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Walkability – Closeness to Amenities is a Major Consideration for Condo Buyers

By Debra Gelbart and Meghann Finn Sepulveda

It may surprise you to know that walkability — a principal attraction for buyers of condominiums — has a broader definition than simply what is accessible on foot from your residence.

“Walkability is how easily you can walk, bike or take public transportation to a place you want to get to from your home,” explained David Newcombe, co-founder and associate broker at Scottsdale-based Launch Real Estate. “Walkability is related to how easily you can get to somewhere without a car.” Walkability is typically most evident in urban areas, Newcombe said.

“Well-maintained community streets, sidewalks and crosswalks that allow for walking and biking to nearby shopping centers, restaurants, golf courses, entertainment, walking trails and parks” are the essence of walkability, said Shantelle Monongye of the Statesman Group of Companies, which developed Toscana of Desert Ridge on the Scottsdale-Phoenix border and The Cays at Downtown Ocotillo in Chandler.

The concept can be as simple as “close proximity to retail, dining, entertainment, recreational activities and to offices,” said David Hovey Jr., president of Optima Inc., the designer, developer and general contractor for the Optima Kierland community in Scottsdale.

Walkable communities “are those located within walking distance to shopping, restaurants, entertainment, recreation, employment and other services such as grocery stores, hair salons, dry cleaners, pharmacies and banks,” said John Waldron, a principal at Williams Waldron, a company that manages sales and marketing for The Enclave at Borgata condo community in Scottsdale. “Walkability has become a primary motivation for many new-home buyers, especially condominium buyers, who are often looking to engage in their community while simplifying and enhancing their overall quality of life.”

The pricelessness of proximity

Walkability is one of the key reasons to buy a condo, Newcombe said. “You love a particular area and you want to take friends to things that are close by,” he said. “In a single-family home, friends may come to where you live to enjoy what’s in your home, but often in a condo, you want to show off what is around you as much as what your home looks like. So in a condo, you sacrifice a little space to get a lot of convenience — so much convenience, in fact, that you can measure how close you are to restaurants or shopping by the number of seconds or steps it takes you to get there.”

Indeed, Waldron points out there are at least six businesses near The Enclave at Borgata that are no more than 620 steps (several are substantially fewer than that) door to door.

“With nine months of mild sunny weather, the walkability factor becomes important to buyers for health, exercise, sociability and lifestyle.” —Shantelle Monongye, Statesman Group of Companies

Toscana’s location is 150 steps to High Street “where you can explore the fabulous restaurants, shopping, entertainment, services and a market,” Monongye said.

Desert Ridge Market Place, with its two million square-feet of retail space and plenty of outdoor recreation, shopping, dining and entertainment venues, is less than 2,000 steps from Toscana, she added.

Meanwhile, at The Cays at Downtown Ocotillo in Chandler, Monongye said that an array of restaurants, a coffee shop and services such as a dental office and a salon are just 65 steps from the community.

All ages appreciate a healthy, active lifestyle All age groups value a walkable lifestyle, Hovey said, “but our older demographic seems to really appreciate it at all of our communities.”

Hovey said residents like to be able to walk just across the street to be at world-class dining, shopping and entertainment. “Our buyers are health-conscious and active and our walkable lifestyle (has) generated a lot of interest and is a big attraction.”

Monongye said walkability is important to all demographics including young professionals, mature down-sizers, empty- nesters, those recently single and secondhome owners. Baby Boomers and millennial are the biggest fans of walkability, Newcombe said. “Millennial (those born after 1981) want to be in the middle of great dining, shopping and attractions,” he said, “and so do Baby Boomers.”

With a significant aging population in the Greater Phoenix area, Newcombe said, “older condo buyers may wonder, ‘what happens if I can’t drive a car anymore?”’ That isn’t a concern when you live in a condo, he said, because even if being on foot is challenging, you can rely on shared ride services like Uber or Lyft. For younger condo owners, too, walkability remains a primary draw, Hovey, Monongye and Newcombe agreed. Explore the area To determine if a condo community’s walkability is sufficient for you, you really need to visit the actual community.

“We encourage prospective buyers to explore the neighborhood and offerings in the general vicinity of Optima Kierland,” Hovey said, “to see for themselves all there is to ofTer right here. When you combine a walkable lifestyle with your regular routines, you’ll find new ways to see the sights, entertain your guests and easily enjoy the vast resources that the entire Kierland area has to offer.”

Specifically, these requirements mandate that at least 50 percent of the units are owner-occupied (new construction can vary and is dependent upon legal phasing); fewer than 15 percent of the units are in arrears in association dues; the HOA is not named in any lawsuits; commercial space accounts for 25 percent or less of the total building square-footage; and no single entity owns more than 10 percent of the project units.

“If the project does not meet warrantable guidelines, there are other nontraditional or niche programs available for buyers seeking financing in one of these projects,” Williamson said. “Typically, the interest rate might be slightly higher than regular financing and the down-payment requirement will likely be higher than the Fannie Mae minimum of five percent down. It really comes down to what is causing the project to be nonwarrantable.”

“If the project does not meet warrantable guidelines, there are other nontraditional or niche programs available for buyers seeking financing in one of these projects.” —Jeff Williamson, Homeowners Financial Group

His company encourages condo developers to meet with him or an associate before finalizing any legal phasing documents and Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC& Rs). “We want to make sure that we are setting the project up to be successful upfront and that all documents are drafted in accordance to Fannie Mae guidelines,” he said.

If the project isn’t warrantable, a potential condo-buyer needs to find out why the project is not considered warrantable by the GSEs, FHA or VA. Make sure, for instance, that you understand what the condo/ homeowners’ association fees fund.

“Buying in a project that is nonwarrantable isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Remember, the lender has an interest in making sure the project is sound,” Williamson said. “However, we see projects that were once nonwarrantable become warrantable. This is common in new construction as the project continues to meet required sales percentages.”

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