From the outside looking in, life in a small-town community can seem idyllic. Rush hour is three cars ahead of you at a stop sign. People make eye contact and stop to talk to each other in the street. The checkout operator at the food store knows you by your first name.

Yet, as with many aspects of life, first impressions can be deceptive, and assumptions gleaned from a brief visit or research on the internet can often run counter to day-to-day reality. This is why, for some considering a move to a small town like Salida or Buena Vista, renting a house for a few months to a year is a great “try before you buy” option.

There are multiple benefits to this approach, not the least of which is dipping your toes in the small-town lifestyle without the outlay of a significant financial commitment. Renting before you buy enables you to study the real estate market in depth, learning about values and trends.

Working with a Realtor, you can spend this time visiting homes on the market and learning to recognize the benefits and pitfalls of specific homes and neighborhoods. This leads to being able to make informed decisions with confidence in your own time, rather than feeling rushed.

Educating yourself about the real estate market is only one aspect, and in some ways the least important, when deciding if the small-town lifestyle is for you. Other factors such as schools, climate, employment opportunities and pursuit of personal interests can often be even more important.

For example, moving from an urban area where school districts and the schools themselves are larger and can often provide more alternatives, particularly for children with special needs or talents, to a smaller district with fewer options can take some adjustment in expectations.

Climate is another consideration. Sitting in Riverside Park under a shady cottonwood on a July afternoon, it is easy to be unaware that January can bring minus 10 degrees with 3 feet of snow and a 20 mph windchill. The buzz and bustle of summertime activity becomes mid-winter hibernation, with less human interaction and tumbleweeds blowing down the streets.

While the availability of high-speed internet has greatly enhanced opportunities for employment, still the truth remains for many that towns like Salida and Buena Vista are great places to live but difficult places to make a living. Trades and professions that remunerate well in urban areas often garner considerably less in smaller economies, and many jobs are seasonally dependent and tied to the fortunes of the service industry.

For these reasons, much like dating before committing to marriage, renting before you buy can be the better option to ensure long-term happiness and peace of mind.

Hayden Mellsop is a board member of the Realtors of Central Colorado.

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