Tom Lisi

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Real Estate Tip: Buy Near Transit

Monday, March 25, 2013

Transit-oriented development project in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo CC by Flickr user Steven Vance)

Homes close to good transit options made for better real estate investments during the recession, according to a new study from the American Public Transportation Association.

APTA looked at housing market data from Phoenix, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago from 2006 to 2011, and compared homes close to transit with homes for the metro region overall. The study found residential property values located near transit performed 41 percent better. Heavy rail, bus rapid transit, and light rail, with more frequent service and transfer options, helped real estate prices even more than commuter rail more typically found in suburbs, according to the study.

Areas with no transit options fared the worst in terms of home value.

Residents close to transit sheds -- areas that are a half-mile away from a transit stop or closer -- also had better access to jobs and incurred less transportation costs. In Chicago, residents close to the city's transit system spent $300 less on transportation per month than the regional average.

Percent change in average residential sales prices relative to the region, 2006-11

Transit is not the sole factor of course, but allowing residents wider access to local amenities has made it a real estate catalyst. Alex Boylan, a Minneapolis-based realtor, says he's noticed that properties close to the light rail or major bus routes don't stay on the market as long. "Now more people are more about community, wanting to live closer to work, and using the transportation that's provided around them," he said. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the study showed that home prices fell everywhere from 2006 to 2011, but homes next to the Hiawatha light rail line better maintained their values by 62 percent when compared to the entire Twin Cities.

Areas with accessible transit tend to have more nearby amenities, and therefore better walkability scores, something Boylan says homebuyers have been paying much closer attention to in the last few years.

Related: What Makes A City Walkable

The years covered in the APTA study were bad years for the housing market, but now that the market's improving, Darnell Grisby, APTA director of policy and research, says the desire for a city lifestyle will only continue to grow. “The millennial generation that seeks more transit-oriented lifestyles and empty nesters that will be seeking to downsize their homes while living near amenities will ensure that this trend continues,” he says.

Related: Will SunRail change Central Florida's driving habits?

The study showed that The Loop in Chicago performed more than 75 percent better than the region as a whole, where retirees and young professionals are fueling one of the most dramatic downtown housing booms in the country -- though the 2010 Census showed that middle class families were still flocking to the city's suburbs.

The study corresponds with other cultural shifts. Other data shows millennials are less car-centric than their parents. A recent Zipcar survey said Americans in the 18-34 age group consider their computers and mobile phones more important in their daily lives than cars, and fewer young people are trying to get driver’s licenses.

"People are voting with their feet," says Sara Wiskerchen, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors, a group that partnered with APTA for the study. The real estate industry group has become a booster for transit-oriented development. Wiskerchen says NAR plans to take the study to Congress to push for more public transportation and smart growth initiatives in American cities. "Consumers are looking for, and choosing, neighborhoods that they're able to find more walkable features, that have lower transportation costs, and really just looking at communities in a smart way," says Wiskerchen.

Related: DC a pioneer in walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods


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How Gender Matters on American Roads

Saturday, March 09, 2013

More women drive than men, but men do more driving. Confusing? A recent study parsed almost 50 years worth of data from the Federal Highway Administration for gender trends in America's roadway habits.

For one, 2005 was a turning point. That's when U.S. female drivers outnumbered male drivers for the first time. But since men log 5,000 miles more per year than women on average, males still account for 60 percent of drivers who are actually on the road at a given time.

The trend of more women getting driver's licenses started decades ago, and the FHA data compiled by Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Institute shows the gender ratio of drivers has hovered close to an even split since the late 1990s. In 1963, only 40 percent of drivers were females, and they only did 24 percent of the driving.

Past research has shown marked differences in driving behavior between men and women. Women statistically get in more fender benders, but men disobey traffic laws more often, and get into many more fatal car accidents. It's also no secret that those tendencies also skew toward younger male drivers, and a past study from the same Michigan researcher shows young people are now getting driver's licenses at a slower rate. Still, men and women alike are driving significantly more now than 30, 40 and 50 years ago.

But, more women on the road has changed driving trends as a whole. The study points out that combined with crash patterns that vary by gender, car choices also vary. Women are also much more likely to drive compact, fuel-efficient cars, with better safety ratings.

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FTC Sticks Up for Taxi Apps in Colorado

Friday, March 08, 2013

Taxi hailing apps may have a new ally. Amidst the national shake-up of the taxi cab industry, the Federal Trade Commission took the unusual step on Thursday of issuing written comments against a Colorado taxi regulation, and in effect, supporting smartphone applications for arranging taxi pickups, such as Uber and Hailo. The FTC said the proposed regulations "may significantly impair competition."

After the mobile app Uber, which allows its customers to hail a cab by showing drivers their location, launched in Denver last summer, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission proposed new rules for car services. Under the changes, car services would have to prearrange the price they charge passengers for every ride. Uber currently charges based on trip distance, and prices can fluctuate based on time of day and levels of passenger demand, a feature that has caused price shock to passengers when they learn how much they pay after the fact. Uber says this pricing method encourages more for-hire vehicles to stay on the roads when demand is spiking.

Under the proposed regulations, Colorado car services would also not be allowed offer service within 200 feet of taxi stands, airport pick-ups, restaurants, hotels--pretty much anywhere a taxi or private car service normally look for customers. Both of the proposals would amount to a significant competitive edge for the traditional taxi companies in the area over the more expensive car services category that include limousine rentals.

In its comments, the FTC addressed each of the proposed Colorado rules directly. "Demand-based pricing can be more responsive to consumer preferences than some traditional flat-rate models," and in regard to the 200-foot rule, the “CPUC should avoid unnecessarily restricting the ways that consumers can be picked up by passenger vehicle transportation services.”

This broad phrasing is being hailed as a victory by the e-hailing app makers. The FTC's comments are somewhat unusual in that they target a particular industry in a specific region of the country. But, taxi and limousine companies and state and local governments are likely to keep a close eye on what transpires in Colorado. Uber and other apps like it have caused legal battles in other markets, such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and New York City.

Here's the FTC letter to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and the official FTC release.

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