Analysts say commuters may move closer to work
Gas cost just over $2 a gallon in October 2006 when Derek Benoit bought his condominium in Amesbury in the far northeastern corner of the state. Now he’s trying to sell the unit, even though he just finished renovating it.
With gas now $4 a gallon, the software executive is no longer willing to pour $500 worth into his tank each month, an expense he attributes mainly to his 34-mile commute each way to work in Wilmington, or farther, to Logan International Airport for out-of-town meetings. He is looking to buy a home closer to his employer and the airport.
“I love, love, love my place, so it’s bittersweet,” Benoit said. But the commute is “just getting too expensive.”
Benoit’s decision may seem like an extreme reaction to soaring gasoline prices, which have forced many commuters to modify their driving habits. Some are making fewer trips, and others are trading in gas-guz zling sport utility vehicles for compacts or taking mass transit to work. The US Department of Transportation recently reported a record drop in the number of miles Americans drove in March, compared with March 2007, which amounted to a 4.3 percent decline.
But if gas prices continue their inexorable rise, commuting costs will become a critical factor in where people choose to live, according to transit specialists and economists. Most will probably not take as radical a step as Benoit and relocate; instead, the next time they have to move, for a job or a bigger house, proximity to work or mass transit will be a much bigger consideration.
The first dramatic changes would probably occur for those in isolated suburbs and exurbs: the New Hampshire resident who commutes 50 miles to Boston or the Framingham resident who drives 20 miles into Kendall Square in Cambridge.
“When gas was cheap, it was financially possible to live out in the exurbs and the outer reaches of the suburban ring and commute in,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com. “That’s where we’ll see the largest impact from the surge of commuting costs.”
There is little evidence of a migration by homeowners seeking to lower their gas costs, but there are signs that more are thinking about it.
In a survey of its agents by real estate brokerage Coldwell Banker, 81 percent said they are seeing more interest from prospective buyers in urban living because of high gasoline prices. Fifty-four percent said access to public transportation is more important to their clients now.
A May study by CEOs for Cities, a research organization supported by government and business, said rising gas prices would push new housing developments closer to the urban core in Boston, Seattle, and other US cities, while suburbs with few transit options will lose value.
Frank Wilson is a retired teacher with over 30 years of combined experience in the education, small business technology, and real estate business. He now blogs as a hobby and spends most days tinkering with old computers. Wilson is passionate about tech, enjoys fishing, and loves drinking beer.