Walk/Transit/Bike Score now an important number for real estate

By Robbie Webber

Ever since Walk Score debuted in 2007, savvy real estate and rental agents have used the number to sell properties to clients who want to be walking distance from amenities. Now there is evidence that simply being in a walkable neighborhood may increase the value of housing. A graduate student recently released the results of her research showing the strong correlation between walkability and housing prices. Although her thesis examined a preference for cities, she used walkability as a proxy for urban density.

Walk Score has been a favorite tool to evaluate neighborhoods since its introduction, but new search options have made locating housing easier for individuals and given brokers another selling point for their properties. Apartment Search, which allows renters to assess the walkability of apartments and what amenities are close by, was added last fall. It also allows potential renters to calculate their commute time by transit, walking, or bicycling from the apartment they want to rent. They can also start with their maximum preferred commute time by those modes and then find apartments for rent. This tool is also available for individuals evaluating homes for purchase.

In April 2012 Walk Score added Transit Score to rate the top 25 transit systems in the country and has since rated over 200 cities in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The score is calculated based on frequency, coverage, and the vehicle type the system provides. Heavy rail rates higher than streetcars or light rail, and buses rate the lowest.

Finally this month Walk Score rolled out Bike Score, allowing visitors to evaluate how bicycle-friendly an area is, based not just on availability of bicycle facilities and paths, but also nearby destinations, hills, connectivity, and the bicycle commuter mode split in the area.

Increasingly, real estate agents are including Walk Score and the associated other scores into their listings. Many national listings now include the score in all listings, along with the number of bathrooms in the house, year built, estimated taxes, and the price history in the neighborhood. Several programs designed to pilot location efficient mortgages have also been launched, although this financing tool did not spread beyond a few pilot locations. However, with gas prices on a rollercoaster, and congestion a constant concern for commuters, renters and home buyers are looking for housing with more transportation options.

The idea that good transit, biking and walking options can make neighborhoods more affordable has caught on. The Center for Neighborhood Technology began its Housing + Transportation Index in Chicago, and it now covers 89 percent of the U.S. population. CNT also developed the Abogo tool to allow households to compute the average transportation costs for any address in the U.S., even including a slider to calculate costs based on current or anticipated future gas prices.

Whether for purely economic reasons, or because pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-friendly neighborhoods are now considered more desirable, on-line tools to assess transportation options are being used by both those seeking a new home and those trying to sell the properties.

Robbie Webber is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI. She can be reached at RWebber@ssti.us.