What Can Small Town America Offer Homebuyers?

Do you dream of buying a home in one of those little towns from the Hallmark movies? Trading the chaos of urban living for something calmer, timeless and, most importantly, less expensive? If you do, you’re not alone.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the population of small-town America is growing once again. From 2010 to 2016, rural net migration, the number that shakes out when you combine the number of people leaving with the number of people coming into a place, was negative. But in 2017, something changed — it approached zero, meaning small towns weren’t hemorrhaging citizens anymore. Much to everyone’s surprise, by 2020, rural net migration had gone positive.

[How to Choose a Home]

Living in a Small Town Brings a Sense of Community

Since the pandemic, housing prices have changed dramatically, and this is driving a lot of people to move from urban centers to rural towns within reasonable commuting distance of their jobs. But these newly minted small-town occupants aren’t just there for the lower real estate prices.

“I think we’re more aware of the importance of community,” says Matt Wagner, chief program officer at Main Street America, an organization focused on strengthening downtowns and neighborhood ?commercial districts. “When we weren’t coming out of our homes in early 2020, and we weren’t connected with our neighbors and our fellow citizens, that was a big eye-opener for folks. In urban areas, when the stores and businesses were closed, it became pretty obvious that connection to our community was a missing part of the quality of life there. I think that has helped to accelerate interest in passion for our rural downtowns.”

So what happens in the downtown of a small town? A lot more than you might think. Along with special events, revitalized rural downtowns have become places where you can meet your neighbors on neutral ground.

“Our community has really put an intentional focus in the last three years on the downtown district, making it more of a destination and making it more of an inclusive space,” says Sarah Angst, executive director of the nonprofit Downtown Lebanon in Lebanon, Missouri. “Downtown allows people of all age ranges and all belief systems to come together in a neutral space where we can all enjoy what makes us a community.”

This is not the small town you grew up in in the 20th century. Small towns across the country are working hard to get people involved in starting up new traditions and purposefully creating an environment that is special and important to everyone who lives there.

In four short years, Ashland, Ohio, has created a wealth of new traditions for the holiday season, as well as other community celebrations. Every St. Patrick’s Day, the city dyes the creek that runs through downtown green for the town’s yearly spring kickoff. But that’s not all, according to Ashland Mayor Matt Miller.

“During the summer, we have our Big Splash Pool Party at our big community pool,” says Miller. “The pool is full of 3,500 rubber ducks of every size, beach balls that are 10 to 12 feet in diameter and giant blow-up creations all over the countryside in our park.”

[See: 10 Great Small Towns to Retire.]

Small Towns Make Excellent Test Beds for Entrepreneurs

Along with being able to afford your first home in a small town, a lot of people find that small towns are excellent test beds for their first businesses. Real estate affordability extends to the commercial space, and some small towns even offer grants and incentives for people to start businesses. If you’ve dreamed of opening a hardware store or a bakery, a small town might be the right place to do it.

“Entrepreneurial spirit is something that this city attracts,” says Amber Keener, a city councilwoman in Mount Vernon, Ohio. “When people move here, they view this as a land of opportunity, because rent for a brick and mortar store in our little downtown area, which is hopping, is a decent price. And so I think that they are able to pursue something that they might not be able to pursue in a town that’s bigger.”

But it’s not just that you can start the business you’ve been dreaming of — it’s that your business is actually important and makes a difference to the community.

“There’s more of a feeling of being involved,” says Angst. “When you’re in a smaller community, you feel like your contribution is valuable. People will care if you leave. People care that you came.”

[READ: How to Start a Small Business.]

Choosing the Small Town of Your Dreams

Moving to a small town for the first time means learning to live life differently. The pace of a small town tends to be much slower, and the things you can expect from them are different than most urban and suburban communities. You might discover that your neighbors keep chickens or work on their cars in the driveway, and you may not find a Starbucks anywhere remotely handy.

If you buy a rural property, you might find yourself next door to a farm that produces aromas both new and diverse, or that you have to take special precautions during hunting season.

Even so, small towns are certainly not a monolith. These communities are each small enough that what happens in them and the spirit of the place is tied closely to the people who live there, so much so that each town has its own personality. There’s no one-size-fits-all community, but there is a community for everyone.

“I think that smaller communities have held on to some of their history, their architecture, their local beauty,” says Keener. “And I think that it just creates a spark of joy in people. You know, there is a vibe in each community that is different, so you just have to find the one that jives with your soul. That’s where you land.”

When looking for a small town to call your own, you should consider all the same things you would if you were considering a move from one suburban or urban area to another: What are the schools like? How is the infrastructure? What kinds of nightlife and job opportunities are available? But that’s only the beginning of the list.

“Factors to consider also include whether the community is growing and at what pace and whether or not you want a town that’s up and coming or one that’s been population stable,” says Angst. “Also consider the dominant industry in the area. Many small communities have an identity based on industry such as agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and so forth.”

Angst agrees that a house in a small town is much more than just a place to live. You’re also choosing a lifestyle and a place where you can add your own essence to the mix.

“The place is one thing; you can fall in love with the house,” she says. “But really, you should fall in love with your community. And the place you fit in is where you should go.”

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What Can Small Town America Offer Homebuyers? originally appeared on usnews.com

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