's Guide to Home Buying Walker
Traffic jams and aging boomers spur a focus on walking distance; how to rate a climb
By NANCY KEATES
The Wall Street Journal
Jennifer and Andrew Greenberg didn't fall in love at first sight with the 1950s ranch house they just bought in
Today's home buyers aren't just looking for good schools and low crime rates when they evaluate a neighborhood, many brokers say. They're paying much more attention to what they can walk to.
"Everyone wants to know now how close they are to stores," says Linda Duggan, an owner of The Duggan Group real-estate agency. She recently had clients who, given a choice between a house in Danville, Calif., and another that was bigger, newer, $300,000 cheaper—and 20 minutes farther from town—chose the first one. Earlier this year Scott Newman, of Newman Realty in
"For a lot of Americans, the whole problem of traffic congestion and having to drive everywhere to do almost anything has made other choices more attractive," says Kaid Benfield, director of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council's Smart Growth Program. Urban planners say it's also a matter of demographics: Baby boomers are coming of empty-nest retirement age, and at the same time their children are buying their first homes, and neither group wants large lots in remote places where little is going on. Fear about future oil prices is also increasing the attractiveness of walkable neighborhoods.
In response, websites have sprung up to rank which homes have the most amenities within walking distance. The most commonly used one is Walk Score, started in 2007 by
Real-estate prices are reflecting the new interest in walking distances. A study published in August of 90,000 homes across the country by nonprofit CEOs for Cities, a group of urban-redevelopment advocates, found that having more amenities in walking distance can boost home values. As measured by Walk Score, walking-distance amenities raised values by as much as $3,000 for a one-point increase in rankings. And a report released in January by the Natural Resources Defense Council found a neighborhood's "location efficiency"—a measure of the transportation costs in a given area—affected the number of foreclosures in the area.
A walkable neighborhood doesn't necessarily have to be in the city center. And it doesn't have to be more expensive. Eric Fredericks decided in September that, with the housing tax credit, it made more sense to buy than to keep renting. Planning on kids, he and his wife wanted a three-bedroom house in
Walk Score uses an algorithm to calculate the distance from any address to amenities like restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters and public transportation. In a section on its website called "How It Doesn't Work," the site says it doesn't factor in street design, safety, topography, weather and sidewalks. The website uses "as the crow flies" to measure distance, ignoring enormous hills or big rivers, saying: "…if you live across the lake from a destination, we are assuming you will swim."
But Billy Riggs, a city and regional planner at
Walk Score's chief executive, Josh Herst, says the site is working on the issues of traffic and topography. The site recently got a grant to improve how it calculates walking distances. The site uses information from Google that isn't always updated: Sometimes, stores and restaurants don't show up at all. ("Keeping Google Maps completely up-to-date is a challenge we're always working on," a Google spokeswoman says.)
Still, the more emphasis on walking distance, the better, say many home-buyers. Gary Howe, a photographer and writer in