There was a time not long ago when dad’s transfer to Warsaw meant goodbye to friends forever and a pause on plans for a family. Now it’s just as likely mum that gets transferred and worries about living away from “home” have largely evaporated. Still, some places rank better than others for families, and if you’re looking for an investment that covers all the bases, a few cities leap to the front of the line. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Parenting Magazine and the HSBC Offshore Offspring report agree on a few things — chiefly that Australia, Canada and Switzerland are ideal for 1.8 kids and a dog.
The surveys rated educational opportunities (public and international schools), the healthy and/or sporting lifestyle, access to artistic and cultural outlets and kid-focused facilities, quality of healthcare for residents and the environment overall. Investment mainstays London and New York were conspicuous in their absence, but the hot spots were somewhat unsurprising. Oh, Canada, it’s a g’day!
Australia consistently ranks high on the quality of living indices and Sydney, Perth and Adelaide rated well, but Melbourne remains the star. Despite a recent political brouhaha Australia is stable, and Melbourne’s rental market is consistently strong — particularly in its CDB, the most vibrant in the country. Population growth is underpinning the market, along with Asian developers as well as individual buyers.
Also making a good showing is Auckland. Like its neighbour, New Zealand’s political stability is a plus. John Key and his National Party are extremely popular, boosting economic growth, cutting debt, curbing spending and handling a catastrophic earthquake, a mining disaster and global economic misery with poise. Auckland dominates the country’s real estate industry by volume, and controls on urban sprawl are putting upward pressure on prices. As the largest city, Auckland’s new residents support the rental sector.
Geneva and Zurich
Geneva is the international organisation capital of the world (WTO, Red Cross, UNHCR, WHO) with constantly rotating professional staff: 44 percent of Geneva’s population are foreign nationals. Zurich, frequently cited as the wealthiest city in Europe, with the world’s best quality of life, has been known to do some banking. Its low taxes attract major multinationals and, again, highly skilled staff. Strict environmental laws, abundant green space and the Alps make Switzerland a lifestyle darling; its private schools in one of the world’s best education systems are among the globe’s priciest. Rising prices have led to fears of a bubble but the Federal Council demanded banks increase their capital buffers in February. But as long as foreign workers remain the backbone of the rental market, both cities will stay strong.
Vancouver and Calgary
Canada trails Australia slightly and Toronto ranks high for family living, but perennial hotspot Vancouver is recovering from a transaction and price slump. Vancouver will never suffer for very long due as its physical proximity to Asia and, no surprise, its schools, make it popular with Asian investors. Across the provincial border, Calgary’s booming energy industry makes it a strong choice, attracting skilled professionals by the droves. Luxury home sales skyrocketed in May and with the city’s rental market tightening up, it’s turning into a capital gains town. Banff and Jasper national parks in the Rockies ensure Calgary’s natural attractions and activities are peerless.
Boston and Austin
Harvard. MIT. Longhorns. Cowboys. Boston and Austin couldn’t appear more different but each has family appeal. Education underpins investment in Boston (the city spends almost three times the national average on public schools) and it has some of the world’s best hospitals. Conversely, Austin is as creative and laid back as Boston is academic, but the capital of the Lone Star State is a progressive haven with a beautiful climate and a more active business sector than most of us think: it’s home to Dell, and Samsung, Google and Facebook offices. Both are blessed with oodles of public recreation (Austin boasts 11,000 hectares of park) and both are vibrant university towns with consistent rental sectors. Currently Boston’s job growth and demand make it a seller’s market, particularly for investor favourite condominiums, and Austin’s rental sector gained 13 percent in May.
Frankfurt and Düsseldorf
Munich may be Germany’s financial engine and Berlin may be one of the world’s most important capitals, but both Frankfurt and Düsseldorf score high marks for liveability. Frankfurt is a major transport hub, one of continental Europe’s largest financial centres and home to the European Central Bank. Düsseldorf is known for its trade fairs and telecom industry. Both boast outstanding infrastructure and high levels of security. The German property market is in a boom cycle and with only 53 percent of Germans owning their homes, rentals will remain strong into future.
Though the HSBC ranks Hong Kong and Canada identically for families so far in its 2012 survey, the only city in Asia to place on more than one list is Singapore. Renowned for its cleanliness, rich cultural tapestry and for having more available school places than neighbouring Hong Kong, Singapore is of the preferred choices for overseas families that are relocating. Government measures to cool the market and rising interest rates are likely to lead to a price correction, but not a crash. The Lion City, a financial and increasingly a tourist hub, remains an investor favourite.