Lifestyle amenities are appreciating
For the first time ever, today’s kids might have shorter lifespans than their parents, said Rachel MacCleery of the Urban Land Institute. And grown-ups aren't exactly models of perfect health, Indeed, 1 in 3 of us are now obese, compared with 1 in 8 in 1970. These facts are helping to highlight the profound impact our built environment has on overall health.
As you’re assessing prospective neighborhoods, look for amenities that will promote a healthy lifestyle. A multi-modal transportation system, with various mass transit options, is perhaps the most important component of a healthy community. “People want to live closer to work and they’re looking for modes of transportation that don’t involve getting in their car,” said Bob Eury, executive director of the Houston Downtown Management District, referring to the burst of walkable residential development happening in his city.
Other lifestyle amenities to look for are streets that promote walking through the presence of trees and smooth sidewalks, an extensive network of bike trails and lanes, access to nature, and playgrounds that aren’t walled off from the community. For more information, check out Charles Montgomery’s Happy City, which took home gold in NAREE’s 2014 Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Awards.
Water efficiency is rivaling energy
Nearly 2 billion people are projected to live in scarce-water regions by 2015. In the U.S., groundwater depletion rates are accelerating at a rapid clip, and the western drought is creating severe stress for farmers and cities alike, according to the Counselors of Real Estate. That’s putting a premium on water efficiency, including water-smart landscaping, even for people who don’t live in a drought zone. In a Consumer Reports 2013 survey, almost a third of homeowners who made changes to their lawn the previous year reduced its size in some way, for example, replacing grass with patio space, ground cover, flower beds, or even artificial turf.
In addition to a water-smart landscape, your next home should feature water-efficient fixtures, including its toilets, faucets, and showerheads. The savings can be significant, as water costs continue to rise in many parts of the country.
Online real estate is exploding
If you’re buying a home (and even if you’re not) you’ve probably visited Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, or one of the many other real estate websites. And the sector is only getting noisier. Back in March, Auction.com announced a $50 million investment from Google. And new players are launching all the time, each with their unique claims and technologies. One of the latest is called Surefield, which creates virtual tours of homes using high-tech 3D video. That could mean an end to time-consuming home tours that eat up your weekend.
The move to mobile is the other big shift. Every real estate site has one or more apps that allow you to access information from the field. Trulia has apps designed for homeowners and renters alike, as well one designed for real estate agents. That gets to a key question: with so much information available to consumers, do we still need agents? For now, agents aren’t going away. But the smart ones are learning how to pivot. “This is an opportunity for agents to reinvent themselves and figure out what their value proposition is for consumers on a go-forward basis,” says Rick Sharga, executive vice president at Auction.com. The same could be said for housing as a whole, as the industry continues to rebound.
—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)