Real Estate

Walkable Communities

November 19, 2015 By Brad Broberg One out of every two adults in the United States lives with a chronic disease. Physical activity can help prevent chronic disease, but half of all adults get too little of it. Treating chronic disease accounts for 75 percent of all health care spending, which is projected to reach $5.4 trillion a year by 2024. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Too bad there isn’t a simple way to increase physical activity, improve public health and help reduce rising healthcare costs. Ahhh, but there is. Hippocrates connected the dots more than 2,400 years ago. “Walking,” said the creator of the Hippocratic oath, “is man’s best medicine.” Millenniums later, that prescription is more valid than ever. With obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases taking a heavy toll in lives and dollars, the link between walking and health raises the stakes for creating safe and convenient places to walk. Earlier this year U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sounded a call to action challenging all Americans to increase their physical activity through walking and challenging all communities to become more walkable. It’s a worthy goal, but a heavy lift. Much of the built environment in America is designed with driving, not walking, in mind. While walking remains a popular form of recreation, it stopped being a routine part of everyday living decades ago, erasing an inherent source of physical activity that contributed greatly to public health. “One of the biggest challenges is 50 years of automobile-dominated development,” says Scott Bricker, executive director of America Walks, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Ore. “A lot of development has basically engineered walkability out of the daily lifestyle of people.” The evidence is all around. Streets designed solely to move as much traffic as possible as fast as possible. Sidewalks and crosswalks missing in action. Families marooned in sprawling subdivisions miles from most destinations. Everybody totally dependent on their car to get around. Times are changing, though. More and more people want to live where they can walk to stores, cafes, schools and work — or at least to a transit stop. They want to reduce their reliance on cars, live more sustainably and enjoy the perks of a vibrant and connected neighborhood. Bottom line: They want to use their feet for transportation. While market forces alone are enough to give walkability greater weight in transportation planning decisions, walkability has become more than a consumer preference. With the surgeon general’s call to action, it’s now a formal public health strategy for reducing healthcare costs and helping people live longer and healthier lives. The beauty of walking as transportation is it requires no special skill, equipment or license, costs nothing and almost everyone can do it. What matters most, though, is the health benefits it delivers. A brisk daily walk can provide the 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to protect against everything from heart disease to depression to some cancers. “Walking has proven to be the best form of exercise there is for long-term health benefits (because) it’s something you can do throughout your life,” says Shawn McIntosh, program manager with the American Public Health Association. “Studies have shown that walking even 20 or 30 minutes a day can make a big difference.” Nashville, Tenn., provides a blueprint for folding health and walkability into transportation planning. Tennessee has one of the highest obesity rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and its residents are among the least physically active of any state. In 2009, the agency that allocates federal dollars for roads, bridges and other transportation projects to cities and counties in the Nashville region revised its scoring system to favor projects that support active transportation — walking, biking, transit — and produce other positive health outcomes. “We stopped thinking first about how to move cars up and down the corridor as fast as possible and started thinking about how to connect people to places in ways that would improve health,” says Leslie Meehan, former director of healthy communities for the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (NAMPO). “That shift … really moved the needle.” Under the old scoring system, only 2 percent of the projects in Nashville’s regional transportation plan included active transportation components such as sidewalks or bike lanes. After the new scoring system was introduced, nearly 70 percent supported active transportation in one way or another. The NAMPO has since placed even greater weight on improving health — 80 points out of 100 versus 60 out of 100 — and is factoring in results from a landmark health and transportation survey the agency co-sponsored in 2012. The Middle Tennessee Transportation and Health Study looked at the relationship between transportation, health and overall physical activity based on a survey of 6,000 households in the region — including a subset of 600 households who wore GPS devices and activity monitors. Data from the study has become a north star for transportation planning in the region, steering support for active transportation to neighborhoods with high levels of health problems and low levels of physical activity. “It makes sure funding goes where it’s needed most,” Meehan says. Improved health outcomes won’t come overnight because the epidemic of chronic diseases didn’t develop overnight, but the potential payback for even modest gains in physical activity is a game changer. The Middle Tennessee Transportation and Health Study found the average person in the region walks or bikes just three minutes a day for transportation purposes — excluding any walking or biking they might do for recreation or exercise. Using a model developed in the United Kingdom, the NAMPO estimated the monetary impact if everyone in the region walked or biked 10 minutes a day for transportation. “The results are preliminary … but the savings are about $200 million a year in health care costs that wouldn’t be expended because of diseases that wouldn’t be incurred because people would be healthier,” Meehan says. As more data rolls in showing the return on investment of active transportation, more thought leaders and policy makers around the country are looking at the built environment in general — and transportation in particular — from a public health perspective. “Everybody from all of these different fields — health, transportation, planning, housing —


