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The Good and Bad of Living in Ann Arbor

The beautiful Huron River in Ann Arbor, MI.

The beautiful Huron River.

If you’re considering moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and looking for some insider intel, in this blog post, I’ll tell you what I love about Ann Arbor and a few things that I’m not so crazy about.

I have lived here since 1996; my wife and I raised our three children here, and my team has sold over 1,000 homes in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area. Based on that experience, here are my top pros and cons for living in Ann Arbor.


#1: The Vibe

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor

The first pro is what I call “the Ann Arbor vibe.” Community leaders talk about placemaking – well, Ann Arbor, Michigan has this sense of place, and you feel it when you are there. Downtown Ann Arbor has four distinct commercial districts – Kerrytown, Main Street, South University, and State Street – each with unique and diverse shopping, restaurants, and housing.

Then, there are the University of Michigan campuses – the central campus, with its’ classic buildings and mature grounds; the vast and ever-growing medical campus; the north campus, with its many newer contemporary buildings; and, of course, the athletic campus, with the U of M stadium also known as The Big House.

The neighborhoods range from the highly walkable Old West Side, Kerrytown, and Burns Park areas, to estate neighborhoods with larger homes on acre lots, such as Ann Arbor Hills and Barton Hills, to plenty of other communities all wrapped around 20 elementary schools, which are part of the top-rated Ann Arbor School District. These, and lastly, Gallup Park, are just a few of the areas in Ann Arbor that can create beautiful, memorable experiences for people.

It’s no wonder that people move back here to live. I regularly hear people say, “I went to school here years ago, and when I come back, I love the special feeling this town has.”

# 2. Ann Arbor is a 20-minute town

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor

Kerrytown Outdoor Patio

Ann Arbor, Michigan is a Goldilocks town – it’s not too big, and it’s not too small. Around 120,000 people live in Ann Arbor. Overall, it’s straightforward to navigate, and you can get anywhere you want to go in about 20 minutes. You can get downtown in about 10 minutes from the edge of town.

If you are moving from a big city, you will find Ann Arbor’s size refreshing. You don’t have to leave Ann Arbor if you don’t want to, and many people don’t! We have a mini rush hour and traffic congestion, and there are areas residents learn to avoid at certain times. Many also choose not to live in these highly trafficked areas.

In addition to the short cross-town trip, Ann Arbor is located within 2 hours of my favorite Lake Michigan beach. You can get to Detroit in 45 minutes and downtown Chicago in less than 4 hours. You can also easily access the Detroit Metro Airport in 30 minutes.

#3. Ann Arbor is a diverse town

Ann Arbor attracts people from all over the world. It’s the most culturally diverse community I have ever been a part of. Additionally, the residents here are highly educated, making Ann Arbor the most educated city in the US. Fifty-three percent of the population in Ann Arbor holds a bachelor’s degree, and it boasts the highest percentage of people with graduate or professional degrees.

Ann Arborites are open-minded and welcoming toward other cultures, offering a vibrant community with diverse perspectives. This diversity extends to the culinary scene, evident in the varied options available at restaurants and grocery stores.

#4. It’s pedestrian and bike-friendly

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is safer for walking and biking in town than most cities. We have 475 miles of sidewalks, 57 miles of shared-use paths, and over 157 parks to enjoy on foot. Nearly 15% of Ann Arbor residents walk to work. That’s more than six times the national average. Ann Arbor believes that roads are for pedestrians and bicyclists, too, not just for automobiles. They have worked hard to make sidewalks ADA-compliant and have received awards for being pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly. You’ll find that the sidewalks and bike lanes are well-designed and maintained.

#5. It has excellent public schools and libraries

Ann Arbor is known for its excellent public school education system. Since there is so much info about the schools online, I will not go into that here. Suffice it to say they have a lot to offer. I always suggest people visit the schools their kids will attend, meet the administrators, and even sit in on a class if possible.

The Ann Arbor District Library System, or AADL, is one of just a few libraries in the country to earn five-star ratings in the past 14 years (by the Library Journal). Five unique library branches and a tremendous inter-library loan system make the Ann Arbor libraries easy to use for people young and old.

#6. Its arts and music culture

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor

Encore Records

Ann Arbor hosts the largest juried art fair in the country, featuring over 1,000 artists across 30 city blocks. The city is rich in music and entertainment venues like Hill Auditorium, Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, Kerrytown Concert House, and the Ark, providing beautiful spaces for world-class music.

Notably, The Blind Pig, established in 1971 as a blues venue, evolved to host iconic bands like Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana. Today, it showcases diverse genres from alternative rock to metal and funky jam bands.

