What Home Buyers Are Looking For

Home buyers still favor housing attributes that favor the suburbs

Source: “Housing in the Evolving American Suburb.” Home buyers still show strongest preference for housing attributes associated with suburban living.

For all the talk of urban renaissance in cities across Virginia and the United States, first-time home buyers¬†find that new or existing suburban homes offer the best match for their preferences and budget, reports the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in a new study, “Housing in the Evolving American Suburb.”

While American’s urban cores are experiencing investment and population growth after decades of disinvestment and flight, the action is still in the suburbs because that’s where most of the developed land is. And, while members of the Millennial generation may value walkability and access to public transit more than previous generations, they still put the highest value on square footage, larger lots, and access to good schools and public services.

Nevertheless, there is likely a deficit of walkable urbanism compared to the demand for it, and that scarcity creates a premium for houses in walkable neighborhoods, the study argues.

In the coming years, efforts will likely continue to make at least some suburban areas more urban, with walkability to restaurants, stores, and other conveniences, combined where possible with access to good transit. Some of that development will be close to existing urban areas, and some will be close to existing or newly built mixed-use modes that include restaurants and stores. Some of the suburban¬†development will deliver a more urban experience for a wider range of households. … Many large master-planned communities are including urban town centers as a component of their development.

Bacon’s bottom line: So, the race is on in metropolitan regions like Richmond. Who can move faster to attract affluent households that pay the most in taxes and enjoy the greatest ability to live where they want — the City of Richmond or the suburban counties? The city has the walkable neighborhoods, proximity to cultural amenities, and access to mass transit. But the counties have larger lots and houses, lower taxes, and access to better public schools.

Both cities and counties in Virginia have the potential to offer the best of both worlds. The City of Richmond could gain an enormous competitive advantage if it could improve the quality of its public schools. Sadly, that seems to be an intractable task. Conversely, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties could gain a competitive advantage by zoning for walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. Although the counties have allowed islands of walkable urbanism to take root, the pace of change is glacially slow.

Both urban and suburban jurisdictions face institutional rigidities that prevent them from achieving maximum potential in the early 21st century. What a shame.

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One response to “What Home Buyers Are Looking For

  1. I think the entire concept of owned-home and where it is is changing due to the fact that less and less employment is going to be with one company for an entire career unless you’re working for the “government” – which is more true in the DC area than other urban areas with a smaller govt presence.

    What does that mean in terms of WHERE you might buy a house?

    Any pretense that it would be a place where one could live, work, play and shop with little reliance on a car is a pipe dream.

    Anyone who buys a home these days and even more so if they have kids in school – is fully prepared that may have to commute… especially if where they work – changes and that commute gets longer. The “safe” locale is beltway.

    In Spotsylvania, a bedroom community of 135,000 50 miles south of DC/NoVa – the years of furious “affordable” cookie-cutter subdivision building has slowed …first due to the recession and now due to changing demographics and related trends.

    Two years ago – VRE commuter rail put a rail station in the county (south of Fredericksburg) – and instead of a resurgence of subdivisions – what we have seen is .. thousands of apartments… and town-houses.

    The developers are telling us that’s “where” the market is now. That, entry-level govt workers – are choosing more affordable apartments in safer places whereas in NoVa – more “affordable” often means in less savory locations… but it also puts them near where they will likely want to buy later on.

    a robust secondary market is upscale apartments (and patio/tiny lot homes) for empty-nester types who are fleeing the frenzy and road rage of NoVa for calmer living but still close to where their kids and grandkids are.

    I-95 is being turned into a fast-tracked 50-mile congestion-priced toll road from the Rappahannock River all the way to DC.

    There are dozens of existing and planned park&ride lots with buses and vans in great abundance..

    so down our way – it’s less about home buying and more about apartment-renting these days…

    I’m sure folks “mileage” differs in Richmond and other places.

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