What homebuyers want now: Walkable neighborhoods

Everyone knows the three main rules when it comes to real estate: location, location, location. But analysts say that old adage needs a new word for the selling points that make homes valuable to consumers: "walkability." That's for living in walkable areas.

According to City Observatory, a Portland, Oregon-based website that analyzes urban regions and policy issues, growing demand for housing in walkable neighborhoods has ignited the resurgence of cities across the U.S.

"One of the best sources of evidence of the value of walkability is home values," the site said in a recent commentary, "and some new evidence confirms that walkability adds to home values, and also shows that walkable homes have held and increased their value more even in turbulent real estate markets."

Several factors are behind this shift for demand to urban areas. America's decades-long love affair with cars, and especially with commuting from suburban to urban centers, has cooled off. And analysts suggest that younger workers want to save the time and money their parents previously spent on automobiles by living in areas where they have ready access to shopping, entertainment and public transportation.

This trend has been underway for some time now. A 2013 Community Preference Survey by the National Association of Realtors found that 57 percent of respondents would prefer houses with smaller yards and shorter commutes to work, while 55 percent said they'd go with the house/smaller yard equation if it meant and "an easy walk to schools, stores and restaurants."

The overall economy is another consideration. The Brookings Institution reports that as of last year, only 60 percent of the world's metropolitan areas had recovered to their prerecession levels of employment and per-capita GDP. And that economic uncertainty is making city life more attractive to many workers who also have to deal with a very competitive job market.

"In today's environment, the association between job growth and smart growth is coming more and more into focus," reporter Brad Broberg wrote on the National Association of Realtors website.

"Where you find the features of smart growth -- walkability, access to transit, a mix of uses, compact development -- you often find job growth," he continued. "The opposite is also true. How communities respond to the choices and opportunities created by this dynamic can make a big difference in their ability to compete in a new and challenging economy."