15 minutes of commute time can seriously impact your cost of housing

Bradley Walker
New York City 40°42'52" N, 74°00'26” W

How long does it take you to get to work? Would you trade a longer trip for a little more space at home? Zillow and HERE partnered to look at 34 cities across the U.S. and found the real-estate cost of your commute.

When I ask people about their commutes, the topic frequently turns to how they take back the time. My colleague Amanda, who commutes 2 hours each way, knocks out a book a week. Erica listens to podcasts. Alexander gets a jump on work. Meghan is learning Spanish, Chris sleeps… the list goes on.

But, here’s the common thread: everyone is grafting value out of the time they spend in transit.

In most of the above cases, the commute time is converted into intellectual value. But, a recent study conducted by Zillow and HERE clearly demonstrates that there’s economic value as well. We interviewed Aaron Terrazas, Economic Research Director at Zillow, to understand more.

Can you tell us about how this study came to life?

“Generally, our economic research group is interested in any kind of data that can inform consumers and professionals about the real estate market,” Mr. Terrazas said.

“We have an enormous amount of data on physical homes. But, a big part of where people choose to live is where they work, and how they get between their home and their work. For a long time, we have wanted to do more research about commutes … how much time you save by being closer to your job versus how much you give up by typically having a smaller unit from being closer to urban employment centers.

"HERE’s very granular, high-frequency data allowed us to conduct that study and look directly at the relationship between commute times and home values. Bringing these two datasets together, we're able to tell a pretty compelling story for the home shoppers out there.”

One of the key elements that enabled the study is the HERE Isoline routing capability. In brief, from any one place, an isoline can accurately depict a time-based route away from that place in any direction, along almost any means of transit. In other words, you can render a map of how far you’ll get in 20 minutes in any direction on the road.

“I think the attractive feature of the HERE data was we didn't have to estimate the distance,” Mr. Terrazas continued. “There are different ways that researchers typically estimate distance between two points, like drawing a straight line or defining radii. HERE actually has the network grid. How long did someone travel over what kinds of roads, so you know what traffic is like at different points of the day. That adds a layer of reality to this analysis that a lot of other analyses lack."

In compiling this data across 34 cities, what were the findings?

“There are different models in cities in United States. There are very dense urban cities where it makes sense to think of home values decreasing as you get further away from that downtown core … You can think of places like New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, Boston … we wanted to estimate how much you save by moving 15 minutes out.”

In the study, the numbers for Boston show that the typical home becomes 13% less expensive ($57,000) if you move 15 minutes further out.

“So for someone looking to buy a home - what is their trade-off between that 15 minutes extra on their daily commute. Obviously that adds up each way, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. What is that versus the extra $57,000 you’re going to spend on a home to save that time?

“There are other cities that follow a very different model … like Houston or Phoenix where homes are actually more expensive the further you get out. There are cities that have not experienced the same degree of urban renewal as a New York or Washington D.C., and we wanted to explore the different dynamics”

Beyond consumer information, how can this data be used for good?

“Infrastructure - it’s so important.

“Obviously, many cities in the United States are struggling with affordable housing. How do you add affordable housing in already in built up areas? There’s been so much hand wringing about how we build more low-cost units, when we can see that an alternate way around that conundrum is by expanding the area that a center of employment draws from by adding infrastructure to make it reasonable to live kind of in a wider range of places. So, infrastructure planning is central to the solution, this has a particular impact in affordable housing.”

Any final takeaways?

“At the research group … our mission is to help educate consumers who are in that process of, or considering buying a home. In the last 5 years, we’ve seen younger consumers delaying all sorts of decisions, like buying a house. In that, we did see a trend toward dense urban living.

“But now that's starting to shift. We see home values rising in the suburbs right now, and we think that's driven by young adults who had been delaying those decisions suddenly starting families and deciding they need more space. Using the data that HERE provides, we’re trying to help people understand the trade offs that they're making. Maybe they decided they need a larger three- or four-bedroom house. But what's that going to cost them in terms of their money, and their time?”

Data from the report is available down to the zip code and neighborhood level for each of the 34 cities analyzed. You can find a general overview here, or for more specific data, contact press@zillow.com

We would like to thank Mr. Terrazas for his time and his insight. In the meantime, happy commuting!

Topics: Smart cities, Developers, Powered by HERE, Editor's picks, Cartography