Within walking distance | September 8, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - September 8, 2017

Within walking distance

Realtors confirm buyers want to use their feet way more than their cars

by Crystal Tai

Palo Alto resident Shana Mori loves living less than a block away from Briones Park, but wishes she could walk to a supermarket as well, she said.

"It's really great that we are just a short walk from the park. I can take my children there any time," said Mori. "This is a wonderful neighborhood. My only complaint is that I have to drive for grocery shopping."

Mori is not alone. Annoyed by increasing traffic congestion, more and more Silicon Valley residents prefer walking to places where they need to go regularly. Real estate agents have noticed that walkability is now a factor homebuyers seriously consider.

Ken DeLeon, founder of DeLeon Realty, said the high cost of local real estate makes buyers think of the appreciation aspect even when purchasing their dream homes, and walkability is definitely a variable in that regard.

"As the leader of the DeLeon Realty buyers team, I am continually forecasting which variables will increase in value over time as these projections help clients make informed investing decisions," said DeLeon. "One of the variables that is currently very valued by buyers but will continue to climb in demand is walkability to shops, parks and restaurants."

The trend of desiring more homes close to transit hubs and shopping districts has already accelerated the appreciation of home prices in cities and neighborhoods that have good walkability versus remote areas that do not, according to DeLeon.

"While other factors are also at play, this increasing value of walkability has played a starring role in Palo Alto appreciating 187.5 percent over the last 17 years versus Woodside that has only appreciated 43.1 percent during that same period," DeLeon said. On the Midpeninsula, Menlo Park is ranked second behind Palo Alto, with a growth rate of 149.1 percent in the past 17 years.

The attraction of walkability is related to the way local high-tech companies hire employees from big cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston and Austin as well as new immigrants from London, Mumbai and Shanghai, DeLeon said.

"As more and more Silicon Valley transplants hail from large technology centers both domestically and internationally, these buyers had walkability from their previous hometown. These new buyers are used to and seek proximity to urban amenities within their quiet neighborhoods," he said.

Certified relocation specialist Shelly Potvin said she often hears "we want to live near a downtown" during her first meeting with a client.

"There is a feeling of being part of a community when one can walk to a downtown, or center, from their home, and it's not just being close to Starbucks, although that is a common request. My clients will often forgo lot size and home square footage to be close to downtown Los Altos, specifically in the so-called Old Los Altos," Potvin said.

Sophie Tsang, an agent with Alain Pinel Realtors in Palo Alto, pointed out why walkability is particularly important to younger home buyers.

"A lot of them don't own cars," Tsang said. "They walk or bike to everything, and if they do need a ride, they use Lyft or Uber. There is a sense of freedom. And when traffic and parking are issues, walking or biking usually takes less time. And if they don't cook, being able to walk to dinner is a major plus."

Many home buyers may not be aware of Walk Score, an online service that can determine how walkable an address is, but they may use other means to find out about the walkability of a home they are interested in, Tsang said.

"I had a client who would Google Map a property to his work during rush hours. If it takes more than 15 minutes, he's not interested in the property. If there is a suitable home that he can buy within walking distance to work, he will buy it. One can imagine the same person is probably mapping where the nearest grocery stores, Starbucks, restaurants and dry cleaners are," she said.

Older home buyers also desire walkability, according to Tsang.

"They want to be able to not rely on driving, because what if they don't have a ride, or one day they can't drive. They would like a decent place, which doesn't need to be big but is within short walks to all services," she said.

Even though families with young children would prefer a quiet street, a large yard, and some distance from grocery stores, they don't want to live too far from everything, Tsang said.

Tsang gave an example of a multi-generational family with two young children, a live-in nanny and one set of grandparents in search of a home.

"When they realized how close the property is to a downtown, the grandparents were especially excited. Everything is within walking distance. This particular factor makes the house very attractive. Even though the house is smaller than they'd like, with more updates needed than they'd like, it's something they would consider," she said.

The website Walk Score.com has taken "walkability" to an algorithmic level. A subsidiary of Redfin, Walk Score "scores" properties on a 0-100 scale with the lowest range, 0 to 24, meaning "almost all errands require a car," and the highest range, 90 to 100, meaning "daily errands do not require a car."

Palo Alto's average Walk Score is 58, or "somewhat walkable." Its most walkable neighborhoods are University South and Evergreen Park with scores of 86 each, and Downtown North with a score of 85.

Crystal Tai is a freelance writer for the Palo Alto Weekly. She can be emailed at crystal2@stanfordalumni.org.

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