USA Today: Homebuilders Pass On Garages, Build Front Porches

USA Today reported today that more and more homes are being built without garages or carports. That stands to reason, as developers are (belatedly) building what the market wants: denser housing in walkable urban centers near transit. Copious parking and driveway curb cuts simply don’t mesh with that model.

My front porch. Photo: Tanya Snyder

At the peak of the housing boom in 2004 — when the exurbs were still thriving — 92 percent of new homes had a car shelter. By 2010 it was down to 87 percent, and held steady in 2011. National Association of Home Builders’ Stephen Melman told USA Today it was a positive sign “about public transportation if new construction is starting to be built closer to employment centers or transit.”

Almost as exciting: Front porches are making a comeback. “Two-thirds of new homes built in 2011 had a porch,” write USA Today’s Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, “a trend that has been on a steady rise for almost 10 years, according to a Census survey of construction.”

Impressively, they don’t take this trend at face value, assuming it’s nothing more than a housing fad. They dig deeper into emerging consumer preferences for how we want to live and what kind of society we want — one with “smaller houses and dense neighborhoods that promote walking and social interaction.”

Bingo! Using real estate prices as a guide, developer and walkability guru Chris Leinberger shows that walkable urban places, which he calls WalkUPs, have tremendous and growing appeal. Dr. Green admitted he was surprised by how high the premiums are for walkable neighborhoods. Office space in WalkUPs can (and does) command a 75 percent premium over the drivable suburbs. And residential rents are 71 percent higher in walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

The increased sociability of those sought-after neighborhoods may have something to do with the fact that porches are displacing back decks as the outdoor hangout of choice. Despite overwhelming evidence that what Americans want most is privacy, more and more people are opting to face the street and see their neighbors, rather than hide behind hedgerows.

  • Joe R.

    So let’s see-the fact that increasing numbers of Americans don’t wish to be forced to pay several thousand dollars annually for a depreciable asset which sits idle 23+ hours per day is a surprise? What’s more surprising to me is so many people for so long bought into the model of car ownership. Putting aside for a moment all the negative externalities of cars, the hard fact is that they’re a major money pit. I realized this out of college 27 years ago when I decided to go not only car-free but license-free. I recall reading that the average family will spend over $300K over their lifetime on automotive related expenses, even not paying for any externalities. Seems to me there are a lot more productive things one can do with that kind of money.

    I’m glad builders are seeing this as a long-term trend instead of a fad. Maybe the demand for urban housing will start to catch up to the supply, driving prices down somewhat. Many people who would otherwise live in an urban area don’t for one reason only-it’s beyond their means.

  • Anonymous

    To be fair to builders, they generally always try to respond to market signals. Minimum lot sizes and parking requirements are much more of an impediment than builder mindset.

  • badger

    I’m not discounting the value of a trend towards denser, more walkable neighborhoods, I think it’s great. But there are trade-offs. As much as these neighborhoods encourage walking and public transportation use, the reality is most residents still own cars, even if they aren’t using them as frequently. Without parking on their own property the residents park on the street, which is fine, but the public is then essentially subsidizing their parking for them, unless their streets are all metered. I think the benefits of denser neighborhoods outweigh this, but I also think these trade-offs should at least be mentioned.

  • carma

    @fefe5638c842925563307fa5718e3d70:disqus 
    Thank you for mentioning this.  i live in a not transit friendly area of queens.  but i still try to avoid using the car when i dont have to.  but without a driveway to store my car, life would be very difficult as i do depend on a car, and looking for a space is not pleasant.  btw, i put in less than 4000 miles per year.

  • SoCalCyclist

    It would be great to build a houses, or add to one, without a garage, but in so cal, very mucha against the law and no way gets through planning. I wish cities would wake up and allow houses without load of parking, but at this time, it’s a distant dream. Builders , such as myself, build what city allows, not what market wants…..

  • AdamDZ

    While I use a bike to commute and run errands I still want to have my car around for weekend getaways. I live in Queens and it would take me way too long to get to the Metro North train to go upstate to hike or bike. I can zip out of the city in under 30 minutes on a weekend morning by car and it’d take me about an hour just to get to the train station in Manhattan, by that time I will be in the Harriman State Park. We simply don’t have functional, fast and convenient transit and I doubt we ever will. While a full garage is not necessary (I’d rather keep my bikes in there) a safe off-street parking is a nice plus to have.

  • Charles_Siegel

    badger: “without garages or carports” could still mean that the house has a driveway next to it where cars can pull in and park. 

  • Miles

    But you can put solar panels on carports to double their functionality.

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