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California Real Estate March/April 2013 : Page 14

Mr. Rogers Had It Right I Neighborhood Is the Most Important Thing By Cathie Ericson Walk Scores Rising A new dimension that is increasingly factoring into clients’ defi nition of neighborhood is “walkability.” Not only has walkability proven to have health and community benefi ts, it also increases home value. A recent study by a group called CEOs for Cities found that one walk score point can increase the value of a home by $700 to $3,000. San Diego REALTOR ® Kimberly Platt with Willis Allen Real Estate is defi nitely seeing this trend. “With today’s em-phasis on healthy and sustainable lifestyles, buyers of all ages and demographics are interested in the MLS ‘walk score.’ This number between one and 100 denotes whether ameni-ties are within walkable distance of the address.” Long Beach REALTOR ® David Montgomery of Main Street REALTORS ® concurs that walkability has vaulted up the scale in importance. “People are looking for convenience for the post offi ce, the grocery store and schools.” Schools Rule Schools have long been an important factor for families buy-ing a home, and if you can walk to the school, even better. Mont-gomery works primarily with fi rst-time home buyers, many of whom are young families. As such, he’s become an expert on local schools and helps his clients sort through their choices. But many clients aren’t just eyeing the elementary school. Some buyers are thinking more long-term. Susan Walker, who is currently renting in Belmont Shore, gives excellent marks to the elementary and middle school her daughters, ages fi ve and eight, would attend, but frets about the high school. “I know I’m being really particular but…we want to establish ourselves with our neighbors and the schools, to put down roots and become part of the neighborhood.” n C.A.R.’s 2012 Home Buyers Survey, “neighborhood” was identifi ed by nearly half the respondents as the number one factor in choosing a new home. • Even bargain hunting took a back seat, with “good price” chosen by only 29 percent. Thirteen percent cited home features, and nine percent gave the nod to a combination of home features and neighbor-hood. • But how do buyers defi ne “neighborhood” and how can REALTORS ® ensure they fi nd the right one for their clients? 14 CALIFORNIA REAL ESTAT E • M A R CH/APRI L 2013 Illustrated by Justin Gabbard

