It’s All About Walkability

Young buyers increasingly prefer smaller homes in the East Bay flatlands, close to cafes and restaurants, rather than big houses in the hills.


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Real Estate Agent Maxi Lilley of Red Oak Realty.

Photo by Kala Minko

In the not-too-distant past, the dream home for East Bay families was a large house in the hills featuring expansive views of San Francisco Bay. But in recent years, young buyers with financial means are increasingly more likely to flock to smaller homes in upscale areas closer to the flatlands of Oakland and Berkeley, snatching up houses in those neighborhoods quickly, according to recent real estate data and interviews with real estate professionals.

“It’s all about the walk score,” said Maxi Lilley of Red Oak Realty, referring to the popular website WalkScore.com, which rates the walkability factor of homes. “I call it, ‘The walking to coffee phenomenon.’ ”

She said that while homes in the hills remain popular, young families are often more interested in whether they can walk to cafes, shops, restaurants, and bars—than if their front bay window has an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge. “It’s one of the biggest trends in local real estate,” she said.

Data from Red Oak, based on MLS statistics, shows that in the first six months of 2017, homes in Oakland’s Montclair district stayed on the market for an average of 35 days. But in lower Rockridge, homes moved quickly, selling in just 14 days, less than half the time. In Temescal and central Berkeley, homes sold in 15 days, on average. And around Lake Merritt, they sold in 18 days.

Young families are also willing to spend more per square foot on smaller homes with high walkability scores than on big houses in the hills, Lilley said. “Sometimes, they don’t even care about parking,” she said. “They don’t even have cars.”

She added that millennials want to know whether they can bike, take mass transit, or quickly pick up an Uber or Lyft. And they typically don’t want to drive 15 to 20 minutes into the hills to get home. They’re also likely to check out WalkScore.com before going to an open house.

Homes near College Avenue in the Rockridge district typically score in the 90s on WalkScore.com’s rating of 1 to 100 with a 100 being the highest possible walkability score. By contrast, a home in the Oakland hills on Skyline Boulevard would be lucky to score a 10 out of 100 for walkability.

That’s why it’s not uncommon for homes in the hills to remain on the market for weeks or even months before selling, and they might need to cut their listing price before they do. Just getting young buyers to go up to the hills for an open house can be challenging sometimes, Lilley said.

For instance, according to Zillow.com, a five-bedroom home on Manzanita Drive in Montclair, featuring gorgeous views, had been on the market for 34 days by Oct. 10, and had undergone one price reduction. It was listed at $1.195 million, or $418 a square foot. But down the hill, in lower Rockridge, close to College Avenue, a much smaller two-bedroom bungalow on Hudson Street, sans view, was listed in early October for $949,000, or $837 a square foot, more than double the price per square foot as the hills home.

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