Urban Living Makes a Comeback!

by Dan Krell

As the real estate market struggles to find a foothold, many are already speculating on the next real estate boom. The next real estate boom will not be as widespread nor will it be all inclusive as the last market surge; however, some speculate that it will be a highly competitive market nonetheless. The next wave in real estate will be localized to the downtown districts and surrounding neighborhoods of urban centers as a result of the (seemingly) ever increasing fuel and commuting costs.

A 1998 Brookings Institute and Fannie Mae study projected that urban living will attract more residences to the downtown areas. The study projected growth through 2010 in twenty-four cities around the country and used a very conservative definition of downtown (usually the financial districts) and did not include the surrounding neighborhoods. It was projected that some cities will have modest growth while other cities will have explosive growth (Baltimore’s downtown population was projected to increase 5.8%, while Cleveland’s downtown population was projected to increase 228.1%).

The economics of energy is not only affecting grains and food prices, it is influencing real estate trends as well. The recent sharp increase in gas prices and road congestion are making many re-think their home location. Suburban home owners as well as home buyers are looking to move closer to their jobs and save possibly thousands of dollars per year. A National Association of Realtors study reported that 28% of home owners surveyed indicated that high fuel costs were a decision to sell their home, while 40% of home buyers surveyed indicated that high fuel and commuting costs offset the higher home prices closer to the city center. Based on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority cost calculator (WMATA.com), eliminating a drive of 15 miles round trip can save over $500 per month or $6,000 per year (the figure is based on the GSA reimbursement rate).

Not everyone who is moving “inward” is doing so for work. Many moving closer to downtown areas are expressing the desire to be able to walk to stores and entertainment, while others are drawn to the unique architecture of the older homes.

Local downtown areas have been undergoing urban renewal for years. Large renewal projects that include modern amenities have been designed to draw commercial activity as well as attract residences. With a vision of the future, builders have planned and designed high density developments as well as many mixed use (residential and commercial) urban projects to keep up with the anticipated demand for urban living.

Although not everyone wants to live close to the urban centers and downtown areas, home builders did get the message that many do want to live close to amenities. New suburban communities are designed around existing or new town centers that include shopping, entertainment and access to mass transportation (or are close to metro stations).

If you are considering moving closer to (any) downtown area, don’t let the home prices discourage you. If you consider your commuting costs (including gas, parking, time in traffic) from the suburbs as well as proximity to amenities, your urban home purchase may be more attractive.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 5, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.