With homes, most property characteristics that are attractive to some buyers hold the potential to turn others off. Swimming pools promise exercise and recreation to some, but loom as a dangerous nuisance and maintenance problem to others. Some buyers think gated communities are tony and prestigious, while others find them exclusive and bourgeois. Urban/suburban, condo/single-family home — heck, I’ve even had clients who didn’t want to live in our town’s best school district because they don’t want kids walking on their lawns!

But there’s one home characteristic in my world that lately seems to be unanimously sought after by buyers of all sorts: walkability.

With homes, most property characteristics that are attractive to some buyers hold the potential to turn others off.

Swimming pools promise exercise and recreation to some, but loom as a dangerous nuisance and maintenance problem to others. Some buyers think gated communities are tony and prestigious, while others find them exclusive and bourgeois. Urban/suburban, condo/single-family home — heck, I’ve even had clients who didn’t want to live in our town’s best school district because they don’t want kids walking on their lawns!

But there’s one home characteristic in my world that lately seems to be unanimously sought after by buyers of all sorts: walkability.

I have only ever had people ask to be in a highly walkable location. Perhaps it’s just the nature of my business, but I’ve never had anyone express a distaste at the idea that cute shops or popular parks are within a short stroll away.

Even folks who want places with lots of privacy, views that can only be had from a hilltop or other characteristics that normally go along with remoteness still would have their dream home be in a walkable location, if they had their druthers (although most of them acknowledge the impossibility of this).

Obviously, to be "walkable," a home must be located within some semblance of proximity to stuff people want to walk to. Shops, grocery stores, restaurants, libraries, parks, places of worship — and a mixture of these is ideal. It’s not a selling point that a home is near one without any of the rest, really.

And, of course, "walking distance" means very different things to different people. I have clients who feel like a quarter-mile warrants driving, and others who will walk several miles to their main strip just for fun.

But true walkability has a much more intangible connotation to it, beyond simple distance to amenities. You know, you’ve been through those areas or towns that have districts you might call "stroll-ey/shop-py." They just have a walkable feel to them, right?

Well, the folks over at Walkscore.com have rendered the intangible elements of walkability very tangible with their list of elements that make a neighborhood walkable — I dare you to get through this list without having a "yeeeeah, exactly" moment:

  • The neighborhood has a central district — walkable neighborhoods usually have a main strip.
  • Mixed income and uses — for a neighborhood to be walkable, homes must be near commercial uses, like stores, etc. Ideally, there are also different price points of housing, so neighborhood workers can live within walking distance of their jobs. …CONTINUED

  • Homes are near school, work and public places — walkability is not just recreational, but includes the ability of some residents to walk to school, to work, or to parks and other public places in their downtime — not just places where they have to pay to play.
  • Shops and commercial buildings are close to the street, so pedestrians can walk right in — paradoxically, it’s the large parking lots of suburban big-box stores that push buildings a third of a mile off of the street, making access much tougher for pedestrians. In fact, many walkable neighborhoods are the same ones where parking is a pain.
  • Streets are universally accessible — wheelchair users, cyclists, bus riders are all provided with space, via wide-enough sidewalks, bike lanes and bus shelters, among other things, speed controls are in place to protect non-drivers, and street design allows for many alternative routes to get to the same destination.

Interestingly enough, the walkability factor that lures homebuyers has little or nothing to do with whether the homebuyer-cum-owner will actually ever walk to anything. I myself am guilty of living in a highly walkable area but driving my SUV, alone, to pick up dinner or run to the farmer’s market, primarily because time is of the essence, or I have other, more distant stops to make, or I need the cargo room to bring back the goods.

It’s the ability to walk easily and conveniently that buyers crave, whether or not that vision of a life with lots of walking ever comes to fruition. And that walkability is something a place generally either has or lacks — you can’t really remodel it into your home.

Sellers, now that you know where buyers’ heads are at when it comes to the walkability factor, you can contribute to your home’s marketing by putting together a folder or online video, with your agent’s guidance, with notes and pictures of any lesser-known walkable routes, shortcuts or attractions. The more hidden the walkability, the more powerful your contribution will be.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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