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It’s one thing to dream about living in completely new surroundings; it’s another (sometimes costly endeavor) to pack up and move.
About one-fourth (26%) of Americans would prefer to live in a different location type — be it a city, suburb, small town or rural area — and many cite financial reasons as primary obstacles to getting there, according to a NerdWallet survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online from July 30 to Aug. 1, 2019, by The Harris Poll.
"When it comes to where we live, some are cursed with more options than opportunities — it’s not as simple as packing up and going,” says NerdWallet mortgages expert Holden Lewis. “We long to leave our sleepy suburbs for the exciting city, or we dream of ditching the city for a quiet small town. But moving is expensive — you have your job and a new cost of living to think of, and you're often leaving friends and family behind."
Note: Throughout this report, references to living location, surroundings or area refer to the four location types in the survey — city or metro area, suburb, small town and rural area.
To uncover Americans’ sentiments, the survey didn’t define location types and instead asked respondents where they lived versus where they would like to live based on what they think is a city, suburb, small town or rural area.
One-fourth are eyeing greener grass. About one-quarter (26%) of Americans are not living in their ideal location type, our survey found.
Affordability is the biggest blocker. Of those Americans not living in their ideal location, 45% say it’s because they can’t afford the homes they like in that place.
Metro area homes are outside the range of affordability. In close to half of the nation’s 25 most populous metro areas, homes are selling for at least five times the median income for that location, according to NerdWallet’s analysis.
Most Americans would make sacrifices to move. Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) of those not living in their ideal location would take action to make a move happen. Among them, some are willing to start working or take on a second job (38%) or give up all leisure travel (28%), the survey found.
Renters would forgo homeownership to move. About 6 in 10 (61%) renters not living in their ideal location would rather give up the opportunity to own a home where they currently live if they could rent in the area they prefer.
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Not living where they would like to
Some people live where they were born and raised. Others may have relocated for college, a job, a relationship or personal preference. Our survey found that Americans are most likely to report living in suburbs.
For additional survey data, including why people choose these locations, contact Anna Palagi at [email protected].
But where you currently live isn’t necessarily where you want to live. Over one-fourth (26%) of Americans say they aren’t living in their ideal location type. Small-town Americans are most likely to be unsatisfied with their location — 44% of people in small towns don’t want to live there, compared with 30% of rural residents, 23% living in cities and 21% of suburbanites.
Of the generations surveyed about their current locations, millennials (ages 23-38) living in small towns or rural settings are most likely to be unsatisfied — about half (49%) say they’re not living in their ideal location, compared with 30% of Gen X (ages 39-54) and 26% of baby boomers (ages 55-73) who live in those areas.
Affordability is a top barrier to moving
Moving is expensive, and moving to an entirely new neighborhood, let alone a new location type, can change how much you’re spending on housing, commuting and even groceries.
When asked what’s holding them back, 45% of Americans not currently living in their ideal location say they can’t afford homes in their preferred area. As well, 1 in 5 (20%) say they have too much debt to be able to afford the move and still have enough for rent or mortgage payments.
"The places with the most jobs — cities — also have the most expensive housing,” Lewis says. “On the other hand, incomes are higher, too. Still, even if you find a higher-paying job to make the housing costs manageable, relocation costs are daunting."
Homes in cities are particularly out of reach
Those who would rather live in a city instead of their current location are most likely to cite the affordability of homes they prefer as a blocker — 62% say they can’t afford homes they like in a city (compared with 41% of those who would rather live in the suburbs, 36% of small-town hopefuls and 45% of those with their sights on a rural location). 
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