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Walk Score Wonder

Market Updates | June 2, 2021

My beautiful wife, Jolene, is a passionate walker, and always has been. When we met in the fall of 1985, Jo introduced this concept of walking to me: walking for exercise, clearing her head, getting college supplies, and of course, romantic walks around Abbotsford. I personally was never much of a walker, nor did I understand the value of it since I grew up on a farm in Pincher Creek, Alberta where driving was required for everything. Presently, Jo and our dog, Charlie, often clock up to 10 kilometers a day; I like to join them when I can, once or twice on the weekend for a hike or a walk. For us, walking is for fun, health, and well-being. Experts are currently prescribing walking or hiking in the woods as the “green prescription,” aka the non-pharmaceutical therapeutic drug of choice.  

Jo, Charlie, and I have recently been walking even more in the last few weeks; but we have traded our suburb and wide-open spaces walking routes for city walking routes. We have done the opposite of what many others have been doing through this pandemic, which is, move to the suburbs and find some wide-open spaces. Instead, we rented a lane-way home in the amazing walkable neighborhood of Kitsilano. During this time, I have been working remotely from Kits and commuting back to Abbotsford for a couple days a week. The only time we have used the car in the last few weeks is for the commute to Abbotsford, and then for my work in and around the Fraser Valley on those days.

The experience of walking for groceries, going to the gym, enjoying a meal at one of hundreds of restaurants, and feeling part of neighborhood has been amazing. Living in Abbotsford, I never understood the value of being able to walk to everything and the value of a Walk Score. This new-found experience got me thinking about the value of a Walk Score, so I checked out my personal residence score at www.walkscore.com. My Abbotsford home Walk Score is a horrible 1, transit was a low 24 score, and the bikeable score was 4. I guess that make sense seeing as I live on a mountain and the amenities that help produce a strong walk score are walkable dining/drinking, groceries, retail, errands, schools, parks, and culture and entertainment. Maybe the powers to be will add a couple of other scores for the outdoor people: hikeable or billy goat scores!  

Anyways, this has certainly made me appreciate the Walk Score in a whole new way. The Kits neighborhood that we are staying in has a Walk Score of 90, a transit score of 72, and a bikeable score of 94. Downtown Vancouver has an even more amazing Walk Score of 97, transit at 99, and bikeable score of 82. By the way, the overall Walk Score for Vancouver is 80, which is the best in Canada, followed by Montreal at 65, and Toronto at 61. For comparisons sake, New York is the best in North America at 88, followed by San Francisco at 87. Scores are typically seen as “good” if the number is 70 or above. A 90 or above is considered a “walkers paradise.” This means that no car is needed and most daily errands or activities can be accomplished on foot.

The saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” is so true! I had no idea how valuable the Walk Score was until I spent time in a walkable community. Experiencing the benefits of a great Walk Score made me investigate the real benefits, even though I knew these benefits from a conceptual and textbook standpoint. However, now I was living them out in Kits and I could fully understand the value.

So, what does this mean for a real estate investor, homeowner, and developer? Why does it matter?

1. The Environmentally Friendly Factor

People looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint can start by moving to a city or neighborhood with a high walkability score. The City of Abbotsford recently introduced a new OCP (Official Community Plan) that is all about densification and creating a more walkable city; literally, improving Walk Scores and requiring less driving which directly translates to less CO2 emissions.

2. Overall Health and Wellness

Studies show that people who live in neighborhoods with a high walkability score weigh six to ten pounds less than those who do not. A higher Walk Score also influences the amount of time a resident spends in their community. A study by Sightline Institute found a person’s community participation dropped by 10% for every 10 minutes spent in a car during his or her daily commute.

3. Fewer Expenses

CEOs for Cities published a study that found a higher Walk Score decreased automotive-related expenses and increased property value. Driving less directly correlates to less money spent on gas, lower insurance rates, less maintenance, and, depending on where you live, possibly giving up a vehicle all together.

4. Property Values

A Walk Score study done by Sheharyar Bokhari in 2016 on US metro cities brought some interesting insight to the monetary value of a Walk Score. Bokhari’s findings stated that not all Walk Score points create equal value. An increase in Walk Score from 19 to 20 resulted in a home price increase of about $181 on average across the metros. On the other hand, moving from a location with a Walk Score of 79 to that with a score of 80 resulted in a home price increase of over $7,000.

The results differed by metro area as well. For example, a change in Walk Score from 60 to 80 in San Francisco increased a comparable home’s value by $187,630, but in Phoenix, the increased walkability only adds $15,700. The price premiums accelerate even more as the Walk Score gets closer to 100, implying high demand relative to supply for homes in high scoring city areas. The overall price impact as a percentage of the median home price in a metro was 22 times greater in San Francisco than in Orange County.

These premiums show that people pay more for homes in areas with a high Walk Score, even when adjusting for other factors. With this in mind, policy makers, real estate developers, and investors can do two things. First, they can work to build more homes in areas with high Walk Score ratings, thereby increasing the supply of homes and giving more people an opportunity to live in these areas. Second, they can work to increase the Walk Score of city areas, thereby bringing walkability to the places people already live.

Jo, Charlie, and I now have a much better idea of what a strong Walk Score can do for ourselves and the community. We have been loving that we are being more environmentally friendly. We feel healthier; however, we are not sure about the six to ten pounds of weight loss at this time. And we are certainly spending less time in our vehicle and, in turn, we have less car and maintenance expenses. The one downside? Real estate in the high Walk Score neighbourhood of Kitsilano is a lot pricier than in Abbotsford. 

Speaking of the price of homes in Kitsilano. Both the Vancouver and Fraser Valley markets continue to be in a strong Sellers’ market. The froth has certainly come off the top of the market. However, most “A” properties are still selling at a blistering pace and record prices due to low inventory and multiple offers. As we move into “B” properties, we are seeing fewer multiple offers and properties that need to be priced for the market vs a market that is reaching for a new record prices. 

STR (Sell Through Rate) stats are showing the high-end markets, like West Vancouver and Vancouver West detached, are in a Buyers’ to Balanced market. Most other markets throughout Vancouver and the Fraser Valley experienced another strong month for Sellers, especially in the strata developments. However, Buyers are now enjoying more inventory to view and less competing offers for the home they are hoping to make their forever home. I am not sure that really exists, but buyers often say that.

The 30% increase in the Fraser Valley detached market over the last year has forced many of the wannabe detached buyers to townhomes and/or condos as their first or second home purchase. This is one of the reasons for the push on strata properties. The new stress test rules took effect June 1st and this will reduce the borrowing power by approximately 5%. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the market through June and July. Summer is upon us, go out and enjoy it. 

Please reach out to our team for more information or help with all your real estate needs.

Click Below To See The Fraser Valley Stats:

Fraser Valley STR Stats

Click Below To See The Vancouver Stats:

Vancouver STR Stats

STR (Sell Through Rate) Formula = Sales ÷ Active Listings + Failed Listings + Sales

Randy Dyck
Personal Real Estate Corporation
604-807-4366 or randy@eximus.com