With gas prices passing another big round number lately, there’s been a fair amount of talk about how the high price of fuel is affecting people’s daily lives. When it comes to the real estate market, common knowledge says that higher gas prices will hit home prices in the suburbs and exurbs, while helping to strengthen prices in the “downtown core” and “close-in” neighborhoods.
Financially speaking, I have to say I can’t really buy that. I’ll use a somewhat extreme scenario to illustrate why. Let’s say you’ve got a 30-mile commute from Sultan to Redmond (one of my former coworkers did that—yuk), and that your car gets a decent but not great 25 miles to the gallon. At $2.50 per gallon, you were spending $30 a week (~$120 a month) on gas for the commute. At today’s $4.00 per gallon, that is up to $48 a week (~$192 a month), a difference of $72 per month, or $900 more per year.
So lets say you decide to move in closer, to Kirkland or Woodinville. Now your commute is just 6 miles, and a week’s worth of commuting costs you just $10, saving you a grand total of $1,900 per year.
That doesn’t seem like nearly enough of a price difference to make up for the much more expensive cost of living close-in. It’s certainly possible that most people don’t actually do the math, and make irrational decisions based on their gut and that “pain at the pump” feeling, but mathematically the decision to move closer just because of higher gas prices doesn’t really make sense.
To me, what’s far more important than gas prices is commute time. I personally would never want to live much further away than about a half hour from my place of work. Time with my family is more important than having a huge house that I never get to spend any time in.
What about you? Do gas prices really figure into your decision about where to buy, or are things like commute time, neighborhood, schools, etc. more important?