Location, location, location: Understanding Property Walk Score in Commercial Real Estate

on January 9, 2023

The exhortation is getting old, but only because it’s true. This real estate maxim is timeless because the where is as important as a property’s structural quality, appearance and landscaping—sometimes even more so. When it comes to residential properties, their proximity to schools, shopping centers and doctors’ offices is balanced against their distance from noise and pollution. Commercial buildings are a little different. Depending on the nature of the property, owners may desire easy access to interstate highways, airports and train stations, or maybe a location adjacent to restaurants or hotels, or perhaps proximity to clients and vendors. A property walk score helps investors better compare prospective building purchases.

What Is a Walk Score?

A walk score (also known as a walking score or a walkability score) measures the accessibility from a given address to various amenities in the surrounding area, such as stores, services, public institutions, and parks. Based on a scale from 0 to 100, the walkability score of an address reflects the time and mode of travel for everyday activities. 

For a single-family residence, this might mean going to the grocery store and taking kids to school, to the dentist, to a public swimming pool, etc. The score also takes into account the ease of walking from the address—for example, sidewalk conditions, safety issues, traffic patterns and the like. On the other hand, a commercial real estate investor considers the daily routines of the tenants, which can be numerous and varied.

How Is a Property Walk Score Measured?

The 0 to 100 scale is broken down as follows:

  • 0 to 24 — almost all errands and daily activities require a car
  • 25 to 49 — most errands require a car
  • 50 to 69 — some errands can be done on foot
  • 70 to 89 — most errands can be done on foot
  • 90 to 100 — daily errands do not require a car

Again, the businesses that inhabit commercial buildings have varying needs and daily regimens. These kinds of scores, then, would be particular to each one. 

Why Is the Walk Rating So Important?

The property walk score is as valuable as a marketing tool and an important determinant for purchasing property or renting space. For example, physical proximity to public transportation improves a commercial site’s walking score considerably. Relative proximity to restaurants, health clubs, and green spaces can also boost its score significantly. 

The more places individuals can walk to, the higher the quality of health, environment, and personal economy. 

Millennials and Gen-Z types embrace sustainability and simplicity as primary values, and other generations are also catching on to the trend. For that reason, new businesses want to locate in places where vehicle use is minimized, and sunlight exposure is maximized. In the same way, younger employees prefer a variety of amenities just a stone’s throw from the office. 

In a post-COVID age, luring employees back to the workplace is challenging enough. A high walkability rating helps to meet that challenge. In fact, real estate research demonstrates a strong correlation between high property walk scores, property values, and rental rates. One example shows that a 10-point rise in the walk score is associated with a 5% to 9% hike in the property’s market value.

How Is the Property Walk Score Calculated?

The methodology for determining the walk score is accredited by numerous academic research institutions all over the country. Beginning with the address in question, routes to nearby locations that will likely be visited are categorized, traced, and evaluated. Points are awarded to each place in the vicinity based on the distance from the original address. Shorter walks, such as a quarter-mile walk or a five-minute stroll, get the most points, while anything over a half-hour walk away receives zero points. 

The quality of the walk also has value. Its population density, the length of each block, and intersection congestion are measured and quantified.

These figures are fed into a computerized walking score calculator that tabulates them and assigns an overall property walk score to the property at a particular address. As noted above, a high score is a strong selling point for landlords who want to attract tenants or, in some cases, sell the property outright. Revenues are based on tenants who are reliable and longstanding. The ease of running errands at lunch or while on the clock affects worker morale and tenant satisfaction.

Walkability and Commercial Tenants

Apartment dwellers and office building denizens are most likely to appreciate high walkability scores. Retail outlet employees prefer to inhabit a mall, where they can move about on breaks, to a box store on an isolated stretch of highway. Meanwhile, workers in an industrial facility more often than not have lunch in an on-site cafeteria and can rarely venture out until it’s time to punch out and head home in their cars. 

Hospital and hotel staffers might also place less emphasis on the walk score. Still, the property walk score is an important real estate indicator that is here to stay.

Is Walkability Most Important?

Business tenants ordinarily do not emphasize just one factor—walkability or any other. The square footage, floor plan, management, and, of course, rent are also among the myriad variables to consider when deciding whether or not to sign a lease. Yet the walk score should not be discounted for all the reasons stated above. The comfort and happiness of employees is more important now than it was formerly, and it is a major selling point to younger employees. So, while the walking score is not superior, it is nevertheless significant.

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Christy McFerrenLocation, location, location: Understanding Property Walk Score in Commercial Real Estate