Commuters longing to live near work

When gas prices jump, people change their habits. They car pool more, dine out less. They might take the bus. When the prices don't come down, they change their lives.

Renters in far-flung bedroom communities are seeking apartments closer to work. Homeowners are inviting rent-paying strangers into their homes. Families have been split.

"Nothing changes people's behaviors as quickly as high prices," said Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling's Best Places of Portland, Ore., which ranks qualities of cities based on market research. It regularly lists the Triangle as among the regions hardest hit by rising gas prices.

The area's suburban landscape has expanded away from city centers under a basic economic principle: If you can't afford a home in a close-in neighborhood, then just drive farther out of town, where land is cheaper.

Now anecdotal evidence and home data suggest that many are moving back -- a migration that could reverse the character of towns that thrive from residential construction and it could dash the fortunes of suburban homeowners and landlords.

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