What’s your real estate walkable score?
In the fall of 2004, my husband and I bought our first Toronto home in a neighbourhood described as a “walker`s paradise.” The phrase (uttered by our colleague, Realtor Simon Milberry) stuck with me. And now, over a decade later, walkability is on the tip of everyone`s tongue - and very high on the wishlist of most people looking to buy a home.
“When I said ‘walker's paradise’ all that time ago it must have been off the cuff - straight from the heart,” says Milberry, a sales representative Re/Max Hallmark Realty. “These days the phrase has become a common real estate refrain. Agents reference walk scores in MLS listings and advertising. The scores reflect an area where one can walk out the door and stroll to great local amenities: shops, services, restaurants, skating rinks, you name it.” A high walk score, Milberry explains, makes for convenient neighbourhood living.
A score is born
Walkability, it turns out, is measurable. The leader of the pack, when it comes to enumerating walkable neighbourhoods, is WalkScore - an online company whose mission is to promote walkable ‘hoods and whose motto is: ‘drive less, live more’. To get your score, go to WalkScore.com, enter any address in the world. (You can also get the walkability rating of entire towns and cities.) Using proprietary algorithms, WalkScore.com measures the walkability of any address. What drives the score, from zero (car-dependent) to 100 (walker’s paradise), is proximity and choice. The closer and more numerous the amenities are, such as grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops and schools, the higher your score. Shops and services within a five-minute walk are given maximum points, with no points given after a 30-minute walk.
And exactly who cares about this? Just about everyone. A 2012 City of Toronto study called The Walkable City found that “walkability” was the second biggest priority item for downtown Toronto residents surveyed, when they selected their current location. It was surpassed only by affordability, and outranked other things like size inside home and size of the yard.
Put money on it
Not only can the walk score be measured; you can also put a price tag on it. In 2009, CEOS For Cities released a study based on data from Walk Score, showing that a single point on the Walk Score scale can be worth as much as $3,000. In a typical city, homes with the above average levels of walkability were worth anywhere from $4,000 up to $34,000 more than similar houses with only average levels of walkability.
The Canadian Real Estate Association(CREA) has started including walkability values on each of the MLS-listed properties on REALTOR.ca, its comprehensive online listing service.Milberry doesn’t specifically include ‘Walk Scores’ on his listings, but he does look them up and highlights a property’s walkable proximity to the best schools, shops, restaurants and transit. These days, one of the must-have requests Milberry gets is from families looking to be within walking distance to schools. What he’s gleaned from all of those who are looking to relocate to a walkable-to-school neighbourhood is that “walk[ing] is healthier, leaving the car parked saves money and is more convenient.”
Teach your children well
Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner, City of Toronto is another vocal advocate of walkable cities. She promotes kids walking to school in TEDX talks and champions city initiatives like re-zoning residential apartment building areas to allow for commercial shops and services to open up, encouraging interactive, walkable neighbourhoods. She speaks passionately about the holistic merits of living in a walkable neighbourhood.
“Our bodies were made for walking, and as soon as we designed walking 'out' of our neighbourhoods, we saw our health decline. Without meaning to, we also compromised our sense of community and connectedness to one another,” says Keesmaat.
“Fast forward to today, and young people who grew up in these types of environments want something fundamentally different.”
One could argue that this “fundamentally different” lifestyle is, in fact, a return to a simpler set of values. But old or new, the desire to live in a walkable neighbourhood seems to be much more than a trend. Whether you measure the benefits in a sky-high WalkScore or increased resale potential, it’s a lifestyle choice that can also be measured in benefits to our health.
When we set out to buy our first home in Toronto, these were our two must-haves: a detached home, and one that was within walking distance to necessities (such as groceries, dry cleaner, bank, and public transit). Not intentionally, we bought a home that is 11 doors away from a great school. Fast forward a decade, and see our kids walk to and from school every day and even zipping home for a quiet, home-cooked lunch. Living in a neighbourhood where we can walk everywhere has resulted in a therapeutic lifestyle. Every single day we get to spend time in nature, connect with neighbours (which keeps the street alive and safer) and we get physical activity in nearby parks and ravines. Bottom line? When you live in a walkable neighbourhood, that old cliché about stopping to smell the roses is built into every single outing!