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January 23. 2014 10:25PM

Real Estate Corner: Survey says people prefer pedestrian-friendly communities

For Americans, it’s all about the neighborhoods.

Americans made two things very clear in the latest biennial Community Preference Survey by the National Association of Realtors: They want to live in walkable neighborhoods, and they care more about neighborhood than house size when deciding where to live.

Given the focus on neighborhood, the question becomes what kind of neighborhood do people prefer most?

According to the survey, it’s a suburban neighborhood with a mix of houses, shops and businesses. The kind of neighborhood they prefer least? A suburban neighborhood with houses only.

Those findings are among several survey results that show an affinity for mixed-use, walkability, compact development and other characteristics of smart growth. The 2013 survey of 1,500 people was conducted for NAR by American Strategies in conjunction with Myers Research and Strategic Services.

The number of people who preferred a mixed-use suburban neighborhood was nearly double the next leading choice of a rural area and nearly triple the number who preferred a suburban neighborhood with houses only.

The total responses for a preferred location to live were: suburban with a mix of uses, 30 percent; rural area, 16 percent; city near a mix of offices, apartments and shops, 15 percent; small town, 14 percent; and city mostly residential, 13 percent.

A detached single-family home was the preferred housing choice of 76 percent. More than half — 52 percent — preferred a detached single-family home with a big yard while 24 percent preferred a detached single-family home with a small yard.

But the preference for large lots versus compact development does not appear to be set in stone.

Most people said they would trade a big yard for a small yard if it meant living in a community where they would have a shorter commute to work (57 percent), could walk to schools, stores and restaurants instead of needing to drive (55 percent) or could walk to parks, playgrounds and recreation areas instead of needing to drive (53 percent).

Most (57 percent) would not, however, trade a detached single-family home for an apartment or townhome even if the apartment or townhome offered a short commute and was within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

If housing type is stripped from the equation, 60 percent preferred a neighborhood with a mix of houses, stores and other businesses within easy walking distance versus a neighborhood with houses only where they would have to drive to stores and other businesses.

People also put a high priority on walkability when they were asked to indicate the importance of 19 neighborhood characteristics when deciding where to live.

Sidewalks and places to walk were rated either very important or somewhat important by 80 percent of survey participants. High-quality public schools (rated very important/ somewhat important by 74 percent) came next, but was followed by being within easy walking distance of other places and things in the community (rated very important/somewhat important by 69 percent).

When asked to choose between a smart growth community and a traditional suburban community, 50 percent favored the smart growth community compared to 45 percent for the traditional suburban community (5 percent did not answer).

The smart growth community was defined as a place with a mix of housing types where schools, stores and services are within walking distance and there is nearby public transportation. The traditional suburban community was defined as a place with single-family homes only, where people need to drive to schools, businesses and services and public transportation is either distant or unavailable.

Being able to walk to schools, stores and services was the most appealing characteristic of the smart growth community for 64 percent of the people who preferred the smart growth community. It was also the most appealing characteristic of the smart growth community for 54 percent of those who preferred traditional suburban development.

This information is provided by the New Hampshire Association of Realtors and the New Hampshire Union Leader’s Advertising Department. If you have question, call 225-5549 or email Dave Cummings at dave@nhar.com.

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