You may have already heard of Walk Score—an endlessly entertaining internet tool that lets people discover how pedestrian-friendly their neighborhood is. Walk Score ranks neighborhood “walkability” based on the mix of stores and services that are within walking distance of any home in North America. If you haven’t already, you should check it out—but only if you’ve got nothing pressing to do, since it’s pretty addictive.
Now, the good folks at CEOs for Cities have taken it on themselves to ask—does Walk Score mean anything for real estate values? Are people really willing to pay more to live in a place where they can do daily errands on foot, rather than in a car?
According to their new report, “Walking the Walk,” (pdf link) the answer is an emphatic yes: people value walkable neighborhoods so much that, holding everything else constant, each additional Walk Score point adds somewhere between $500 and $3,000 to the value of a home. In Seattle—the only Northwest city for which there’s data—a point of walkability adds about $1,400 to home values.
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Remember, the researchers who did this analysis controlled for all sorts of variables that affect housing prices: the size and age of the home, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, neighborhood incomes, the distance from major job centers, and so forth. So their results don’t stem from some spurious correlation—e.g., that walkable neighborhoods tend to be worth more because they’re closer to downtown. Nope, this is the real deal: in just about every metro area they looked at, walkability adds value to property. (Las Vegas, NV and Bakersfield, CA were the two exceptions. What’s up there?)
In part, there’s a straightforward economic rationale for spending more for a walkable neighborhood: reducing your car dependence can cut your transportation costs. This Reconnecting America study, for example, also found that housing is cheaper in distant suburbs and exurbs—the sorts of places where most trips require a car—but that every dollar saved on housing means an extra 77 cents spent for transportation. That’s the average, and there are probably some families who are able to drop a car (or more) by living in a walkable neighborhood; for them, paying more for walkability may be a money-saving proposition in the long run.
Regardless, what the CEOs for Cities study shows is that there is a real and measurable pent up demand for homes in walkable neighborhoods. For decades, sprawl apologists have argued that low-density suburban development was somehow “natural,” because it’s what homebuyers “prefer.” By now, though, it’s clear that many homebuyers are wiling to pay a premium for walkability. The real problem is that the demand for walkable homes exceeds the supply—which pushes up the price.
To me, that argues for policies that are designed to increase the supply of homes in walkable neighborhoods. That’s good for affordability, good for reducing transportation costs, and a great way to help more people add walking to their daily routines.