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      What It Means To Be In A "Walkable" Neighborhood

      BOS summer

      Summer is not the only time that the real estate machine turns and churns. Though it might be the height of buying, selling, and renting, it is not the only season when properties get snapped up and or rented out. Though unconventional, some people tend to do transactions throughout the year precisely to avoid the rush, and hold off on any market fluctuations that happen during the peaks months. Others also relocate at another time because of other factors that affect their life. But regardless of whether you're looking to invest or rent a place, you're most likely inclined to look at one that's in a relatively "walkable" neighborhood.

      Boston, known to be America's most walkable city, is a sweet spot for properties to have this claim. The neighborhoods that surround Beantown are so tightly knit one another, that it's hard to decipher which neighborhood is which. But the term "walkable" is a broad term - it could mean a lot of things: walkable to the nearest subway stop, supermarket, school, or simply walkable in all its sense. So, to help you narrow down what exactly is "walkable" in terms of the Bostonian lifestyle, we're looking into what the word exactly means. First off, living in a walkable neighborhood does you wonders. In fact, experts say the ability to take a stroll through the area where you live has many benefits: it can make a substantial difference in your health, safety and the overall comfort you enjoy in your new neighborhood -- and with rising gas prices, it can also make an impact on your pocketbook too. With this in mind, there's certainly a lot of options to choose from in Boston that could shave some pounds of your waist simply by getting up and get moving to your destination.

      For those who have work or attend universities and colleges in the Downtown district - consisting of Back Bay and the Financial District, nearby neighborhoods such as the South End and Beacon Hillare the top choices. Though not exactly a stone's throw away, the price ranges in these neighborhoods will afford you the best bang for your buck when it comes to living close but on a budget since like anywhere else, the closer you are to where you need to be will cost you.

      In terms of the formal definition of the word, the US Department of Transportation officially defines "walkable community" as one where it's easy and safe for people to walk to grocery stores, medical clinics, schools, professional offices, and other services. It roughly means being at the heart of convenience. As a property hunter however, you can assess this by 1) looking at the property and its proximity to all of those mentioned; 2) check an online walkability aggregator site such as walkscore.com; and 3) tick off a checklist such as this.

      Also, here are some elements that, through our clients' feedback, we've identified that will give you a practical sense of what exactly comprises a walkable neighborhood:

      Room to walk and bike

      The layout of your new neighborhood is important. Pay particular attention to the things beyond a home's driveway or yard. Are streets designed for walkers and bikers? Do sidewalks offer sufficient space to walk? (There are sidewalks, aren't there?) Are they in good condition? Walk Score also says a neighborhood "center" is important, whether it's a main street or a public space, and suggests looking for signs of pedestrian-friendly design (i.e., when retail, grocery and other commercial buildings are set close to the street, with parking lots in back) that make a community more accessible to walkers.

      Access to local jobs, schools and services

      Walk Score says a walkable neighborhood is one where schools and jobs are close enough that most residents can walk to them from their homes. Also important is the ease of access to shops and entertainment facilities, which, if you need the extra incentive, is something that a 2012 Gallup poll has found to correlate with happiness and quality of life.

      Quality of driver behaviors

      Another important aspect to consider is how drivers behave on the road at different times of the day and night, according to the NHTSA, especially during heavy commute times. Do drivers obey traffic regulations such as posted speed limits, stop signs and crosswalk right-of-way laws? Also, consider visiting the local police department and asking a traffic officer about areas that may be a concern for pedestrians, particularly those with limited mobility or children walking to and from school.

      Access to parks and public spaces

      Are there plenty of public spaces to gather and play? Since getting outside can be beneficial to all members of your family, look for opportunities to engage in your favorite physical activities. If you enjoy bicycling, take a look at the width of roads in the area; see if there's a bike club that rides together for safety and fun. Also, for both children and parents, look for parks that offer sports programs like baseball and softball leagues.

      Making walkability a priority in your home buying search can really pay off: The enjoyment of walking back to your new house after a fun, healthy community activity can be just the "Welcome Home" you need.

      Crime rates

      Visit crimereports.com, a website that provides visitors with free up-to-the-minute crime maps and crime reports for specific areas. The site offers a free mobile download and, if you choose, will send free crime alerts on a regular basis.

      Also, make time to talk to the community resource officer for the area. Your city may have a different title for this position, but it's essentially someone who works as a liaison between the police and neighborhoods.

      Your community officer can provide information about property and violent crime trends for an area and may even be able to provide crime report printouts. For small communities, you may need to check directly with the police department.

      National Sex Offender Database

      The police will be able to provide information about registered sex offenders living nearby. You should also check out FamilyWatchdog.us, a free database that allows you to search by street name or city. The site provides information -- often including a photograph --about offenders living in the neighborhood.

      Noise and traffic

      Your home search may not span months, so that you can learn about summertime vs. wintertime noise. But you should plan to visit the neighborhood at all times of the day and night. Check out traffic patterns during rush hour. Are some streets more dangerous because of this traffic? What's the neighborhood like at midnight on a Saturday? Is there a church nearby that eats up all the Sunday morning parking? Are you so close to the airport that you hear the roar of planes?

      Talk to multiple neighbors: Does the neighboring park host festivals that might create parking and noise issues? Ask when they think the neighborhood is at its wildest and, if at all possible, make a visit at that time.

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