Walkable Neighborhoods

Is a Walkable Neighborhood a ‘Must-Have’ on Your Home Buying List?

If you’re in the market for a new home and haven’t considered the walkability of the community you’re about to buy into, you could be overlooking a crucial point.

Experts say the ability to take a stroll through the area where you live has many benefits: it can make a substantial difference in your health, safety and the overall comfort you enjoy in your new neighborhood — and with rising gas prices, it can also make an impact on your pocketbook too.

What makes a neighborhood ‘walkable’?

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration defines a walkable community as one where it’s easy and safe for people to walk to grocery stores, medical clinics, professional offices, and other services.

But, as a home buyer, how can you reasonably assess the walkability of a new community? One way is with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s walkability checklist, which takes you through a self-guided walking tour of sorts, asking you to assess sidewalk layouts, driver behaviors and even the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

Another way is to do a check on Walk Score, which is run by a Seattle-based company that rates the walkability of locations around the world. The tech company gives a neighborhood a rating between 1 and 100 based on its proximity to nearby amenities (such as grocery stores, restaurants, schools, parks, public transit, etc.).

Here are some “walkable” elements these sources have identified — things you can look for as you tour new neighborhoods and your prospective new home:

Room to walk and bike

The layout of your new neighborhood is important. Pay particular attention to the things beyond a home’s driveway or yard. Are streets designed for walkers and bikers? Do sidewalks offer sufficient space to walk? (There are sidewalks, aren’t there?) Are they in good condition? Walk Score also says a neighborhood “center” is important, whether it’s a main street or a public space, and suggests looking for signs of pedestrian-friendly design (i.e., when retail, grocery and other commercial buildings are set close to the street, with parking lots in back) that make a community more accessible to walkers.

Access to local jobs, schools and services

Walk Score says a walkable neighborhood is one where schools and jobs are close enough that most residents can walk to them from their homes. Also important is the ease of access to shops and entertainment facilities, which, if you need the extra incentive, is something that a 2012 Gallup poll has found to correlate with happiness and quality of life.

Quality of driver behaviors

Another important aspect to consider is how drivers behave on the road at different times of the day and night, according to the NHTSA, especially during heavy commute times. Do drivers obey traffic regulations such as posted speed limits, stop signs and crosswalk right-of-way laws? Also, consider visiting the local police department and asking a traffic officer about areas that may be a concern for pedestrians, particularly those with limited mobility or children walking to and from school.

Access to parks and public spaces

Are there plenty of public spaces to gather and play? Since getting outside can be beneficial to all members of your family, look for opportunities to engage in your favorite physical activities. If you enjoy bicycling, take a look at the width of roads in the area; see if there’s a bike club that rides together for safety and fun. Also, for both children and parents, look for parks that offer sports programs like baseball and softball leagues.

Making walkability a priority in your home buying search can really pay off: The enjoyment of walking back to your new house after a fun, healthy community activity can be just the “Welcome Home” you need.

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