Royal Oak or Ferndale? Ferndale or Royal Oak? Which one of these southeast Michigan cities is better to live in? That question is going to be answered, right now!
In this blog post, it’s a battle between Royal Oak Michigan and Ferndale Michigan, and give a side by side comparison, so you can decide which city you’ll want to call home.
#1 – LOCATION
Let’s first chat about location. In most comparison videos, you’d think it would be cities that are very distanced from one another, but in this scenario, these two cities are under 10 minutes away from each other. Being just 25-30 minutes from downtown Detroit, both these cities are primely located off Woodward Avenue, with an easy commute from I-696 and I-75. The city of Ferndale was incorporated in 1927, and is reported to have just over 20,000 people in its 3.88 square miles. On the other hand, the city of Royal Oak was incorporated in 1921, and has recently reported to have over 58,000 people in its 11.79 square miles.
#2 – CITY FEEL
Next, what I want to touch on is the city feel. Even though these cities are just a few short miles away from each other, they still give off their own unique feel. I came across a forum that was trying to describe the downtown environment of nearby cities, and this is how it was put, “Royal Oak is the new Birmingham, Ferndale is the new Royal Oak, Hazel Park is the new Ferndale.” For those of you that live in these areas do you agree with that statement? Why or why not? Throw your thoughts in the comment below. For those of you not familiar with those areas, I’ll break down that statement to give you an idea of how truly different these cities are.
Royal Oak is the new Birmingham. Well, if you don’t know what Birmingham is like, I’ll link a tour I did in the description showcasing the community. Birmingham is known to be high dollar, always improving, and becoming this very tight city full of businesses. Lately, Royal Oak has taken notes from Birmingham’s book and has been progressing at a very quick rate, transitioning from what was once this “small town” to endless parking garages and high rise condo complexes.
So it’s safe to say in comparison, Royal Oak is much more densely populated than Ferndale, But don’t let that fool you, there’s still endless local businesses, farmers markets, downtown events, parks, etc. but the reality is, this is a small town with a big city heart. The city is becoming more modern by the day, and less of what was once a “small town” and is more about the hustle and bustle. As far as Ferndale being Royal Oak, it’s safe to call it Royal Oak’s younger sibling, as it progresses and grows at a slower rate compared to Royal Oak. Being as the city is not even 4 square miles, it’s safe to say the city will maintain that small town feel, since there’s not a lot of room to build up as there is in Royal Oak. But, since these cities are so close together, it’s been pretty obvious that they’ve complimented each other greatly as they continue to grow over the years. Oftentimes, these are the cities that a lot of people spill into after watching a sporting event in downtown Detroit. The walkability in both cities is unlike any other. So based on that comparison alone, if you’re looking for a quieter small town feel, Ferndale will probably be a better option. If you’re looking for a bigger city feel with a little hustle and bustle, Royal Oak might be your winner.
#3 – CULTURE
The next topic I want to touch on is Culture. Based on my last point about how these southeast Michigan cities are progressing, it’s safe to say there’s some culture shifts, and I wouldn’t say it’s for the better or worse. These areas are becoming very popular, not just from out of towners, but out of staters as well. When it comes to the culture in Ferndale, you’ll see more art, music and DIY culture. Ferndale Is such an open-minded community, so it doesn’t surprise me that people are coming from out of state to get in on the cultural offerings. Royal Oak tends to have more tourist attractions such as the Detroit Zoo, Royal Oak Music Theatre, Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, along with the Arts, Beats & Eats festival that happens over Labor Day weekend. Royal Oak has a lot of events that draw people out of the area, to the area. So traffic tends to be a little heavier, parking gets a little slimmer, and the downtown gets a little more populated.
#4 – SCHOOLS
Jumping to Royal Oak Schools vs. Ferndale schools. Royal Oak’s top rankings involve Northwood Elementary school, Royal Oak Middle School, and Royal Oak High School. Ferndale has Ferndale Upper Elementary School, Ferndale Middle School and Ferndale High School. Royal Oak High School has earned the College Success Award (which recognizes schools that do an exemplary job getting students to enroll in and stick with college) in the years of 2018 through 2021. Ferndale High School earned the award once in 2020. In a District Schools Summary rating by Greatschools.org, which uses metrics such as: academics, equity, and the school environment, compared to other public schools in the state. Royal Oak earned an above average school quality rating, whereas Ferndale earned a below average school quality rating.
#5 – THINGS TO DO
Next up let’s talk about things to do. It’s no secret that Royal Oak and Ferndale have a ton of things to do when it comes to their downtown life. In Royal Oak, as I mentioned, there’s the Detroit Zoo for all you animal lovers out there, the Royal Oak Music Theatre to get your fix on music and comedy specials, Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle full of comedic talent, get your drink on at Motor City Gas, home of some unique whiskey, try out your skateboarding skills at Modern Skate & Surf. And of course, don’t miss out on the huge Arts, Beats and Eats festival that happens over labor day weekend, full of the most unique arts, great musical performances, and a whole lot of eats to say the least. In Ferndale, get your ax throwing game on at Detroit Ax, celebrate at the DIY street Fair, that runs from September 23rd to September 25th this year that involves art, musical entertainment, food trucks and a whole lot of drinks from Michigan’s own breweries, wineries and distilleries. Get lost in the Fifth Wall Escape Rooms, and get your virtual reality experience at the VR+ zone.
