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Within walking distance

Realtors confirm buyers want to use their feet way more than their cars

Silicon Valley residents prefer walking to places where they need to go regularly. Real estate agents have noticed that walkability is now a factor homebuyers seriously consider. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto resident Shana Mori loves living less than a block away from Briones Park, but wishes she could walk to a supermarket as well, she said.

"It's really great that we are just a short walk from the park. I can take my children there any time," said Mori. "This is a wonderful neighborhood. My only complaint is that I have to drive for grocery shopping."

Mori is not alone. Annoyed by increasing traffic congestion, more and more Silicon Valley residents prefer walking to places where they need to go regularly. Real estate agents have noticed that walkability is now a factor homebuyers seriously consider.

Ken DeLeon, founder of DeLeon Realty, said the high cost of local real estate makes buyers think of the appreciation aspect even when purchasing their dream homes, and walkability is definitely a variable in that regard.

"As the leader of the DeLeon Realty buyers team, I am continually forecasting which variables will increase in value over time as these projections help clients make informed investing decisions," said DeLeon. "One of the variables that is currently very valued by buyers but will continue to climb in demand is walkability to shops, parks and restaurants."

The trend of desiring more homes close to transit hubs and shopping districts has already accelerated the appreciation of home prices in cities and neighborhoods that have good walkability versus remote areas that do not, according to DeLeon.

"While other factors are also at play, this increasing value of walkability has played a starring role in Palo Alto appreciating 187.5 percent over the last 17 years versus Woodside that has only appreciated 43.1 percent during that same period," DeLeon said. On the Midpeninsula, Menlo Park is ranked second behind Palo Alto, with a growth rate of 149.1 percent in the past 17 years.

The attraction of walkability is related to the way local high-tech companies hire employees from big cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston and Austin as well as new immigrants from London, Mumbai and Shanghai, DeLeon said.

"As more and more Silicon Valley transplants hail from large technology centers both domestically and internationally, these buyers had walkability from their previous hometown. These new buyers are used to and seek proximity to urban amenities within their quiet neighborhoods," he said.

Certified relocation specialist Shelly Potvin said she often hears "we want to live near a downtown" during her first meeting with a client.

"There is a feeling of being part of a community when one can walk to a downtown, or center, from their home, and it's not just being close to Starbucks, although that is a common request. My clients will often forgo lot size and home square footage to be close to downtown Los Altos, specifically in the so-called Old Los Altos," Potvin said.

Sophie Tsang, an agent with Alain Pinel Realtors in Palo Alto, pointed out why walkability is particularly important to younger home buyers.

"A lot of them don't own cars," Tsang said. "They walk or bike to everything, and if they do need a ride, they use Lyft or Uber. There is a sense of freedom. And when traffic and parking are issues, walking or biking usually takes less time. And if they don't cook, being able to walk to dinner is a major plus."

Many home buyers may not be aware of Walk Score, an online service that can determine how walkable an address is, but they may use other means to find out about the walkability of a home they are interested in, Tsang said.

"I had a client who would Google Map a property to his work during rush hours. If it takes more than 15 minutes, he's not interested in the property. If there is a suitable home that he can buy within walking distance to work, he will buy it. One can imagine the same person is probably mapping where the nearest grocery stores, Starbucks, restaurants and dry cleaners are," she said.

Older home buyers also desire walkability, according to Tsang.

"They want to be able to not rely on driving, because what if they don't have a ride, or one day they can't drive. They would like a decent place, which doesn't need to be big but is within short walks to all services," she said.

Even though families with young children would prefer a quiet street, a large yard, and some distance from grocery stores, they don't want to live too far from everything, Tsang said.

Tsang gave an example of a multi-generational family with two young children, a live-in nanny and one set of grandparents in search of a home.

"When they realized how close the property is to a downtown, the grandparents were especially excited. Everything is within walking distance. This particular factor makes the house very attractive. Even though the house is smaller than they'd like, with more updates needed than they'd like, it's something they would consider," she said.

