You Don’t Even Need a Dune Buggy
In Phoenix, everything is “location, location, location.” The city has seven major (and very different) areas to call home, and each area contains multiple “urban villages,” which are like mega-neighborhoods with smaller neighborhoods inside them.
Luckily, no matter where you live, getting from place to place is simple because Phoenix was built for cars. The roads are arranged on a precise grid system with wide boulevards and well-planned freeways that make getting anywhere a breeze. Even during rush hour the average commute takes only forty minutes, but beware of Phoenix’s aggressive drivers and “snowbirds” (retirees) who drive a wee bit more cautiously. Speaking of snowbirds, these seasonal dwellers increase the city’s population by almost 400,000 between the months of November and April, and the best time to rent is when they’ve left, so plan to pay your first month’s rent between April and October.
So Many Valleys in the Valley: North Phoenix (Avg. Rent: $850)
North Phoenix is one of the more mountainous areas of Phoenix, and it includes the neighborhoods of Sunnyslope, North Mountain, Deer Valley, Moon Valley, Paradise Valley, and Desert View. Sunnyslope and North Mountain are high density areas closest to Midtown with the lowest ages, income levels, and rents in North Phoenix. These neighborhoods have affordable 2BR apartments ($$) with residents aged twenty to thirty-five on average, but do pay attention to your surroundings as scattered areas of Sunnyslope and North Phoenix’s “The Square” (located between N 32nd Street, E Union Hills Drive, N Cave Creek Road and Greenway Road) can be dangerous.
The farther away you live from Midtown, the safer the neighborhoods & the older the residents and their children. Rule of thumb in North Phoenix: if the “urban village” name ends in “Valley,” the area is likely upper-middle class with highly-educated residents over forty with teenaged children, and 2BR houses will be expensive ($$$). Desert View is one of the few areas in North Phoenix that has couples with young children, but it’s also in the foothills and is therefore one of the priciest areas for a 3BR ($$$$). Snowbirds can find a lot of great housing options in North Phoenix, including active living communities like Central Park, Desert Skies, Sunrise Heights, and Whispering Palms ($$$).
Hella-Good Historic Haciendas: Midtown (Avg. Rent: $650)
Midtown includes the neighborhood of Encanto, the La Hacienda Historic District, and the Encanto-Palmcroft Historic District. If you’re in your thirties and you have children, Encanto’s waterpark and the city’s largest urban park, Encanto Park (believe it or not!) will keep your kids plenty occupied. The centralized location will keep your commute simple, no matter where you work, and the living options in this area range from 2BR apartments in Encanto ($) to Spanish Colonial houses with no sidewalks in La Hacienda ($$$) to Tudor-style gabled houses in the Encanto-Palmcroft area – which looks very much like an English suburb ($$$). Because Midtown is right next to Phoenix’s swanky Biltmore area, Midtown dwellers are close to all the fancy conveniences that upscale living affords – but they don’t necessarily have to pay upscale housing prices.
Ode to the Oasis: Biltmore Area (Avg. Rent: $900)
The Biltmore Area comprises the far eastern side of Phoenix including the urban villages of Camelback East and Camelback Corridor, and the neighborhoods of Biltmore and Arcadia. This area is the closest in Phoenix to Scottsdale, which is known for its high-end shopping opportunities and upscale living. Biltmore’s lush, green landscaping with gorgeous historical and retro architecture can make you forget that you live in the desert, but a quick trip to Papago Park, the Phoenix Zoo, and the Desert Botanical Gardens will remind you that the desert is your home. Younger couples with tiny tots will have to look hard for a 1BR in Camelback ($$), and older, very-highly-educated couples will feel at home any time of year in a 1BR in Camelback Corridor ($$$). Biltmore and Arcadia homes will run up the tab for every age group ($$$$).
Be Wary of the Wild and Wily West: West Phoenix (Avg. Rent: $600)
West Phoenix includes the areas of Maryvale and Estrella, which are home to very young couples with very young children. Maryvale has a great concert venue and many available 2BR houses and apartments ($), and Estrella has a lot of available mobile homes ($), but this area, especially Maryvale, is known to be dangerous and has a very high crime rate. The recently created Laveen ranch suburbs, located in a previously agricultural area of Phoenix south of Estrella are still awaiting serious development, but would be good to keep an eye on.
