Walking never really went out of vogue, but in an age where people are paying more attention to their carbon footprint and their waistlines, it’s making a comeback as our preferred way to get around.
Here to guide the way is Walk Score, which ranks the “walkability” of different cities on a 100-point scale. Launched in 2010, Walk Score has become something of a game changer in the Real Estate industry. Walk Score CEO John Herst (@jherst) said his company's services are featured on more than 30,000 Real Estate websites around the world, and that the company delivers almost 14 million scores each day.
“From Realtors, what we hear is that walkability is increasingly important to their customers,” Herst said. “It you look through the data you’ll see commute times and places to walk to nearby are among the highest rated characteristics that home shoppers are looking for.”
Walk Score does a lot of the legwork for realtors and consumers. The website calculates the walkability of a neighborhood by searching for all the nearby institutions a person might visit on a day to day basis, such as grocery stores, schools, businesses and parks. To make life easier for both customers and agents, Walk Score has added an apartment rental search function to its apps where people can compare commute times between locations and access to public transportation.
Herst believes that people in cities of all shapes are interested in being able to walk to nearby locations. But cities with the strongest walkability scores usually have dense populations, a central public space, solid public transportation, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly city infrastructure. This list includes places like New York (88 points), San Francisco (84 points) and Boston (80 points), but it leaves out Real Estate markets based in rural areas and commuter towns.
Chris Alston (@Chris_Alston), a Real Estate agent for Keller Williams Realty in Cupertino, CA, said that while he promotes Walk Score, it has so far held little appeal for his clients.
“You may not be interested in an app that tells you how to walk to a location if you can’t actually walk there,” Alston said, noting that this will probably remain the case until Cupertino develops a core downtown.
But in cities like San Francisco and New York, Walk Score points are starting to have a measurable effect on Real Estate valuation. According to Herst, each point assigned to a property on Walk Score can add up to $3,000 in home value.
Because walkable neighborhoods are often associated with wealth, Walk Scores have become a useful barometer for detecting when an area is on the up-and-up. Sky Minor (@Skyminor), a Realtor with Real Estate Silver Lake in Los Angeles, said that while the city is definitely still a driving city (it’s Walk Score is a measly 64), there are growing pockets of well-to-do areas where clients are trying to get by without cars.
“There is definitely a noticeable increase, and there are more walkable areas,” Minor said, also describing a growing number of bikers as infrastructure improves.
Herst said he’s optimistic about the growth of Walk Score as a Real Estate tool, if for no other reason than the obvious cost-effectiveness of a walkable neighborhood. But he argues that its benefits reach far beyond the wallet.
“Transportation for most people is the second largest household expense,” Herst said. “Walkability can be a powerful driver of improving health, environment economic benefits.”