that’s not that common.”

The Challenges of Audiobook Narration

Some of the work involved goes beyond just recording the voice-over. “Especially if you work through ACX, you have to do the producing yourself,” Keppeler said. “[That’s] editing and mastering yourself. There’s a technical learning curve.”

Audiobooks require hours and hours of editing, making them much more labor intensive than a lot of other voice-over work.

“What I learned editing smaller jobs contributed a lot to being able to jump into audiobooks,” Keppeler said.

So you might consider starting small.

Search online for voice-over jobs — you’ll find promotional videos under five minutes or corporate training videos of five to 15 minutes.

Even online course videos requiring a few hours of voice-over are much shorter than most audiobooks, which run closer to 10 to 15 hours. Hone your skills on smaller jobs and work your way up to the lengthier projects.

What about contracting the technical stuff out to an audio editor? Keppeler says that for what you’re paid, it’s not usually worth it for an audiobook.

You’re expected to record, produce and deliver a finished product. Any additional help you bring in will cut into your pay. Keppeler says you’re better off just learning to do it yourself.

The Creative Penn also offers a few editing tips:

  • Avoid page turning noises — read from a tablet, Kindle or other electronic device.
  • Turn off any devices’ Wi-Fi connections and set them to Airplane mode to avoid static noises. (They may be there, even if you can’t hear them.)
  • Each ACX file needs to be a single chapter of the book. It’s easier to record these as separate files rather than cut it up later.
  • The ACX technical requirements mean you have to add a few seconds of Room Tone at the beginning and end of the file.

How Much Money Can You Make Reading Audiobooks?

ACX doesn’t set or recommend rates for producers to charge.

But it does point out many narrators are members of the SAG-AFTRA union, which lists minimum rate restrictions.

These guaranteed rates vary by publisher/producer. Author Roz Morris tells authors to expect to pay around $200 per finished hour for audiobook narration.

However, Keppeler says most freelance audiobook work will be paid in royalties. As you might guess, this reduces an author’s upfront cost — as well as their risk in hiring you.

While ACX may be a good place to find the work, the pay is usually lower, especially compared with freelance broker sites that aren’t dedicated solely to audiobook narration.

When you record an audiobook with ACX, you’ll choose between setting your own per-finished-hour rate or splitting royalties 50/50 with the rights holder (usually the book’s author or publisher).

If you charge a flat rate, you’ll be paid upon completion of the book. Royalties are paid monthly based on sales from the previous month.

Mostly, Keppeler focuses on short books she can quickly complete. And she gets paid a flat rate of about $100 per finished hour, rather than royalties.

“I have done royalty deals but only on ACX with short books,” she said.

“I don’t want to tie up my time, because you [typically] make very little on royalty books… I have four royalty books [on ACX], and about $20 trickles in every quarter.”

Whether or not a royalty deal pays off is largely based on an author’s platform, The Creative Penn points out. Research an author before signing an agreement.

If you’re just looking for a quick job and aren’t concerned with long-term sales, you can work with an author regardless of their audience. Set a flat rate, and get your money when the job’s done.

But if you want to develop a long-term relationship with an author and you’ve found someone with a sizable audience, you may be better off with the royalty deal.

Long term, you could make much more money in sales royalties. Your working relationship with the author also will be strengthened, because you’ll be invested in the book’s success.

Where to Find Audiobook Work

As with any freelance work, booking a gig directly with the client in your network allows you the most autonomy in setting your rate.

Connecting with a client through a freelance broker like Upwork and Freelancer offers less autonomy and usually lower rates than working with someone directly.

Bidding through an exchange site like ACX offers the lowest of both.

“I only go out to ACX when I don’t have other paid work,” Keppeler said.

ACX also makes it difficult to achieve one of the staples of successful freelance work: repeat clients.

Keppeler said the platform isn’t really set up to connect authors with narrators long-term. Instead you audition for each job. It eliminates a huge opportunity for narrators to work with an author on a series or future books.

