Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Property values and bike paths

Here's an article about how multi-use paths can affect home values, and even provide new ways of looking for a home. Realtors on bikes? Apparently so! (Thanks Maurice!)

Some home buyers' new must-have: a 'bikeable' commute

by Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian
Thursday August 21, 2008, 8:23 PM

Cyclists -- and prospective home buyers -- leave a Northeast 10th Avenue home en route to the next stop on a recent "Tour de Homes" organized by Portland real estate broker Kirsten Kaufman.

Every house on the market has its issues, and the Northeast Portland home that Emily Gardner was touring with broker Kirsten Kaufman is one of those the real estate fliers delicately refer to as "needs TLC."

It's small, smells bad, needs fresh paint everywhere and the electrical system is funky. Filthy carpeting covers the hardwood floors. The basement has a mysterious puddle, and it looks as though squatters kept a diary on a closet wall.

But the street is quiet and the house has a garage tucked under the main floor -- perfect for rolling bikes in and out to the street. From here, Gardner figures, she could whip down Ninth Avenue to Going Street, hop onto the Vancouver-Williams couplet with its comfortable bike lanes, cross the Broadway Bridge and in 15 minutes be at work downtown at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

"It's definitely a trade-off for me," Gardner says, noting that she could afford a "bigger, nicer house farther out."

Realtors notice change
Gardner is among a burgeoning class of prospective homebuyers. In addition to checking price, square footage and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, some now are looking for houses that will allow them to ride a bike to work.

For them, "close to Springwater Trail" replaces "easy freeway access" as a market accolade. In a city that's among the national leaders in percentage of bicycle commuters, real estate brokers have noted the change.

Kaufman, of Prudential Northwest Properties, cultivates buyers who are looking to commute by bike or have the option of hopping on transit and want to walk to stores and services.

She's organized three bicycle tours of available properties, calling them "Tour de Homes." Meeting with about a half-dozen clients at a time, Kaufman has led visits of homes for sale in the Richmond, Sunnyside and Alberta east and northeast neighborhoods.

Besides showing homes, she highlights nearby bike routes, talks about bus, MAX and pedestrian connections, and rides past parks and schools.

"It's a way for people to explore neighborhoods in a way that's different than driving around," Kaufman said. "There's a lot of hype about green real estate right now. You hear about building materials, energy efficiency, solar -- that's all fantastic. But what more green thing can you do than drive less?"

Even Realtors on bikes
Realtor Kria Lacher of Meadows Group in Portland said an increasing number of her clients specify that they want to see "bikeable" properties.

"The other thing is, when I'm hosting my listings, some of the Realtors are coming by bike," she said. "That is new; that is very new. It changes the way you see a neighborhood, too. Your whole body is involved in the process."

Home prices have remained relatively strong in Portland's close-in neighborhoods, which generally have more transit options and better bike path connections than outer suburbs. Median sales prices in North, Northeast, inner Southeast and inner West Portland increased during the past year, according to the July market report issued by the Regional Multiple Listing Service. In most of the metro region, prices dropped.

"There are two significant trends influencing it" said Karl Rohde, public affairs director with Portland's Bicycle Transportation Alliance. "One is high gas prices; people are looking for locations that are less dependent on the automobile. The second one is a growing environmental awareness, the need to do what we can to reduce global warming. People do recognize that reducing automobile use significantly contributes to that effort."

Increasingly, they're doing that by bike. A 2007 city auditor's report showed that bicycle traffic at 31 monitored sites had increased 113 percent since 2000-01. Cyclists make 14,563 daily trips across the Broadway, Burnside, Steel and Hawthorne bridges, according to the auditor's office.

Roger Geller, the city's bicycle coordinator, estimates that 4.5 to 8 percent of Portlanders regularly commute to work by bike. In the central city, as many as 28 percent of commuters use a bike as their primary or secondary mode, Geller said.

Kaufman, the Prudential broker, hasn't yet sold a house she's shown on one of her Tour de Homes. But in June she sold a Clinton Street neighborhood home she had marketed based on its proximity to a bicycle corridor, and last spring sold a house to a couple who moved from Vancouver specifically because the husband wanted to bike to work.

She's sending bike-friendly listings to prospective clients in New York and California.

"There's definitely not a formula," Kaufman said. "When you're looking at a house, there are all sorts of trade-offs you take into consideration. For people who are committed to driving less and using public transportation, it can be a real important factor."

-- Eric Mortenson