The website WalkScore.com has taken "walkability" to an algorithmic level. A subsidiary of Redfin, Walk Score "scores" properties on a 0-100 scale with the lowest range, 0 to 24, meaning "almost all errands require a car," and the highest range, 90 to 100, meaning "daily errands do not require a car."

Palo Alto's average Walk Score is 58, or "somewhat walkable." Its most walkable neighborhoods are University South and Evergreen Park with scores of 86 each, and Downtown North with a score of 85.

Crystal Tai is a freelance writer for the Palo Alto Weekly. She can be emailed at crystal2@stanfordalumni.org.

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26 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2017 at 12:25 pm

A few years ago, the county removed several crosswalks across Oregon Expressway and changed the timing on traffic lights to make it much longer and slower to walk between Midtown and the California Ave train station and business district. The city needs to look hard at where residents want to walk to, then make the routes more direct, more efficient, and safer. California Ave businesses complain about decreased foot traffic in recent years. One easy way to fix that is to make it easier to walk there from Midtown.

32 people like this
Posted by The Problem is the Pro-Growth City Council
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Our ultra-pro-growth council members have been undermining walkablity in Palo Alto by allowing all sorts of corporations to take over what should be community-serving locations.

One of my favorite Downtown restaurants is now a software company. There's the phony bakery at Midtown that is actually a front for corporate offices. Inhabiture was a nice store whose building was torn down so a venture capital firm and a couple of luxury condos could be added. The remaining retail space now is smaller – and vacant. Where the wonderful store Diddams used be be has been taken over by the Institute for the Future, which is not even legal in that location. Local-serving professionals were kicked out of the Bank of America building being torn down on El Camino and the replacement will likely house a technology company. The same thing is happening to health professionals and attorneys being kicked out of 550 Hamilton.

Please post more examples you know of.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Perhaps it is less to do with their desire to walk everywhere and more their foreknowledge about traffic and parking issues!

14 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Sep 7, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Laundromat next to 7-11, now offices.

Rudy's Pub at 117 University Ave, now offices.

10 people like this
Posted by Ralph
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:19 pm

No one goes to University Ave, or Cal Ave, or Midtown, or anywhere else in any city to look at, or shop in, or eat at, or anything else for that matter, when those formerly vibrant retail locations have been converted into office space, no one. Until city 'leaders' really understand that, quality of life in PA will decline.

15 people like this
Posted by Citizen Initiatives, anyone?
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Interesting that they use the neighborhood near Briones as an example. The area has several schools, including Briones, Terman, and Gunn, Bowman, Keys Middle School, all within easy walking distance. The bike path that runs to Los Atos downtown in one direction and Stanford in another, runs through here.

And yet, the Council has been so busy RUINING our walkability to adjacent amenities for years, this area is now seen as not walkable. The bowling alley is gone, so there are no spaces for youth with "adjacency", despite all the schools and the supposed commitment to youth. The Cal Ave businesses have been decimated - Keeble and Shuchat, the Art store, the thrift store, Village Stationers, Blossom Birth, etc. Now there are more gyms to serve the influx of day workers. Cal Ave could be reached by walking or biking on the bike path or a short easy drive, but no more. The Arastradero project was billed as improving walkability but did nothing at all to even make sidewalks less if the single-file obstacle courses they are. Wide, obstacle-free sidewalks or other oathways for walking are kind of a requisite feature of walkability. Try taking a stroll up and down Arastradero while carrying on a conversation. Good luck, it doesn't work so well with loud relentless traffic and single file, looking constantly for significant hazards.