Directly connecting through a freelance broker does offer that opportunity. Keppeler said it’s how she found the author of this series of books on Wicca, which offered her ongoing work.

What ACX is good for, she said, is building your portfolio.

If you’re just getting started, the platform gives you an opportunity to hone your chops.

Practice your narrating and editing skills through auditions, and improve from author feedback. Once you land a few gigs, use those as samples to land clients elsewhere.

As audiobooks increase in popularity, Keppeler is seeing more audiobook work appear on Upwork. Freelancers, she says, tend to be better for general voice-over gigs, but not audiobook narration.

Audiobook Narrator Must-Haves

Keppeler’s top tip for anyone getting into voice-over work is to invest in a good microphone and headphones.

Early on, she says,  “I lost out on work because I didn’t have a really great pair of headphones, and there was background noise that I wasn’t hearing. If you send something out that’s not good enough, they will never hire you again.”

Eventually, she hired a professional to help improve her set-up. She says she wishes she had done it up front, instead of DIYing.

A good pre-amp or audiobox can also help clean up your sound and eliminate background noise. But Keppeler warns against buying a cheap one — it’s a tool worth spending money on.

Finally, “You have to have a desire to learn the technical part of it,” she said. “You can ruin an audiobook with bad editing.”

How to Get Started

ACX offers comprehensive guides and FAQs for authors, narrators and publishers, so review those before you get started.

Here’s an overview of how it works:

  1. Create a profile to detail your experience.

  2. Upload samples to your profile to showcase your various skills — accents, genre, style, etc.

  3. Determine whether you’ll always want to be paid per finished hour or by royalty agreements, or if you’re open to either.

  4. Search for books authors/publishers have posted, and record a few minutes of the manuscript to audition for the gig.

  5. When you’re chosen by the author/publisher, they’ll send you an offer. To take the job, accept the offer. All of this should happen through ACX (not over the phone or via email) to ensure the contract terms are on record.

  6. Record and edit a 15-minute sample for feedback before recording and editing the full project. They’ll also have the right to approve or request changes once you’ve submitted the full project.

  7. You’ll be paid a flat rate upon completion and approval of the project or monthly royalty payments based on book sales.

If you’re just getting started in voice-over work, try browsing Upwork for smaller projects you can use to find your voice, build your technical skills and grow your portfolio.

Or reach into your network, and get creative to find freelancing gigs on your own.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a former branded content editor at The Penny Hoarder.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

New Construction or Existing Homes: The Pros and Cons of Both

Some people hate hand-me-downs; others like things with a history. When it comes to housing, new construction has a never-been-touched attraction, while existing homes have stories to tell. For every advantage of buying newly built and existing homes, there’s a flip side. For example, newly constructed homes tend to cost more than similar pre-owned homes, sometimes as much as 20 percent more. But they are initially less expensive in terms of maintenance and utilities.

As you weigh whether to buy shiny new construction or a charming pre-owned home, here are some other factors to consider.

Benefits of new construction

Floor plan: If you opt for a custom-built home, you’ll work with the contractor to create a traditional or modern layout that works for your life. If you’ve always dreamed of a formal dining room for family gatherings, it’s yours. If you’re buying pre-built new construction, chances are good the layout will lean to modern, with wide-open floor plans. Kitchens flow into family rooms so you can cook and oversee homework or watch the game. Rooms in new construction homes – especially bedrooms and bathrooms – tend to be larger and brighter, with lots of natural light.

Personalization: Even if you’re not opting for a custom home, you may be able to upgrade finishes from builder-grade materials if you connect with the builder before construction is completed. It may cost you a bit more, but adding your own personal touches may be worth it to you.

Efficiency: New appliances and home systems are more energy efficient. Plus more efficient insulation and windows create buttoned up homes that are less expensive to heat and cool than older models. All of that translates into lower utility bills.

Smart and healthy: “Smart” technology options allow you to automate internet, cable, speakers and even an alarm system. And new homes often use low- and zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and building materials, improving indoor air quality.