Mr. Rogers Had It Right

Cathie Ericson

In C.A.R.’s 2012 Home Buyers Survey, “neighborhood” was identified by nearly half the respondents as the number one factor in choosing a new home. • Even bargain hunting took a back seat, with “good price” chosen by only 29 percent. Thirteen percent cited home features, and nine percent gave the nod to a combination of home features and neighborhood. • But how do buyers define “neighborhood” and how can REALTORS® ensure they find the right one for their clients?<br /> <br /> Walk Scores Rising <br /> <br /> A new dimension that is increasingly factoring into clients’ definition of neighborhood is “walkability.” Not only has walkability proven to have health and community benefits, it also increases home value. A recent study by a group called CEOs for Cities found that one walk score point can increase the value of a home by $700 to $3,000.<br /> <br /> San Diego REALTOR® Kimberly Platt with Willis Allen Real Estate is definitely seeing this trend. “With today’s emphasis on healthy and sustainable lifestyles, buyers of all ages and demographics are interested in the MLS ‘walk score.’ This number between one and 100 denotes whether amenities are within walkable distance of the address.”<br /> <br /> Long Beach REALTOR® David Montgomery of Main Street REALTORS® concurs that walkability has vaulted up the scale in importance. “People are looking for convenience for the post office, the grocery store and schools.”<br /> <br /> Schools Rule <br /> <br /> Schools have long been an important factor for families buying a home, and if you can walk to the school, even better. Montgomery works primarily with first-time home buyers, many of whom are young families. As such, he’s become an expert on local schools and helps his clients sort through their choices.<br /> <br /> But many clients aren’t just eyeing the elementary school. Some buyers are thinking more long-term. Susan Walker, who is currently renting in Belmont Shore, gives excellent marks to the elementary and middle school her daughters, ages five and eight, would attend, but frets about the high school. “I know I’m being really particular but…we want to establish ourselves with our neighbors and the schools, to put down roots and become part of the neighborhood.”<br /> <br /> She says that since inventory in her price range is relatively slim right now, the family is biding their time. “We don’t intend to rush into anything. We’ll wait for the right schools in the right neighborhood.”<br /> <br /> Brett Bocook and his wife Laura, who have been looking in Palo Alto, know that the better school districts come with a higher price tag, but Bocook asserts that the higher price is not only justified, but makes economic sense.<br /> <br /> “Yes, the house costs more in a neighborhood with amazing schools, but does it really? If you run the numbers on private school for two kids, you very quickly realize that you can afford a larger monthly mortgage payment in exchange for a good school district.” <br /> <br /> New Vs. Old <br /> <br /> Besides safety, schools and walkability, which score high on almost every client’s “wish list” for an ideal neighborhood, clients all have their own individual circumstances, which further dictate their needs.<br /> <br /> Sue Rubin of Empire Realty Associates, who specializes in Danville in the East Bay area, says that her town scores high on these three neighborhood must-haves by default. So for her clients, it’s primarily about choosing between “newer” and “more established.” <br /> <br /> “Some want the community aspect of the newer areas that have clubs and pools. But others rebel against communities with HOAs and the associated dues and rules. ‘Don’t tell me what color to paint my house!’ is what I hear from them.” <br /> <br /> ‘Hood Over House <br /> <br /> Neighborhood has become so important that many clients will choose it over the home itself.<br /> <br /> “They might go with a bath or kitchen that will eventually need to be updated, or decide that they can forgo a pool and add it later,” Platt said. “The trade-off is worth it to be in the right neighborhood.”<br /> <br /> Montgomery’s key piece of advice for his clients: “Buy the neighborhood, not the home. You can’t change the location but you can change the house.” <br /> <br /> Adding Value <br /> <br /> So as a REALTOR®, how do you suss out what’s most important in the neighborhood game?<br /> <br /> Rubin says it’s all about the initial interview. “I ask them what feels right: an older, more established neighborhood or somewhere newer? Is your commute important? Does it need to be gated or close to transportation? You have to home in on what they are looking for, and then use your experience and knowledge of the market to show them the pockets that meet these needs.” <br /> <br /> Over and over, REALTORS® concur that is what makes them worth their weight in gold.<br /> <br /> Bocook finds his REALTOR®’s market knowledge invaluable, especially for the submarkets of a larger suburb, such as Palo Alto.<br /> <br /> “Even if a whole area is appreciating, local REALTORS® know which areas are appreciating even more than others, and which will hold their value.” <br /> <br /> Montgomery describes Long Beach as a challenging area because it is so large and diverse. “It can literally vary from block to block with million dollar homes near less desirable areas,” he says.<br /> <br /> A long-time resident, he has his favorite neighborhoods and can articulate their benefits to clients. Since he works with many relocating clients, who are not familiar with the area, his intimate knowledge is invaluable.<br /> <br /> “They rely on me to steer them to neighborhoods that meet their needs.” <br /> <br /> Promoting and Connecting <br /> <br /> Rubin has gone a step further in promoting her neighborhood knowledge. To help showcase the community spirit, camaraderie and amenities of her corner of Danville, she created a two-minute video on her website highlighting what the neighborhood offers.<br /> <br /> Some REALTORS® integrate “neighborhood” into their social media campaigns, sharing photos of neighborhood hangouts on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, tweeting about community events, following local businesses on Twitter and LinkedIn.<br /> <br /> Others develop neighborhood groups where locals can join and do things such as discuss neighborhood problems, post personal items for sale, and help each other find lost dogs. (For more on starting a neighborhood group, see the March/April 2012 issue of CRE online.)<br /> <br /> Being a neighborhood expert helps sell homes, and Rubin knows that she is most successful when servicing her clients in the areas she knows best.<br /> <br /> “In fact, if it’s an area I don’t know that well, I will refer them. For example, the hills of Orinda are a really unique area and so I will refer to one of my counterparts who knows it well, and they do the same for me. At the end of the day, it’s about putting the client first—making sure they end up satisfied.” <br /> <br /> And if you think about it—looking out for the needs of others, helping out, providing guidance—aren’t these the same qualities that make a good neighbor?<br /> <br /> Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer, who contributes to magazines and blogs on topics ranging from business to family. Follow her @CathieEricson.

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