#6 – RESTAURANTS
Now that I touched on things to do, it’s time to tackle the restaurant scene. Starting off with Royal Oak, we have the one and only Ale Mary’s Beer Hall. a place not just to drink some of Michigan’s best brews, but also to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another spot is Pinky’s rooftop, which is an innovative bar located in downtown royal oak with a wonderful rooftop view, and also offers unique drinks and food options. Be sure to make your reservation now so you aren’t an amateur like me thinking we could get a seat without one at prime time. And since we couldn’t eat there, we found ourselves in Mesa Tacos & Tequila, which just so happens to be two of the greatest things in the world, Tacos and Tequila. If you’re a nacho fan like me, consider making a stop over there, i doubt you’ll regret it. And last but not least, one of Royal Oaks hidden gems, Johnny’s. Johnny’s is a speakeasy atmosphere located right on main street that serves craft cocktails and unique dishes. You’ll want to make a visit I promise.
Jumping over to restaurants in Ferndale. Starting this list off, we have Pop’s For Italian. Which is known to have upscale Italian dishes & pizza. And if you love Italian like I do, you might want to head over there as soon as possible. Next we have, Public House. Public House is a unique eatery with creative burgers, and other comfort foods in a cool rustic setting. Next on this list we have One-Eyed Betty’s. Which is a causal place with American food with music and pinball. It’s not necessarily anything too special, but that’s okay sometimes especially in a city that is modernizing by the day. Next, we have the Assaggi (ah-sah-gee) Bistro. This place is very Rustic Mediterranean, but if you haven’t tried their wood fired oven pizzas, you haven’t lived yet I’m afraid.
#7 – SHOPPING
I have touched on things to do and restaurants to go to in both cities, but I don’t want to forget about the shopping situation. Since there’s so many great places to name, I will link both of the cities shopping situations in the description below if you’re interested! Ferndale Shopping & Royal Oak Shopping
#8 – COST OF LIVING, ECONOMY & JOBS
Alright, enough messing around here, let’s talk about the economy, cost of living and job opportunities. Taking a look at this table provided by bestplaces.net, we can see the overall cost of living index for both cities based on a 100 point national average. Ferndale sits at a 96.8, while Royal Oak is just over the national average at 101.6. Just so you don’t have to do any math in your head, the third column breaks down the difference between each city based on row. The two points on this chart that stick out drastically are housing and the median home cost. As you can see, Royal Oak is coming in at 106.9 and Ferndale is at 76.6, which is a huge difference especially for two cities that are less than 10 minutes away from each other. These facts are a perfect example when people are saying all of Michigan is the same, but it goes to show a 10 minute difference is a big one in the mitten state.
Jumping to Median Home cost, I’ll hop over to the MLS to pull real life data and to show you the charts. Taking a look at the average sale price in Ferndale (in green), Entire Michigan MLS (in blue), and Royal Oak (in yellow), you can see Royal Oak is quite a bit higher, which makes sense based on all the information I provided earlier about this progressing city. This graph shows the last 3 years, and shows you the percentage increase based on the last 12 months. Royal Oak’s average sale price is $334,214 which is a 12.1% increase from a year ago, while Ferndale’s average sale price was $245,074, which was a 6.3% increase from a year ago. I know charts and facts are super boring, but up until this point, you could’ve said these two cities are pretty identical, but now with this data laid out in front of you, you can understand that there’s a reason Ferndale is on the Top 10 list for best cities in Michigan for first time home buyers, just based on price alone.
The last boring chart I want to show you is all about the months supply, meaning how long will the current housing inventory last before completely running out. As you can tell from the chart, even with the entire Michigan MLS (in blue) the trend is most definitely downward, there’s just not a whole lot of inventory out there right now, and if there is, it’s going pretty quickly. In Ferndale and Royal Oak, it would take just about a month before all the current listings were gone, whereas the entire MLS is sitting at a month and a half. It shows that Ferndale and Royal Oak inventory is very slim, and has declined 20-30% over the last 12 months with the median days on market being 11-12 days for both cities.
In terms of median household income, Royal Oak comes in at just over $81,165, and Ferndale is about $10,000 less coming in at just over $71,000. Imagine driving 10 minutes down the road for a $10,000 salary increase. Of course, keep in mind the cost of living in Royal Oak is higher than Ferndale. As far as the current job market, Ferndale has a -10.58% in recent job growth, whereas their future job growth sits at 36.46%, which is over 3% higher than the United States overall. The unemployment rate is at 3.8%, which is 2.2% less than the United States. Royal Oak has also seen red in their recent job growth, coming in at -10.58% as well, with a future job growth of 39.68%, and an employment rate of 2.2%.
#9 – CITY REVIEWS
Lastly, I want to do a side by side comparison in terms of how these two cities rank. According to Niche.com, the overall grade for Ferndale is an A, whereas the overall grade for Royal Oak is an A+. Royal Oak ranks an A- in public schools and housing, whereas Ferndale ranks a C- in public schools and a B+ for housing. The cost of living for Royal Oak is a B, whereas the cost of living for Ferndale is a B+. And of course, both these cities scored an A+ for nightlife with their booming downtown areas.
So which city is the best place to live? Well, it depends. If you’re looking for a small town feel, less crowded, and cheaper real estate prices, Ferndale might be the place to go. If you’re focused on schools, a growing economy, with a denser population, then Royal Oak might just be the choice for you.
Of course, I can’t make the decision for you, but I can definitely lay it all out there for you to make the most educated decision you won’t regret.
Andrew McManamon is a licensed Real Estate Professional in the great state of Michigan. His philosophy to put people first has paved the way to his extraordinary real estate career. Born and raised in Brighton, MI, Andrew acquired a bachelors degree in business management and marketing from Cleary University in Howell, MI. The combination of his experience and education allows him to take a strategic approach towards every transaction and help his clients make more informed and confident decisions.