CenPho, Yo!: Central Phoenix (Avg. Rent: $700)
Central Phoenix, called “CenPho” by locals, includes the neighborhoods of Downtown, Central City, Cooper Square, Roosevelt, and the Alhambra suburbs. If you’re under thirty-five with some young’uns, and you want to be in a pedestrian-friendly area filled with small, local boutiques and delicious mom and pop restaurants, CenPho is for you. Downtown’s nightlife is still in the making, but Downtown Phoenix is the place to see retro architecture, the opera, Broadway shows, museums, galleries, the ballet, concerts, boxing, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Phoenix Suns, and the Arizona Rattlers. Downtown’s apartments, detached homes and multiplexes are super cheap ($), but Downtown can be dangerous after dark, especially near the red light district of Van Buren and 24th.
Roosevelt and Cooper Square are safer, smaller areas that ring ASU’s Downtown Campus; these areas are perfect for single twenty-somethings who want to live in an older apartment building ($). Couples who are interested in affordable suburbs in CenPho should check out Alhambra, for a 2BR house ($$) with access to the light metro rail, which is eco-friendly, safe, super-quiet, and drops you off right in the heart of Downtown.
Heat in the ‘Hood: South Mountain (Avg. Rent: $700)
South Mountain, directly south of Downtown Phoenix, is a large and the most ethically diverse area in Phoenix. This area also contains the South Mountain Park, which is the largest municipal park in the entire world. Many young couples with young children live in this area, and although the prices for a 2BR are nearly unbeatable ($), a lot of areas should be avoided because this is known to be a more dangerous part of town. 24th between Southern and Roeser is gangland territory, and the area between 48th and 35th, from Baseline to River Bottom is worrisome to even drive through. If you love the diversity and the prices in this close-to-downtown area, finding a very safe home is possible if you rent anywhere on 30th up from Baseline. The Southbank area is especially nice, although pricier ($$$).
Saguaro Swank: Ahwatukee Foothills (Avg. Rent: $1200)
Both Ahwatukee Foothills and South Mountain are south of Downtown Phoenix, and they could technically comprise South Phoenix if put together, but whereas South Mountain has high crime rates and low-priced housing, Awatukee Foothills is a high-price, low-crime, gated community nestled among the foothills of the South Mountains with big 3BR+ houses ($$$$), and highly-educated middle-aged couples with kids. Of course, the prices in this area rise even higher as the houses move higher into the foothills ($$$$$!), but the views are spectacular.
Not Always Sunny: Things You Should Know
Phoenicians have some strange hang-ups about cars. First thing to know is that they have a really high vehicle licensing tax of 16.8%, adjusting annually for depreciation. This means that if you buy a $25,000 car in Phoenix, you’ll pay $420 in taxes (plus registration fees). The next year you’ll pay $360 (plus registration fees), etc. Basically, it costs a lot to own a car in Phoenix, and unless you live in CenPho and never plan to leave the area, you’ll need a car to navigate the city and metro area. Insure your car well though, because Phoenix is one of the top ten cities for car theft in the United States (perchance correlating with said car taxes?).
Also, because Arizona is such a sunny state, Phoenix does not recognize Daylight Savings Time. This is awesome if you live in Phoenix, because you never have to remember to change your clocks, but every year you will have to re-train your friends Back East so they don’t wake you up by calling at 6:00 am in the summer.
One last tip about the weather in Phoenix: it’s gorgeous . . . most of the time. Phoenix locals, called “Phoenicians” (take that “Tucsonans”!) frequently spend Thanksgiving outside on the patio, and outdoor hikers, climbers, boaters, and bikers of all ages appreciate the ability to take a New Years Day hike. Hate snow? You’re in good company. Phoenicians never shovel snow; the last year a snowflake hit the ground in downtown Phoenix was in 1939. However, “The Valley’s” beautiful winter weather comes with a price: the summer weather. Summers in Phoenix are hot, hot, HOT, and temperatures regularly rise well into the hundreds, sometimes reaching a sweltering 120 degrees. Phoenix plans well for hot summers though and provides tons of cool activities (including waterparks) for its sun-loving residents, so don’t let the heat scare you away. Now, pack up your swimsuit and your industrial-strength sunscreen, throw your snow shovel in the trash, and cool-off in that perfect (air-conditioned) Phoenix apartment.