Is your suburb overpriced?
Families in Bloomfield Township, Mich., on average, spend twice as much as other Michigan households on gas and other transportation costs, mortgage payments, utilities and clothing, health care, education, food and other everyday purchases. Bloomfield Township is a pretty affluent suburb of Detroit, but even here — with the triple whammy of the declining housing and credit markets, rising prices and the woes of major local employers such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler — many residents may be beginning to feel pinched by common expenditures that never bothered them in the past.
“Spending is being hit just like in other parts of the country,” says Melanie Lovati, a real-estate agent who specializes in the Detroit area. “You used to be able to drive past the Starbucks in Bloomfield and people were lined up out the door; now you’re not seeing it. Everybody’s tightening up.”
To find out where even affluent Americans are being hurt by the troubles afflicting the economy, Businessweek.com set out to determine those suburbs in the U.S. where it cost the most to live. We worked with national real-estate researcher OnBoard in New York City to select the most expensive suburb in each state based on cost of living, mortgage and utility payments, median home price and property taxes.
Some residents of the suburbs on the list, which include exclusive communities such as Atherton, Calif.; Darien, Conn.; Highland Park, Texas; Scarsdale, N.Y.; and Wellesley, Mass., have flush bank accounts and enough income streaming in to continue spending on luxury watches, $20,000 vacations and daily $4 mochaccinos. Other suburbs, however, such as Edgewood, Ky., are decidedly more middle-class, but their relative costs put them higher than swankier areas such as Mockingbird Valley, Ky., which has the highest per capita income in the state.
Regardless of where they live, probably few Americans feel better off financially this year than last. The problem is that, unlike those borrowers who took out adjustable-rate mortgages that have now reset higher, there are many affluent homeowners who are locked into 30-year fixed rates and have good jobs and good credit, but whose stock portfolios, home values and bonuses have all headed south in the past year. These people are beginning to find that even their nondiscretionary expenditures, such as property taxes and heating bills, are suddenly a burden.
Of course, the housing downturn has hit the middle class more severely than the rich, who generally have a financial cushion in bad economic times. But in a time of uncertainty, even residents of million-dollar homes are thinking twice about remodeling their kitchens or replacing their late-model BMW, which is bad news for local contractors and car dealers. And some folks were stretching to begin with to live in expensive suburbs because they wanted their children to attend first-rate public schools.
Lewis Schiff, who co-authored the new book “The Middle-Class Millionaire: The Rise of The New Rich and How They Are Changing America,” says wealthy homeowners have been holding back on luxury purchases because they’re concerned about the economy. Schiff and co-author Russ Alan Prince surveyed hundreds of so-called middle-class millionaires who have a net worth of between $1 million and $10 million.
The survey indicated that the millionaires expected to return to spending on luxury purchases once the economy improves, but for the time being they’re being cautious. “They’re all very sensitive to the economic downturn,” Schiff says. “They’re anticipating decreasing or staying the same in their expenditures, especially for luxury goods.”