The problem with too many surveys is that the questions are very simplistic, and don't ask people to contemplate real-world decisions. For example, a common question in real estate for years has been to ask, "Do you prefer a single family house on a large lot or an apartment with no yard?" Shocking - people actually respond they want the house! Of course, very often surveys are not really surveys, they are marketing pieces from organizations that have an agenda to push. The resulting confirmation bias is frustrating to those of us looking for real data.
This week, the National Association of Realtors released a survey that actually asked people to make decisions based on real trade-offs. Some examples:
When asked to choose between having houses with smaller yards and a shorter commute to work” and “houses with larger yards and a longer commute to work,” people chose the smaller yards with the shorter commute by 57 percent to 36 percent.
Similarly, when comparing houses with small yards and “an easy walk to schools, stores and restaurants” against houses with large yards and “you have to drive to get to schools, stores and restaurants,” the small yard/walkable neighborhood won out by a 55% to 40% margin.
Most (57%) would not, however, trade a detached single-family home for an apartment or townhome even if the apartment or townhome offered a short commute and was within walking distance of shops and restaurants.
Here's the thing: when questions are written fairly, walkable neighborhoods not only hold up very well, they are preferred by the majority. In some cases, a vast majority. The question this should leave everyone in the real estate business with is, "if 55% want to live somewhere with easy walks, what percentage of our community has that option today?" My guess is that in most places it's far, far lower than 55% of the actual neighborhoods or homes available.
We have a *lot* of work to do to build and nurture the kinds of places that people *of all ages* actually want.