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How to Compare Cities Before Moving

Finding the Best Places to Live


When planning a move, some of us struggle with where to move to, wanting to find the best place to live. This is especially true if you're moving to find a better job, a better school or because you've gone through a difficult time. Even if you know where you're moving to, it's always a good idea to do your research first, knowing how the city you're moving to compares to the one you're currently living in.

A great (free) online resource is Sperling's comparison tool. Sperling's Best Places provides a city comparison tool that is fun to use and provides a lot of detailed information that seems helpful for people who are thinking about moving. Along with being able to compare two cities, a third column provides the rate for the US overall. For instance, for cost of living factors, the US average is considered to be a 100 score. From this score you can compare where your two cities rank.

How to Use the Comparison Tool

We'll start this review by performing a real case comparison. My husband and I are planning a move back to California, so our question is: do we move to Northern or Southern California? Using Sperling's tool, I compared San Francisco (where we used to live) with Los Angeles (a city we're considering). Let's take a closer look at the outcome.

First, I typed in "San Francisco" and "Los Angeles" into the two text boxes provided. When you hit the button "compare", you'll probably find that the text boxes now provide you with options of areas that have that city name. For instance, when I typed in San Francisco, and hit the "compare" button, the drop down menu listed two cities: San Francisco, CA and South San Francisco. I chose San Francisco and Los Angeles city proper for the comparison.

I clicked the "compare" button again to get the results. A page appeared that presented a well-organized table containing three columns: one for each city and one for overall US information. Above the table are 11 categories that you can click through to gain specific information pertaining to that topic. The first category is "People".

How to Read the Results - The People Category

Information contained within the "people" category pertains to demographic data including, overall population, percentage of males and females, percentage married, median age, as well as information on race distribution and family structure. With data being easy to read, they provide a good overview of which city might have more appeal depending on your perspective. I'm now in my forties, married and am more interested in the number of libraries than nightclubs.

Using this category, when comparing SF to LA, it was interesting to see that SF has a slightly higher median age, but with more people married in LA than SF. LA also has more females than males. These statistics won't really influence our decision since the differences in percentages are fairly close. Besides, I'm not sure how much this kind of information matters, unless we were older and were looking for more of a retirement community. Or a lot younger and wanted a larger percentage of singles.

Cost of Living Category

We knew the next category, "Cost of Living", would have more useful information for our family. This category contains information on food costs, housing, transportation, health and utilities. They also provide an overall rating for a quick comparison between the two cities as well as the entire US. At first, the rating seems a little difficult to read. Differences in the overall rating aren't too varied, with SF scoring a 187 and LA scoring 156. When comparing both figures to the score given to the US overall - 100 - then it's easy to see that SF is 87 points higher and LA less at 56. Converting this to a percentage point makes more sense. It's clear that both cities are a lot higher than the US perfect score of 100. If you hover your mouse over the category titled "Overall", you'll see which factors were included in the score and how each are weighted. For our purposes, LA is quite a bit less expensive to live, overall, so this might be helpful when making our decision where to move to.

Housing Costs Category

Let me pull out housing costs for a minute. SF scores a 296 while LA scores 235, with these scores reflecting mortgage payments, costs of renting and property taxes. It's clear that LA housing costs are 61 points lower, which seems quite significant, but when comparing these scores to the US score of 100, it's easy to see that we're moving to a very expensive part of the country. Again, each score is relative to the perfect score of 100, so when making your decision where to move to, remember to assess how your city score relates to the perfect score.

Remember, while you're going through these scores, the data contained within the table are general statistics; they won't give you specific information on neighborhoods, areas of employment or other often critical information such as recreation facilities, amount of green space, cultural activities and overall livability of an area. But it's a good start and may help you rethink your decision of where to move to

Crime Rate Category

For instance, when thinking about crime rates, I usually associate LA with higher rates of crime, but according to the data presented in Sperling's tool, SF and LA have very similar scores, with each city rated a 7 (compared to the US overall of 3) for violent crimes. SF scored one point higher than LA for property crimes with a 7 compared to a 6. Both cities have more than double the amount of violent crime than the overall US average, but again, this doesn't give you specifics of neighborhood or the context around those crimes.


So, overall, I highly recommend this tool. It's a great starting point, in particular if you have a lot of flexibility in where you're moving to. Or even if you know which city you're moving to, this tool will help you compare where you currently live to where you'll be going; it'll give you a perspective that you might otherwise be missing. After you've done your research using this tool, then you'll be ready to move to a more detailed research search.

Link to Sperling's Best Places city comparison tool.

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