7 Pricing Myths to Stop Believing If You Ever Hope to Sell Your House

By Cathie Ericson | Sep 7, 2017 BsWei/iStock Pricing your own home is hard, what with all the history and hopes this magic number entails. Of course, you want to make a profit. Of course, all that money you spent installing a swimming pool or a half-bath will be recouped, because you’re leaving your digs in better shape than when you bought it, right? Right? Well, not necessarily. Too many home sellers fall prey to myths about home pricing that seem to make sense at first, but don’t jibe with the reality of real estate markets today. To make sure you haven’t bought into any of this malarkey—since the buyers you’re trying to woo sure haven’t—here are some common pricing myths you’ll want to rinse from your brain so you kick off your home-selling venture with realistic expectations. It’s time to get real, folks! 1. You always make money when you sell a home Sure, real estate tends to appreciate over time: The National Association of Realtors® estimates that home prices will jump 5% by the end of 2017 and continue rising 3.5% in 2018. But selling your home for more than you paid is by no means a given, and your return on investment can vary greatly based on where you live. The NAR also found, for instance, that the cost of single-family homes increased in about 87% of the metros it studied, but prices actually dropped in 23 markets. So don’t assume you’ll walk away with a profit until you’ve examined what’s up in your area first. 2. Price your house high to make big bucks We know what you’re thinking: “Hey, it’s worth a shot!” But if you start with some sky-high asking price, you’ll soon come back to Earth when you realize that an overpriced home just won’t sell. “While the payday might sound appealing, you’re actually sacrificing your best marketing time in exchange for the remote possibility that someone will overpay for your home,” says Kathleen Marks, a Realtor® with United Real Estate in Asheville, NC. While certain buyers might be suckered in, this becomes far less likely if they’re working with a buyer’s agent who will know all too well when a home is overpriced, and advise their client to steer clear. And this can lead to problems down the road (as our next myth indicates). 3. If your home’s overpriced, it’s no big deal to lower it later Sorry, but overpricing your home isn’t easily fixed just by lowering it later on. The reason: Homes that have lingered on the market for months—or that have undergone one or more price reductions—make buyers presume that something must be wrong with it. As such, they might still steer clear, or offer even less than the price you’re now asking. Bottom line: “Price your home appropriately from the beginning for your best shot at having a quick and easy sale,” Marks recommends. 4. Pricing your home low means you won’t make as much money Similarly, sellers are often leery of pricing their home on the low end. But as counterintuitive as this seems, this strategy can often pay off big-time. Here’s why: Low-priced homes drum up tons of interest, which could result in a bidding war that could drive your home’s price past your wildest dreams. 5. You can add the cost of any renovations you’ve made Let’s say you overhauled your kitchen or added a deck. It stands to reason that whatever money you paid for these improvements will be recouped in full once you sell—after all, your home’s new owners are inheriting all your hard work. The reality: While your renovations might see some return on investment, you’ll rarely recoup the whole amount. On average, you can expect to get back 64% of every dollar you spend on home improvements. Plus that profit can vary greatly based on which renovation you do. Check out this list of common renovations and their return on investment to know what you can actually expect. 6. A past appraisal will help you pinpoint the right price If you have an appraisal in hand, from when you bought or refinanced your house, you might think that’s a logical place to start to price your home. It’s not! An appraisal assigns your home a value based on market conditions at a specific date, so it becomes old news very quickly. In fact, lenders typically won’t accept appraisals that are more than 60 days old. “Since lenders know markets can change in six months’ time, it’s important for sellers to understand that a previous appraisal is never a reliable source for the current value of a home,” Marks says. 7. Your agent might overprice the house to make a bigger commission Don’t even go there, says Realtor Raena Janes of RJHomes in Tucson, AZ. “While it’s true that an agent’s commission is based on the selling price of a house, the disparity will end up being negligible,” she says. For example, the difference in commission between a $300,000 house and one that’s $310,000 is about $150. “No real estate agent is going to lose a sale for the sake of a couple hundred dollars,” she explains. Cathie Ericson is a journalist who writes about real estate, finance, and health. She lives in Portland, OR. Follow @CathieEricson


My Pet Giraffe

My pet giraffe is very big.  It has lots of legs and a big neck.  His name is Jeffery. He eats 10 pounds of meat everyday.


8 Dumb Reasons People Can’t Buy a Home


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