There's been a gradual generational shift in lifestyle preferences among homebuyers, real estate experts say. More buyers from the "Generation Y" group -- those in their 20s to early 30s -- now wish to live in walkable communities loaded with amenities rather than in suburbia.
"Young people just think it's cool to live in the city. They're bored with the suburbs where they grew up and find the city a lot more exciting," says Mark Nash, a real estate broker and author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home."
Nash says many in Generation Y -- also known as "millennials" -- are drawn to an active lifestyle with friends and entertainment at close reach. They seek to live near restaurants, shops, clubs and movie theaters.
Christopher Leinberger, author of "The Option of Urbanism," notes that developers alert to the trends are building more housing units in vital downtown areas.
A former real estate developer who now heads the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, Leinberger says property values are rising faster in walkable communities than in car-dependent ones. These include established city centers as well as "new towns" designed to replicate many of the features of older city neighborhoods.
"Walkable communities used to be niche markets for developers. Now they're primary markets," he says.
Here are a few pointers for homebuyers seeking a walkable lifestyle:
-- Keep shopping convenience in mind when choosing a neighborhood.
Nash says most young people shopping for an urban home overlook the need to live near a supermarket. He says having close access to a food store is an important feature, especially for those who don't intend to own a car.
Because most shopping trips involve groceries, Nash recommends that urban homebuyers choose an area no more than a 10- to 20-minute walk from a full-service supermarket.
"Before you buy, investigate to make sure you won't be stuck in a 'food desert.' People who don't have cars hate lugging their groceries long distances by bus or subway," he says.
-- Factor green space into your home-buying decision.
Nash says about a third of urban homebuyers are high-powered professionals who take their outdoor activities as seriously as their work.
If outdoor recreation is key for you, or you at least wish to see greenery from your living room, you'll want a firm assurance that green areas around your place will stay that way.
Whether you plan to buy in an old urban area or a new walkable community, Nash urges you to visit local government offices to determine if new construction is planned for the area.
-- Don't ignore crime statistics.
Nash says more homebuyers -- whether aiming to buy in an urban or suburban neighborhood -- now drop by the local police station before deciding whether to settle in a particular neighborhood.
"The police should pull out maps and show you which specific areas have the most reported crimes," he says.
Moreover, police can tell you what types of crime are most prevalent in a neighborhood -- more information than you're likely to find simply by scanning online data.
-- Check out the noise level of an urban community.
Homebuyers vary widely in terms of their comfort level with city noise.
"Some people who grew up in suburbia are shocked at how much street noise there is in the city," Nash says.
He tells the story of a manager in her early 30s who failed to factor noise into her selection of a one-bedroom condo in a glitzy high rise. But immediately upon moving in, she discovered that the trash from an adjoining building was picked up at 4 a.m., creating a terrible clamor that woke her up.
She didn't sell her unit. But to protect herself from sleepless mornings, she had to make sure always she wore earplugs when going to bed.
Trash runs aren't the only cause of noise problems for city residents.
"There's just the general roar of traffic in the city. Taxi drivers ride their horns. And there are always those ubiquitous police cars and fire engines in densely populated areas," Nash says.
If you're sensitive to noise and want urbanity without clamor, Nash strongly recommends you search for one of those rare urban enclaves that offer a degree of protection from the din.
"Even in the city, you can sometimes find a secluded building or a quiet gated community away from street noise," he says.
-- Stay focused on your ideal life.
For most urban millennials, easy access to such amenities as restaurants and public transportation is vital. But beyond these features, buyers vary widely in the community attributes they consider critical.
"There's more than one urban lifestyle," Nash says.
"Besides outdoorsy people, there are those I call 'downtowners,' who wish to live in the heart of the city so they can go quickly to arts venues and charity events," he says.
Another group of young homebuyers want to move to a family-oriented city neighborhood where they can stay indefinitely even after having children. For them, quality daycare centers and schools are a factor in neighborhood choice.
As with all home-buying, the careful selection of a property is the best way to avoid buyer's remorse.
"No matter the neighborhood you pick, you'll feel a lot better about the money you spend if you get the dream lifestyle you really want," Nash says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)