I’ve been reading Jeff Speck’s book, Walkable City, and one thing that he talks about is the relationship between housing prices and how walkable the neighborhoods are that those houses are in. According to Jeff, “some resourceful economists have had the opportunity to study the relationship between Walk Score and real estate value, and they have put a price on it: five hundred to three thousand dollars per point.” Well, I’m no economist, nor am I a statistician, but I can look at numbers and see if they’re trending together or apart.
So I sat down today and went through 200 real estate listings in Fort Collins. I really don’t know what I was thinking. It took an incredibly long amount of time and I don’t know that I have anything more than “it looks like” to show for it. But I’m still going to roll with it, because it really does look like there’s something going on there — even if I can’t put an exact number on it for housing prices here in FoCo.
Pre-World War II
First I looked at all of the houses that were built before World War II. There were only five in the 200 listings that I looked at (which was all the listing on ColoProperty.com for $470,000 or less. I didn’t mind looking at more expensive houses, I just pooped out once I reached 200 and figured I had enough data to fiddle around with and besides, I have laundry I’ve gotta do. So I stopped at house #200.) I found no correlation whatsoever between housing price and walk score during this age range. All five houses had good Walk Scores (between 62 and 75, which rates between Somewhat Walkable and Very Walkable according to WalkScore.com).
But housing prices can get weird in Old Town when what you’re buying isn’t always the house but the land that it’s on. The most expensive house per square foot was also the smallest (at 546 square feet). It also came with a note that the house could be scraped and a new house built on that location. So given this sample size and the oddities of Old Town, it was hard to see a direct correlation between prices and Walk Score with the 5 houses I looked at.
Despite the crappy data on Old Town houses within my sample set, I think it’s fair to say that Old Town houses are pricey for a reason — and it’s almost entirely to do with their proximity to downtown. During the recession that began in 2008, though there were some foreclosures in the Old Town neighborhoods, most properties retained their value throughout the worst of it.
All the rest of the 20th Century
The next group of houses that I looked at where those built after World War II (when the city started to sprawl in a more suburban style pattern) but before 2000 (because I figured I should cut it off somewhere and 2000 seemed as good a place as any). Among this set, I found a relationship between attached dwellings (condos and townhouses) and Walk Score, but when it came to houses, the relationship wasn’t as tight.
This was a pretty broad range of houses I was looking at that included some incredibly cute ranch homes and some pretty awful looking snout houses. I suspect that Walk Score and prices didn’t connect up well within this single family housing group because of the incredible variety of housing stock.
From this group, 22% (3 out of 14) of attached houses (condos and townhouses) are considered “Somewhat Walkable” by the Walk Score ratings and 24% (15 out of 63) of single family homes fall into the “Somewhat Walkable” range (which includes Walk Scores of 50 – 69.)
21st Century Housing
Last I looked at houses that have been built recently. (Some listings were even for houses that have yet to be built.) It wasn’t very promising in terms of the community adding walkable housing stock.
Among the 49 attached units for sale that I looked at, 22% fall within the “Somewhat Walkable” category. And again, there does seem to be a correlation between price and walkability. People are willing to pay more if it means they’re going to be spending less time in the car.
But among single family houses built since the year 2000, not a single one had a walk score of 50 or more. Only 7 out of 69 houses even had a Walk Score in the 40s. In other words, if you’re moving into a new single family house, and you’ve spent $470,000 or less on the place, you’re going to be stuck in your car all. the. freaking. time. (The same might be true for houses over $470K, but I didn’t take the time to look at those.)
Summary – TL;DR
Looking at 200 houses that are on the market on one day out of an entire year is not enough to make any definitive statements. But it does look like there’s a relationship between price per square foot and Walk Score here in Fort Collins. There’s some sense among those setting prices on these properties that if a person wants to be able to walk from home to pick up a gallon of milk, take their dog to a park, stroll with the kids to school, or stop in at a cafe to sip on coffee and read a book, the more likely they’ll be willing to pay for that added value.
And much of our new housing stock is not even a little bit walkable. (Having sidewalks does not make a place walkable on the Walk Scale. There have to be places to walk to… other than other people’s homes.) It’s no wonder congestion and traffic are such a problem in Fort Collins right now. Not only is the city growing by leaps and bounds, but most of these new folks are moving to places where they have no choice but to drive everywhere they go.