​Do Walmart's 'always low prices' spread to nearby houses?

In American retailing, Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT) are the two giants battling it out for consumers' wallets, with the former representing low-cost convenience and the latter the promise of style at affordable prices.

While shoppers might think of themselves as either die-hard Target fans or Walmart patrons, there's another way the two retailers are dividing America: real estate prices. Homes located near Walmart stores may be getting a bit of the Walmart slogan rubbing off on them -- "always low prices" -- while houses near Targets experience much higher appreciation, according to a new study from RealtyTrac.

Homeowners near Walmarts who sold their properties in 2015 saw a 16 percent price appreciation since they first bought their houses, with the average value of a Walmart-area home $178,249, the study found. So what about homes located close to a Target? The "tar-zhay" glamour apparently extends to nearby residential properties, given that homeowners saw a 27 percent price appreciation and average property values of $307,286, or 72 percent higher than homes near Walmart locations.

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Of course, this could be a chicken-and-egg question, in that it's debatable about whether the retailer is influencing nearby home prices, or whether the home values influenced the retailer's decision to build in that location.

Both retailers target price-conscious consumers, but there are some serious differences in their typical shoppers. Take a look at the average shopper at Walmart: she's white, 50 years old, and has annual household income of more than $53,000. The typical shopper at Target, on the other hand, is 45 years old and has annual income of about $65,000.

Target, then, may be choosing more upscale locations for its stores, while Walmart might be looking to move closer to its shoppers, who might live in lower-priced houses given their lower income than Target customers.

Then again, the Walmart/Target effect on home prices might reflect a trend in American communities toward economic segregation, which is when the wealthier tend to cluster together, making it tougher for lower-income Americans to find entry into those communities. Wealthier consumers might pay more to be closer to their favorite shops, including Target and expensive grocery stores like Whole Foods.

Buyers who are concerned about their housing valuations might want to look for homes near Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, given they tend to have more rapid price appreciation, housing-data company Zillow found last year.

Still, if you don't live near a Target or Whole Foods, don't despair. There's actually an upside to living near a Walmart, RealtyTrac found: lower property taxes. Walmart-adjacent homes have an average property tax of $3,146, or less than half of what homeowners near Target pay.