On the House: Survey finds walkability a big selling point

Narberth in Montgomery County, with its easy access to trains, remains popular with buyers.
Narberth in Montgomery County, with its easy access to trains, remains popular with buyers. (TOM GRALISH / File Photograph)
Posted: December 01, 2013

Sometimes, national surveys seem to have little meaning locally, leaving one to wonder why the numbers-crunchers bothered to pass the information along at all.

That does not apply, however, to a just-released survey by the National Association of Realtors on home-buyer preferences. The survey of 1,500 adults nationwide found that today's preference appears to be for walkable, mixed-use communities with shorter commutes.

No need to stop the presses, of course. If you are a regular reader of "Town by Town" in the Sunday Business section, you know that walkability is mentioned by just about everyone interviewed in suburban ring towns or city neighborhoods.

In many older locales, walking is a way of life that is highly prized.

"The convenience benefits everyone," said Noelle M. Barbone, office manager for Weichert Realtors' office in Media, a town undergoing a renaissance because of its walkability.

A desire for walkability is often combined with easy access to a train station or transit routes.

It's what woos buyers to such places as Narberth, Wayne, and Swarthmore, said John Duffy, president of Duffy Real Estate on the Main Line: "Walkability is a tremendous draw in all three locations, and the lack of 'quality' inventory makes even the homes in need of renovation or modernization very marketable."

Employers, too, are keen on the idea, often subsidizing public-transportation rides every month.

PNC Bank, for example, mandated the creation of an Eastwick station on SEPTA's Airport Line as a condition for keeping its operations center within the city limits.

SEPTA's Swarthmore station on the Media/Elwyn Line is within walking distance of the campus and town. Maurice Eldridge, Swarthmore College's vice president for community relations, said that ease of access was important to students, many of whom also take classes at the University of Pennsylvania.

Growing interest in walkability prompted Swarthmore and the college to come up with their Town Center West plan, aimed at creating more venues for residents and students to walk to and from campus and home, said center coordinator Marty Spiegel.

Doylestown calls itself a neotraditional community, referring to the 1980s design movement that looked back at pre-automobile, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. Clusters of new homes have sprouted there within about the last 15 years.

Veteran Doylestown real estate broker Nicholas Molloy said the borough was attracting downsizing buyers, and, as a result, 20 upscale condos with a list price of $600,000 - the Enclave at Nyce's Mill just two blocks from downtown, on Clinton Street - has been approved by the Borough Council.

The neotraditional movement brought walkability to a place like Chester Springs, where the Hankin Group's Weatherstone community has drawn, in the words of marketing director Rebecca Reeves, "more of a mix as families saw it as an acceptable way to live."

Though property size mattered to the participants in the Realtors' survey, 57 percent said they would forgo a larger yard if it meant commuting shorter distances to work, and 55 percent would do without a big yard if they didn't need a car to get to schools or go shopping.

Walk Score, a website that rates walkability, gave Philadelphia a score of 77 out of 100 and West Chester a 76.

Across the river, Atlantic City had a 72, Camden a 65, and Lindenwold a 44.


aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens

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