Walkable Neighborhoods: The New "Must Have" for Homebuyers

Walkable. Even as I type the word, my spellchecker starts freaking out. Not a word! Don’t recognize! Not in dictionary! Well, perhaps “walkable” hasn’t made the official Collins dictionary yet, the way “cyberbully” and “frenemy” have, but the word certainly has meaning these days—particularly in real estate.

Check Your Walk Score with ZipRealty

Today’s buyers care so much about close access to services that the term “walkable” became a quantifiable number: a home’s “walk score” represents how far it is from essential daily destinations like grocery stores, banks, post offices, cafes, restaurants, shopping, etc. ZipRealty, for example, offers the walking score on all the MLS listings in our database: as long as we can map it, we can deliver the WalkScore(R). (I've included what that information looks like in a home search in the photo, below.) 

Check walkscore with ZipRealty

Buyers Want to Walk

And buyers care about walk scores. According to George Washington University School of Business, walkable neighborhoods have now exceeded suburban ones in terms of demand.  The study analyzes “WalkUPs,” which is an acronym standing for “walkable urban places.” “WalkUPs, a niche market 20 years ago, are becoming the market of the future, both in the metro D.C. area and, likely, in the rest of the nation’s metropolitan areas.”

Higher Demand Means Higher Prices

The George Washington School of Business study found that for each 6% improvement in a neighborhood’s walkability score, rent prices for office and retail space increase 7%, apartment rents increase 6%, and home sale prices go up $133/ft2.  From my own experience as a buyer in Portland, OR, I found the walkable neighborhoods competitive to buy in. My husband and I actually opted for a smaller place with higher walkability than a larger place with less of it; but we weren’t alone in that priority. We had to compete with several like-minded buyers.

Desirable Features of Walkable Neighborhoods

The Brookings Institute has also studied walkable neighborhoods, offering them as both economical and ecological solutions for living, the antithesis of suburban and exurban sprawl. In their study of walkable neighborhoods, Brookings Institute researchers found the following features coincided with areas located close distances to essential services:

  • More walkable places perform better economically. The same walkablilty that attracts pedestrians attracts business commerce, and with it, higher commercial rents and property values in general.
  • Walkable places benefit from being near other walkable places. Many times one walkable area is closely clustered with another. The two then mutually benefit from their proximity. In particular, property values are even higher when not one, but two walkable areas can be advertised.
  • Residents of more walkable places have lower transportation costs and higher transit access, but also higher housing costs. The study found residents spent just 12% of their income on transportation, but a full and 30% on housing, which is roughly twice as much as the resident of a less walkable neighborhood will spend on housing.
  • Residents of places with poor walkability are generally less affluent and have lower educational attainment than places with good walkability. Places with more walkability features become gentrified, and with that process, a rise in opportunities for intellectual, cultural, and business growth.

Recession Makes for Revolution

More telling than these studies is the performance (in local real estate markets) of suburban property in this country during the recent recession. As U.S. home values declined in the years 2008 through 2011, areas located far from urban hubs have lost value most dramatically. Areas close-in, however, have either held their value or increased it. Brookings confirms that “This distinction in housing proximity is particularly important since it appears that the United States may be at the beginning of a structural real estate market shift….. a preference for mixed-use, compact, amenity-rich, transit-accessible neighborhoods or walkable places."

Search for Walkable Neighborhoods

ZipRealty allows you to check the walkability of any MLS-listed home you might be interested in. You can also get help from local Realtors® who may know more about which areas are truly convenient, safe, and enjoyable for a walking lifestyle. Make part of your visit to home for sale a tour of the nearby streets and services—a tour you accomplish on foot.

Further Reading

Using a ZipRealty home search to "meet" your new community

Anna Marie Erwert writes from both the renter and new buyer perspective, having (finally) achieved both statuses. She focuses on national real estate trends, specializing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. Follow Anna on Twitter: @AnnaMarieErwert