What Higher Gas Prices Mean for the Suburbs

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Do higher gas prices have anything to do with a decline in real estate sales prices? According to this report from CEOs for Cities, they do have an impact, especially on homes in outlying suburbs and in metro areas with weak central cities.

In the report, Driven to the Brink: How the Gas Price Spike Popped the Housing Bubble and Devalued the Suburbs, Joseph Cortright lays out how the run up in gas prices in the past few years corresponded with the popping of the housing bubble.

Between 1990 and 2004 the price of gas was essentially unchanged in inflation-adjusted terms, making a longer commute from your new home in the suburbs a non-issue, at least from a financial standpoint. Today’s gas prices averaging more than $3.50 a gallon is pinching all consumers, but likely weighs more heavily on those metropolitan areas and suburbs where people have to drive the farthest.

As such, the report found that while there is overall weakness in housing prices, price declines are generally more severe in cities and neighborhoods that require lengthy commutes and provide few transportation alternatives to driving your own vehicle.

Looking at housing values in five cities in both close-in and distant neighborhoods, the researchers found that in each case, housing prices fared worse in the more distant neighborhood. In Portland, the price of an average house in the 97202 ZIP code (3 miles from the central business district downtown) increased 7.7% from the fourth quarter 2006 to the fourth quarter 2007. During the same period, the average house in suburban Vancouver, Ore. (13.6 miles from the central business district) saw a price decline of 8.4%.

In concluding his report, Cortright offers five policy implications for leaders in all communities:

  • The relative decline in prices in sprawling suburbs is likely to persist because of the continued high price of gas, and governments should plan accordingly.
  • The market for higher density and redevelopment in close-in neighborhoods is likely to grow stronger, and local land use plans should accommodate this shift.
  • Government can help families save money by making it easy and convenient to live in mixed-use, close-in neighborhoods served by transit.
  • Reducing vehicle miles traveled not only saves families money, households that drive less have more to spend on other things, stimulating the local economy. Additionally, reducing oil consumption not only cuts greenhouse gas emissions but lowers the trade deficit.
  • Many distant exurban developments may no longer be economical, and propping up building and homeownership in these areas encourages unsustainable settlement that makes families even more vulnerable to future gas price increases.

Considering that gas prices aren’t likely to fall soon, if ever, this report’s findings have some striking implications, not only for Memphis-area real estate, but the future economic success of our city.

Posted by Scott Sherrin at 1:31 pm

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