Since the Council wants people out of their cars, and wants downtown to be converted to a tech research park, and since there are so many schools here (with depressed kids who need places to go on their own, I have been saying this for years), we need more real life retail, more open soace, more civic amenities, that don't require crossing railroad tracks plus El Camino and Alma with almost unwalkable paths. This would not be considered "adjacent" if we were proposing anything for seniors. I seem to remember the City mocking Maybell neighbors for concerns that seniors would have to walk into the middle of the street midblock to get to Walgreens - AS PEOPLE STILL FREQUENTLY DO.

The Council is bought and paid for by developers as we saw in the campaign finance disclosure shenanigans in the last election. They will never pay more than lipservice to walkability except to throw more green thermoplastic paint on the problem. If residents want walkability, they will have to start being proactive and demanding the City prioritize them instead of the transfer of our common spaces that the public built to big corporation takeover. They will have to demand that the initiatives to help our youth are real and ho,istic, not just a way for Council to continue to ignore the negative consequences of overdevelopment.

I walk to Los Altos now. Do they need two high schools? We should just secede and join them. When residents have complaints here, the City puts surveillance cameras in the neighbirhood unannounced instead of engaging with neighbors.

7 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2017 at 2:34 pm

I grew up here and used to go downtown all the time - like every day.

I never realized how central the Varsity Theater and Borders and other
theaters and bookstores, and "reasonably" priced places to eat were to
my downtown visits. Now most of the time I go downtown is to see a
movie at the Stanford I have not seen before or to find what I need at the
Apple Store.

There are few movies I am interested in that I have not seen two or more
times at the Stanford, and the hearing damaging cacophonous Apple story
is not exactly a comfortable place to hang out.

The people in downtown Palo Alto these days are not the friendly
polite people I remember, they look like aloof shoppers in a box store for
all they care to observe politeness or social convention. These days the
most polite people downtown Palo Alto are the homeless who at least say
"God bless, have a good day" when you fail to give them money or walk
by them.

I do visit the Post Office now and again, and thank goodness for the great
food at Gyros, Gyros! There is still a heartbeat, fading fast, in downtown.

Is there a law or regulation that puts people last in terms of consideration
in this town that I missed?

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Are retail businesses abandoning Palo Alto because (1) greedy landlords raising rents so high that retail is no longer profitable, (2) Amazon customers demanding lower retail prices, or (3) tech companies moving in?

3 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2017 at 6:44 pm

Funny how PR for a commercial "rating" such as WalkScore suddenly has full authority. I suggest taking with a grain of salt. Yes real estate agents love to promote things.

5 people like this
Posted by Onlinr Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 11, 2017 at 7:38 pm

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that workers here are here to work, not to shop. Since workers now out-number residents 4:1 (and rising) thanks to priorities of the city and the City Council, none of this should be a surprise.

1 person likes this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Less retail = less people = less jobs = less traffic = less parking issues

Was this not the intended goal?

6 people like this
Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 30, 2017 at 7:15 pm

Wow I've been living in Palo Alto most of my life (since 1956) and it seems to me it's JUST FINE for retail and dining both casual and fine, and that all three "business areas" are thriving. Go to any of them-- Cal Ave, University, or Midtown on an early evening and they're bustling with life and activity. Today at 1:30 Cal Ave was so busy it was amazing and fun to see. The Farmer's Markets on Sat. and Sun. are thriving.

I LOVE being able to walk from my home to Cal Ave, for all the restaurant options, for groceries, for mani-pedi, for coffee, for wine, for fitness, etc. etc. Sure some businesses are gone, but that's the nature of the beast, and Cal Ave. continues to be a hub for socializing and getting some needs met. Walkability means a lot to me and Palo Alto's great neighborhoods still have it...

Jeanie at 280 College Avenue, Walk Score of *87* :-)

2 people like this
Posted by So many gone
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 30, 2017 at 11:12 pm

Also gone, the Shell station downtown on Alma, the AAA office on Forest.
Gyros is gone, grocery at Edgewood, pizza restaurant at Edgewood,
the Varsity theater. The stationery store. Hardware store on Cal Av. and so many many more.
Places that made us a livable community.

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