Maintenance: A newly built home requires less maintenance since everything from appliances to the HVAC system and roof are brand new. This means you can better predict monthly homeownership costs, since you’ll likely spend less to maintain your home. Warranties can protect your new home for years before you need to undertake any major repairs.

Amenities: Buying new construction often means buying a lifestyle. Master or planned communities often include amenities like parks and community spaces that are close to schools and transit. The key is finding a builder who offers what you care about.

Timing: The median time to complete new construction – five months for single-family homes and six months for condos – lets you feel less rushed than scrambling with other buyers for an existing home.

The flip side

Location: New construction typically grows up in exurbia where land is plentiful but commutes can be longer. In cities, new construction tends to be high-rise condos or in-fill homes on smaller urban lots, with very little outdoor space.

Landscaping: Existing construction is often surrounded by mature trees that shade the home in summer, protect against wind in winter, and block out traffic noises at bedtime. Mature trees may be salvaged at new building sites but often the landscaping takes years to grow into itself.

Floor plan: Builders, especially in planned communities, tend to stick with exterior design styles and finishes that appeal to the broadest range of customers. You’ll have to count on post-purchase painting and decorating to stand out from your neighbors.

Waiting: If you’re looking at new homes that are already built, this isn’t a factor. But if you’re building a custom home, it could take several months longer than moving into an existing home. You can expect a custom home to take five to six months, but that varies by market and builder.

If you’re interested in new construction, read about the types of new homes, the steps to building a custom home, and tips for buying a brand new home.

Source: zillow.com

New Construction: Different Types for a Variety of Buyers

Shopping for a new-construction home? One of the first things to decide is what type to choose: a custom, spec or tract home. Ask yourself if you want to help design a home that’s a perfect fit or fit into one already built. As you begin your search, here are some pros and cons to help you make your decision.

Custom homes

Custom homes are built for and with you. You can buy the land and hire an architect builder to help create your unique vision; or you can enter into a contract with a developer or builder to create a home on land he owns. Either way, you collaborate with to build a home that fits your tastes and lifestyle.

Builders often have basic plans you can tweak for an additional cost. That might mean adding a laundry room on the main floor or including an in-law suite in the basement. With custom homes you can make rooms bigger or smaller, upgrade cabinets and pick bathroom tile that warms your feet and heart. The builder will give you a budget for each finish, and apply a credit if you go under and charge you more if you exceed the limit.

Pros: You have a big say in just about everything. You decide on the floor plan: Do you want a formal dining room and a breakfast nook? You pick upgrades according to your taste and budget: Think high-end appliances, heated bathroom floors and french doors. Your home reflects your style, and it doesn’t look like every other house on the block.

Cons: You’re responsible for all the decisions: floor plan, landscaping, flooring, finishes, paint colors, cabinets and more. Even if you work with an interior designer, you will still make the final choices. So if decision-making isn’t your strong suit, building a custom home could feel like an overwhelming chore rather than a creative opportunity.

Spec homes

That’s short for “speculative,” because builders or developers construct a single-family home, townhouse or condo before having a specific buyer. Consequently, spec homes come with features and finishes the builder thinks will appeal to the greatest number of potential buyers. You may be able to find a spec home under construction and pick some elements such as counters and cabinets. But typically spec homes are a completed package.

Pros: The work and decisions have been done for you. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make a million choices, this may be the best option. It’s usually move-in ready, and you can make changes like paint colors once you own the place.

Cons: Some spec builders go with “builder grade” or “contractor grade” materials, which are generally considered inexpensive products made from low-grade materials. This may mean you’ll get low- or mid-range appliances, flooring, counters and cabinets. While it’s a budget-friendly choice, you may be sorry in the long run.

Tract homes

Tract homes (called that because they’re developed on a large tract or parcel of land) are usually built in planned communities outside the city core. You may buy an available lot and pick a floor plan if the development is in-progress, or an already built home in the tract. Each developer provides design choices that establish a cohesive look and feel.

