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Homeowners Willing To Pay More for Walkability

July 15, 2013

Infiniti Real Estate & Development’s Broker Eva Otto joins the discussion on the monetary value of Walkability in Jeff Speck’s new book “Walkable City.”

This excerpt is taken from Jeff Speck’s book “Walkable City.”

Jeff Speck's new book Walkable City

Jeff Speck’s new book Walkable City

“Christopher Leinberger was once the owner of Robert Charles Lesser & Co., the largest real estate advisory firm in the United States, which means that he helped to build a lot of sprawl. He is now convinced that much of suburbia is poised to become “The Next Slum.”

In order to study real estate performance, Leinberger divides the American built environment into two categories: walkable urbanism and drivable sub-urbanism.* In the Detroit region, he finds that housing in walkable urbanism fetches a 40 percent price premium over similar housing in drivable sub-urbanism; in the Seattle region, that premium is 51 percent; in Denver, it’s 150 percent. New York City, unsurprisingly, tops the list at 200 percent—that is to say, people are paying three times as much per square foot for apartments in walkable neighborhoods as for comparable suburban houses. In most markets, the demand for walkable urbanism dramatically outpaces the supply: in Atlanta, only 35 percent of poll respondents who want to live in a walkable urban place are able to find and afford it.

Looking at these numbers, Leinberger concludes: The metropolitan area that does not offer walkable urbanism is probably destined to lose economic development opportunities; the creative class will gravitate to those metro areas that offer multiple choices in living arrangements.

As consumer surveys in downtown Philadelphia and Detroit in 2006 have shown, this seems to be particularly true for the well-educated, who seem to have a predilection for living in walkable urban places.

This growing demand for pedestrian-friendly places is reflected in the runaway success of Walk Score, the website that calculates neighborhood walkability.* It was started on a lark in 2007 by Matt Lerner, Mike Mathieu, and Jesse Kocher, three partners in a software company with the incongruously automotive name of Front Seat.

“I had heard a story on NPR about food miles in England—labeling food with how far it had to travel to get to you,” Lerner told me recently, “and I thought, why not instead measure house miles: how many miles from your house you had to go for daily errands.”

Addresses are ranked in five categories, with a score of 50 needed to cross the threshold from car dependent to somewhat walkable. Seventy points earns a very walkable ranking, and anything above 90 qualifies as a walker’s paradise.

Tellingly, Walk Score has become a big hit with real estate agents. Driven by their demand, the Front Seat team has recently developed Walk Score Professional, a subscription site that already boasts links from more than ten thousand other websites, most of them belonging to realtors.

Broker Eva OttoI spoke with one of these agents, Eva Otto, whose face adorns a testimonial on the Walk Score homepage. She is confident that “in a place like Seattle, walkability is the make or break for some buyers. It can add 5 to 10 percent to a person’s willingness to pay for a house.”

For each property she handles, she places the Walk Score website amenity map inside the house in an obvious place. She comments that her buyers are increasingly aware of “how surprising and delightful your quality of life can be when you don’t have to get into a car to go every place in your life besides home.”

If Walk Score is so useful in helping people decide where to live, then it can also help us determine how much they value walkability. Now that it has been around for a few years, some resourceful economists have had the opportunity to study the relationship between Walk score and real estate value, and they have put a price on it: Five hundred to Three thousand dollars PER POINT.”

 Check out your personal walkscore at http://www.walkscore.com

 For more information on walkability or the value real estate in Contact Eva Otto at eva@infinitiRED.com

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