Housing and the commute

You’re not just buying into a neighborhood, you’re buying into a commute, too. Here’s a look at the importance of a travel times — and costs — when shopping for a home.

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia CTW Features

I t takes a lot of time and money to find and buy a home. Ideally, you should then have the time and money to enjoy it, too.

That’s just why a majority — 73 percent — of buyers recently surveyed by the National Association of Realtors said commuting costs were a factor in deciding whether or not to purchase a particular home.

Another factor related to commuting, “walkability ” — meaning a home is within easy distance to stores and other amenities — also is becoming more valued by homeowners who don’t want to feel like their living in their car. “As households become more busy, having convenience close by is a big selling point,” says Stephen Votino, owner of Century 21 Triangle Group in Raleigh, N.C.

But not all buyers care about commuting enough to make it a priority.

“It is people with higher incomes who tend to commute longer to work,” notes Alan Pisarski, author of the “Commuting in America” series of reports. “I surmise that this is because although they can live pretty much anywhere, they choose other values rather than a short commute.” The “other values” include larger homes, highly rated schools, and attractive neighborhoods,” says Pisarski.

Housing policy makers would like buyers to consider commuting and walkability, however. For households near the median income level in an area, both housing costs and transportation eat up one-half of their budget, says Robert Hickey, a senior research associate for the National Housing Conference and co-author of the housingaffordability report “Losing Ground.”

Here, a closer look at the intersection of commuting and home purchases:

Mapping the miles

The NAR survey rings true to John Bolos, owner of Century 21 J. Bolos in Columbia, S.C., who says clients pull out their smartphone to map the distance from a particular property to their work.

Tom Hendershot, a Redfin agent in California’s Bay Area, recommends buyers “test their commute during their regular commuting hours.”

Most of Bolos’ clients don’t want to travel more than 15 minutes each way, he says, while Votino adds that “20 minutes or less is the most common request.”

Any time a home is in a commuting sweet spot, it’s advisable to note the travel time from a business center, major highway or airport, for example in the home’s description for the Multiple Listing Service database and in any other marketing materials, says Bolos.

Counting the costs

Last year, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development introduced the “Location Affordability Portal,” a website that lets users plug in data about their household, cars and travel patterns and get an estimate on how transportation costs will differ on different homes. “Many consumers make the mistake of thinking they can afford to live in a certain neighborhood or region just because they can afford the rent or mortgage payment. Housing affordability encompasses much more than that,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said when announcing the LAP.

Lenders do not compute the cost of transportation in a mortgage application, notes Grace Currid of HomeBridge Financial Services in Iselin. However, it’s prudent for the borrower to do so. Further, appraisal reports on comparable properties should take factors like proximity to mass transit and other amenities into consideration, Currid adds.

© CTW Features