Boston homebuyers opting for walkable locations

Boston homebuyers opting for walkable locations

If you’ve ever experienced rush hour on Boston’s beltway, you can understand why homebuyers there are gladly paying a little more for locations that cut down on auto commutes. Homes in walkable neighborhoods and near mass transit stops are selling for a premium in Beantown.

An American Public Transportation Association (APTA) study released in March found that home values near public transportation outperformed other housing in Boston by 129 percent during the most recent recession. That trend is only going to continue, says Darnell Grisby, APTA’s chief researcher. “Millenials have a tendency to like communities that are more walkable,” Grisby says.

Although the original "walkable communities" are the historic neighborhoods in the heart of Boston or Cambridge, those stately old homes tend to be out of reach for most homebuyers, whereas other buyers simply don't want the responsibility of maintaining a 300-year-old house. Whether you want sidewalk, the ability to walk to the grocery store or just an easier commute to work, Boston's extensive subway lines, walkable suburbs and commuter rail provide lots of choices.

Red Line is the Gold Standard

When clients come into Deb Agliano’s Re/MAX office in Medford, they often put T subway access near the top of their homebuying wish list. Bus access is fine, but it’s the subway they covet, she says. “Being able to walk to the bus stop is not as valuable as being able to walk to the T itself,” says Agliano, a 2012 Angie's List Super Service Award Winner.

Some of the most sought-after housing in the Boston area is located an easy walk of the T’s Red Line, which pulses like an artery stretching from the heart of the city to Arlington’s border. Each stop along the Red Line is experiencing its own boom. Davis Square in Somerville, for example, has transformed from a sleepy collection of shops to Boston’s hottest restaurant scene.

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Urban bike paths like this one in Boston make the surrounding real estate more desirable, Realtors say.  (Photo by Craig Idlebrook)
Urban bike paths like this one in Boston make the surrounding real estate more desirable, Realtors say. (Photo by Craig Idlebrook)
Access to bike and walking paths is highly valued, Boston real estate agents say. (Photo by Craig Idlebrook)

“Davis Square was nothing until the Red Line came in,” Agliano says.

Housing next to the Red Line tends to be expensive, and sometimes only condos and apartments are available. But if buyers are willing to walk, she says, you can still find deals that connect to the Red Line. For example, housing in Medford that’s less than a mile from Davis Square is still affordable.

Housing near the Green Line is also sought-after and more plentiful, as this line’s branches extend like fingers throughout the Boston area. Right now, homebuyers are looking to buy along the Green Line in Coolidge Corner and Cleveland Circle because they offer some of the best MBTA access, says highly rated realtor Eric Glassoff in Brookline.

The knock on the Green Line is that it often runs above ground and moves slower. Still, it has a far greater reach than the Red Line, and it offers more options for housing. It reaches into some of the best school systems in the Boston area, including Newton, says Judy Moses of Pathway Home Realty in Newton. In fact, Moses — who has earned high marks from Angie's List members in Boston — says when people do move away from the other subway lines the reason is usually schools.

“A lot of people sell the condos in the South End and move out to Newton,” she says.

Moving Out, Staying Connected

As families grow up, their housing needs change, Moses says. Many begin to look north and west to tap into good school systems and make their homebuying dollars stretch further. A growing number of families are buying homes near the MBTA commuter rail to reap the best of suburban living while still staying connected to jobs in Boston and Burlington. What the commuter rail lacks in speed it can make up for in relative comfort.

“The T is probably overburdened…a lot of people end up driving because you’re going to be a sardine,” Moses says. ”The commuter rail is a little more comfortable than the T.”

Some communities that are farther away from T arteries offer their own advantages, says highly rated Realtor Katya Pitts of Re/MAX in Arlington. Many outer communities have developed squares that rival Davis Square, and others offer access to good biking and green space. One of the main reasons Pitts and her family chose to settle in Arlington was because of the Minuteman Bikeway that stretches from Somerville to Bedford. The picturesque 11-mile path connects the hearts of five communities and makes pedal-powered commuting a pleasurable experience, she says. The walkability and bike-ability of places like Arlington and Lexington ensure home values will stay strong even during bad economic times, according to Pitts.

“Those markets never go down,” she says.

Murky Future

Nationally, public transit options will continue to expand, says Grisby of the APTA. According to association figures, 79 percent of proposed public transit projects get the green light from voters. But even though Boston is ranked in the Top 5 among walkable cities by walkscore.com, T access isn’t going to expand rapidly. Due to a legislative sleight-of-hand, the MBTA system was saddled with pension problems and debt from the Big Dig. The transit system is wrestling with a large deficit, and that’s meant cutbacks in bus service, price hikes and a slowing of long-promised expansion of the Green Line. Some have given up hope of the long-delayed expansion, according to Pitt. “The discussion has been going on for years. We’re not talking about one or two, we’re talking about 10,” says Pitts.

That means homebuyers will have to look at the existing MBTA map to make their homebuying plans. Luckily, that map shows a network of viable options for leaving the car at home.


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