I love the Web. No, really. I love it—and the functionality it offers. I read The New York Times online. I pay almost all of my bills with the click of a mouse. I have a LinkedIn account and am a YouTube addict. When I can, I try to save energy by using Blackle as my search engine. And the other day, I spent 30 minutes entering all of my current and former addresses into WalkScore.
This particularly fascinating site was launched by Google this summer to help home buyers, renters, and real estate agents judge the walkability of a neighborhood. You enter your address, and it calculates the “walk score” of your property on a scale of 1 to 100 by taking into account the proximity of restaurants, recreation, entertainment, shopping, and transportation. As the site says, “Buying a house in a walkable neighborhood is good for your health and good for the environment.”
So I tried it out. My aunt's place in the suburbs of Maryland got a 25. Yikes. The house where I grew up outside of Los Angeles got a 48. The Chicago-area apartment I rented during grad school scored a 91. And my current sublet in downtown Bethesda, Md., ranked an incredible 96. That's not surprising, considering it is steps from fantastic boutiques, restaurants, and a Metro rail station.
The experience got me thinking about the implications of WalkScore. My first thought was how useful it would be for making travel plans. Imagine being able to gauge a neighborhood's walkability before committing to that vacation rental or bed-and-breakfast.
But more than that, the mere existence of WalkScore is a powerful lesson for how quickly companies—especially multifamily firms—must adapt in today's world. Some day soon, would-be homebuyers and renters will get online, virtually tour an available unit, find out exactly how walkable the area is with a quick click, and even get a live, real-time image of the neighborhood at any time of day.
What's more, it will certainly demand more of sales and marketing teams. I, for one, am always skeptical of brochures that tell me, “This home is just steps from shopping and restaurants.” I am convinced their sources are folks with very long legs. But innovations like WalkScore might change that. I can just imagine opening up a paper in the near future and seeing ads that read, “This two-bedroom, one-bath apartment has floor-to-ceiling windows, stainless-steel appliances, and a walk score of 95.”
That may be a stretch—and it may not. True, WalkScore won't tell you how safe a neighborhood is for your kids. And it doesn't really distinguish between a massive Whole Foods grocery store and the corner 7-Eleven. Yet I firmly believe that the multifamily industry needs to recognize the power of the Web when it comes to determining how future buyers and renters will make their decisions.
Technology offers so many innovative and exciting ways to change the game today and tomorrow. From what I can tell, tools such as WalkScore are poised to do just that. And the firms that recognize that potential? Well, they earn a 100 every time.
Shabnam Mogharabi, Editor