Pros: Many planned communities include perks like clubhouses, pools, tennis and sports courts. They often are built near transit hubs to make commutes easier. Price can be a compelling reason to buy in planned communities, where builders take advantage of volume buying to lower material costs.

Cons: Turning a profit depends on how quickly and cost-effectively the builder can construct the homes, so check the quality of both materials and construction methods.

Lots/land

Buying an undeveloped lot that’s not associated with a planned community gives you many options. You can build a home now, or wait until you have time and money. Even if you build nothing, land can be a smart investment, depending on the location. As Mark Twain said, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.”

Pros: Lots give you the opportunity to build your dream house on your own schedule. When you’re ready, you can select a custom builder and make the choices that fit your budget and lifestyle.

Cons: You’ll be paying property taxes even if you haven’t built on it, and you’ll need to maintain it (keeping grass cut, for example) if you want to stay on the good side of your future neighbors. Undeveloped lots may not be connected to electricity, sewer, water, or natural gas, which are expensive to bring to your property line when you decide to build. Also zoning may not allow you to develop the land the way you’d like. Research what your options are before you buy.

If you’re interested in newly build homes, we have more tips about how to buy a brand-new home and how to work with a contractor.

Source: zillow.com

Where to Live: City, Suburbs or Beyond?

Choosing to house-hunt in the city, suburbs or far from the madding crowd is one of the first decisions you’ll make. Cities hum with urban energy, suburbs offer family-friendly enclaves and the country can be a breath of fresh air. The choice you make should be what works best for your lifestyle.

Communities and neighborhoods are always changing, and house values change right along with them. So when you start house shopping, look for an area you think is comfortable for you today and a smart investment tomorrow.

Here a checklist as you sort through your options:

Amenities: Are there nearby parks and open spaces or chic shops and trendy restaurants? How about libraries, grocery stores, and fitness centers (or a community center with all of the above)? The best way to find out is to get out of the car, walk around, and ask the locals what they like and don’t like about the area.

Schools: Even if you don’t have children, this may be the single-most important marker of a good neighborhood. That’s because many homeowners do have kids, which means they’re concerned about low crime, safe streets, good schools and the other characteristics that help good neighborhoods stay that way. Find out about test scores, class sizes, and school ratings and reviews on Zillow. This information is furnished by schools rating site GreatSchools and is included on any home you see on Zillow – whether it’s for sale or not.

Community services: You want to get a sense of the community and its current affairs. Reading community blogs and local newspapers will clue you in about issues like traffic, safety and development projects.

Transportation: If you want to be car-free, check out the local transit system. See how close the stops are to the neighborhood or whether you’ll need to drive to a transit parking lot. Check how often the transit system runs throughout the day and into the night. Homes on Zillow include a Transit Score which measures how well the address is served by public transportation.

Commute times: If you plan to get to work by car, determine whether you will you be driving residential streets or busy arterials. Drive around at all times of the day and not just on the weekend while you’re looking at houses. Drive your route during rush hour. Few things in life are more frustrating than finding out that a 15-mile commute to work takes an hour, each way. Drive it a few times and for a true test, nothing beats 5 p.m. commute home on a rainy or snowy Friday evening.

Ease of access: Get a map of the city and put a dot on the places you will frequent: Work, shopping, schools, etc. You may be able to purchase a home outside of the city or farther away for less, but do you want to spend time in the car? Maybe that more expensive house closer-in could be a better deal after all. Each Zillow listing includes a Walk Score, which indicates how walkable the home is based on the distance to nearby amenities.

Safety: You can check online crime stats or drop by a local precinct, but the bottom line is whether you feel safe walking around at night.

Economic stability: A healthy mix of residential neighborhoods (property taxes) and businesses (sales and payroll taxes) sets the stage for vibrant, well-funded communities. Cities with colleges and government services are most likely to remain stable.

When it’s time to relax, do you like to walk the dog, browse the shops or hit the clubs and cafes? Or do you need wild open spaces and lots of elbow room? When you start to prioritize your preferences, you’ll likely find your choices will determine where to live.

Source: zillow.com