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Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Home Buyers Moving Away From Traditional Suburban-Style Housing

A larger-than-expected crowd of Memphis-area REALTORS® showed keen interest Thursday in promoting development of smaller, more densely spaced residences a short walk away from groceries, schools, shopping, and other destinations.

Smart-growth expert Nathan Norris of Montgomery, Ala., invited to speak by the Memphis Area Association of REALTORS®, drew such strong preregistration that the REALTORS® moved the event to the Memphis Bioworks auditorium to accommodate about 80 agents and others.

It’s not that the agents would turn down listings for large houses on single-family lots in cul-de-sacs at the outer edge of suburbia. But they had better be prepared also to meet the shifting demands of 21st Century real estate and Generation Y, said Norris, a partner in design and planning consulting firm PlaceMakers.

That under-30 demographic wants the convenience, adventure, and the social connectedness of urban living, said Norris, whose visit was underwritten by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team.

Even if it prefers the suburbs, Gen Y wants to live within a new town center-type development where walking is an option.

The principles of a smart growth neighborhood include a mix of land uses, compact building designs, a range of housing costs and choices, walkable streets, the attractiveness and distinctiveness that creates a strong sense of place, preservation of open spaces and farmland, a variety of transportation choices, and development that’s steered and strengthened toward existing communities.

A challenge for real estate agents is that the demand for smart growth neighborhoods exceeds the supply, Norris said.

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® wants agents to take a more active role in how their communities develop. “There’s greater demand for smart growth than the market provides,” Norris said. “What they really want you to do is get involved.”

Politicians listen to real estate agents because they are perceived as being “connected” to many people, he said.

Norris offered a primer on how to gain support for smart growth development from bodies like the City Council and County Commission, including: Form a core group of supporters; partner with like-minded organizations; invite decision-makers to private lunches to promote smart growth; don’t blindside influential people but bring them aboard; enlist the support of business leaders who can provide cover for politicians whose pro-smart growth vote might upset some developers; give walking tours of neighborhoods; take decision-makers on field trips to smart-growth districts; and give Power Point presentations.

Norris ended his four-hour presentation by asking the REALTORS®, “Are you going to do anything different? Are you going to act on this information?”
“Yes!” a number of them responded in chorus.

One woman said she’s going to talk to her council representative. Another planned to ask the mayor to lunch. Another said she’ll go before the City Council to speak.

That prompted Norris to caution, “Before you start meeting all over the place, form partnerships.” He added that lots of decisions are influenced by powerful individuals who may not attend City Council meetings.

“Part of getting them on board is not blindsiding them,” he said.

Carol Lott, president of the Memphis Area Association of REALTORS®, said later Thursday that promoting smart growth adds more housing that REALTORS® can sell.

“We are seeing less McMansions. We are seeing people leaning toward a little bit less square footage,” Lott said. “They are leaning toward living in a community where they can walk to the store and walk to a restaurant and perhaps to a doctor’s office.

” … It’s just another form of home ownership. We support condos and we support people who want to live on those big lots. When you throw smart growth in the mix you got one more way for somebody to be a home owner.”

Source: The Commercial Appeal

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