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A Train that Leads to a Pot of Real Estate Gold?

By Robert Freedman, senior editor, REALTOR® Magazine

With financial services reform and other major pieces of legislation working their way though both houses and members of Congress already thinking about midterm elections in November, it’s a real question what other issues lawmakers are going to try to tackle this year.

One candidate for their attention is authorizing money for, and maybe reforming, the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

That’s not something that’s typically on the radar of real estate practitioners but the NAR Board of Directors several years ago approved an association transportation policy and now whenever Congress looks at the issue, NAR decides whether it needs to weigh in or not.

NAR’s policy, in general, is that the fund shouldn’t just be used to build and fix roads; it should also be used to develop and maintain alternative forms of transportation, including subways and other types of public transit.

From a housing-value standpoint, transit projects have generally proven to be a good investment. Housing along transit corridors tends to rise in value faster and to hold onto its value more firmly than housing in other areas. This makes sense, since the proximity of transit simply gives households transportation options that go beyond their car. What’s more, businesses tend to sprout up along the corridor, so it’s not unusual for households to have a choice of restaurants and stores within walking distance. Also, because the transit option displaces some of the car traffic that would otherwise be on the road, congestion is reduced even as more people move into the area.

That, at least, has been the experience of Arlingtion, Va., which has become the poster child of transit projects. The Washington, D.C., suburb revamped its zoning and land planning decades ago to capitalize on Washington’s popular Metro subway system, and now it’s reaping benefits that have been widely reported in the trade press and general news media.

The area has seen an influx of households, a surge in condo and rental housing development (whose values have tended to hold up well during the downturn), the growth of dense retail clusters, and less traffic congestion despite the population growth.

Not all is positive, of course. I’m sure the area is noisier than it once was because of the increasing nightlife. But on balance, I think most people would call the changes in the area over the past 20 years a net plus.

At any rate, with the prospect of Congress looking into transportation issues this year, or perhaps early next year, REALTOR® Magzaine produced a short video on the issues that are expected to arise once the issues are debated. Among them: will the gas tax rise? (Highly unlikely right now.) Will more gas tax revenue be used for transit projects? (A real possibility.) Will gas tax money be used for infrstructure development or repair? (Possibly, in part because it would srtimulate jobs.)

Real estate professionals are increasibly aware of the connection between transportation issues and real estate. If you want to get a primer on some of the transportation issues that’ll be important to REALTORS® in the year ahead, at least at the federal level, the short video should be helpful. NAR Community and Political Affairs has also updated its transportation toolkit. That’s where you’ll get all the detailed information on the topic.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is director of multimedia communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. He can be reached at rfreedman@realtors.org.

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