Ann Arbor residents can enjoy live music and outdoor movie screenings every summer at A2SF, previously known as Top of the Park, offering a delightful blend of cultural experiences in the open air.

#7. Parks and Recreation

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor

Argo Park Canoe Livery offers courses for all ages and skill levels.

Ann Arborites value parks and beautiful green spaces. Here are a few of my favorites: Gallup Park, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the border-to-border trail, The Arboretum, Peony Garden, and anything along the Huron River. Ann Arbor has you covered if you like walking, running, road or trail biking, kayaking, swimming, or even skateboarding and playing ultimate frisbee.

#8. A resilient economy

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor

Downtown Ann Arbor 100 N Main

Ann Arbor stands out as relatively recession-proof, thanks to its top employers like the University of Michigan, Trinity Health Michigan, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, and Ann Arbor Public Schools. Beyond these, automotive tech and high tech also play significant roles in the workforce.

The city’s focus on education and health care, both economically resilient industries, positions Ann Arbor as one of the most robust economies in the state. Expect continued resilience and stability in Ann Arbor’s economic landscape.

Top Employers in <yoastmark class=



What about the drawbacks? To balance things out a little, here are some cons of living in Ann Arbor.

#1. A relatively high cost of living

Housing prices, elevated property taxes, dining out, gas – everything tends to be comparatively more expensive. This becomes particularly noticeable when I visit other towns in Michigan and across the country. Additionally, Michigan auto insurance carries some of the highest rates nationally.

The heightened cost of living poses challenges for lower-wage workers, making it unaffordable for them to live in Ann Arbor. Service workers, young professionals, and others struggle to meet the average rental costs. This, in turn, creates challenges for restaurants and businesses in retaining talented workers. Notably, living in downtown Ann Arbor can be as costly as residing in many major cities!

#2. There’s not enough housing inventory

Ann Arbor is simply short on great housing options. This limitation has always existed, with limited options of available styles and choices in the area. Unfortunately, residents have to make do with what is available. The housing shortage is particularly difficult for options priced under $300,000, especially for those seeking single-family homes. If you want a single-family home priced under 300k, your work is cut out for you and you’ll probably want to look in nearby townships and cities to get the amenities and space you need. I would recommend exploring areas like Ypsilanti and Superior townships, conveniently located within 15-20 minutes from downtown Ann Arbor.

#3. Game Day and Art Fair Traffic

In addition to minor rush hour traffic, it’s crucial to factor in the impact of University of Michigan Football game days and the Art Fair on your plans. While locals are accustomed to it, newcomers might encounter significant delays due to slow traffic. Highways and main roads can come to a standstill or even be blocked off during these events. Stay informed about these occurrences and plan your schedule accordingly. While regular rush hour traffic is generally considered minor, it’s a point of complaint for some, although others may not find it to be a significant issue.

#4. High Property Taxes

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor Michigan

Kerrytown and The Fourth Ward

Washtenaw County has some of the highest property taxes in Michigan, and Michigan itself ranks among the country’s highest in property taxes. Specifically, property taxes within the City of Ann Arbor are approximately 25 percent higher than those in nearby townships. However, it’s unlikely that individuals choose to move here solely due to low property taxes. If lower property taxes are a priority for you, you might want to consider living in nearby Pittsfield or Ann Arbor Township – particularly if the benefits of living in town are not that important to you.

#5. Public transportation could be better

If you read Reddit or Quora, people are generally happy with AA public transportation. In my opinion, it could be a lot better. For a town with this tax base and a commitment to alternative transportation modes, routes must be expanded beyond the city limits. Lower-wage workers who cannot afford to live in Ann Arbor need more bus options. Also, there need to be more bus shelters with benches. Most bus stops are simply a sign, without a bench or even a place to comfortably stand and wait. It could be better, in my opinion.

#6. Not enough donuts and ice cream

The Good and Bad of Ann Arbor Michigan

Ann Arbor Farmers Market (Not Enough Donuts)

This is my number one complaint. There is not a SINGLE ice cream or donut shop on the Northside of Ann Arbor. We need more! Here’s a great business opportunity for you. I am used to other cities where a good ice cream shop draws enormous crowds, and people hang out and have a good time. While we do have a few good standbys, we need more.

In conclusion, Ann Arbor punches way above its weight in culture, activities, schools, and diversity. You pay the price, however, in the form of higher taxes and higher home prices. Nonetheless, Ann Arbor combines the good aspects of a big city and a smaller town. Hopefully, this helps you decide if it is right for you.

Are you thinking of moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan? Reach out to me directly. I would love to have a conversation to help you decide if Ann Arbor is right for you.

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