David and Susan Durovy consider the public running and biking path at the back of their new home an unexpected bonus. “It wasn’t a deal breaker,” David said. “But it was definitely a big plus.” Susan, a nurse, and David, see the trail as an opportunity to meet and engage with their community.
The two moved from a very rural area with acres of land that backed up to a forest, into town last July. Instead of having only one neighbor 200-yards next door, they now have neighbors only yards away on each side of them, and a backyard only three feet away from a busy running and bike trail.
“I love it for running,” David, 65, said. “I do a two-mile circuit every day. There are other trails which branch off from that, so it’s a great place to run and the hills give me a great aerobic workout.” Rather than drive somewhere to walk, or walk on a road as they did in the past, the couple can simply go out their back door and 30 yards to the path. It’s convenient, safe, and private. The only downside to the path is that their two dogs bark more than usual.
“Every time someone walks or bikes past, they bark,” he said. “That gets annoying, but hopefully they’ll learn it’s okay and stop barking.” They’re not worried about crime, one of the most controversial concerns about public pathways, but privacy. “When all the greenery is gone this winter, we’re anticipating we won’t have the privacy we’d like,” he said, “But we’ll see.”
Their new home has a second-story deck that overlooks the trail, or that will once the trees lose their leaves. Neither of them expect the privacy to be much of a concern. “As it gets colder there will be fewer people on the trail, so it’ll all even out,” David said.
“Greenways,” which is what organizations call biking, hiking and even public water access paths, have traditionally been considered detriments to the homeowners whose property butted up against the paths. Opponents of the paths claimed these urban trails would “lower property values, and result in increased crime.” But time has proven they don’t do any such thing.
In fact, a National Trails Training Partnership survey taken in April of 2002 showed that trails actually come in second place only to “highway access” as one of the most desired community amenities out of a list of 18. Trails beat out sidewalks, parks and playgrounds on the list. Two thousand recent home buyers responded to the survey about the importance of community amenities co-sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Realtors.
What Should You Know About Public Paths
Some homebuyers find trails an asset while others see them as a liability, but most studies and surveys show they’re a positive component. In the City of Vancouver, an opinion survey was mailed to 250 real estate agents with 66 responding. Results from those agents showed that 85% of realtors felt that bicycle routes were a strong amenity and 65% would use the route as a selling feature of the home.
Studies and surveys in various parts of the country have shown that bicycle paths (also referred to as trails, or greenways) can contribute to areas where they are established by providing recreation, transportation, a sense of community, increased property values, and lower crime.
According to real estate agents, property near but not immediately adjacent to the trail is significantly easier to sell, and on average sells for six percent or more. Property immediately adjacent to the trail, however, is only slightly easier to sell.
Not everyone is convinced paths, trails and rail-trails are safe or positive. The National Association of Reversionary Property Owners (NARPO) is “a group of property owners who have joined together to educate all landowners in the United States about the true ownership of railroad, utility, road, and other governmental types of Rights-Of-Way (ROW).” The group argues that groups, in particular rail-to-trail groups, are unconstitutionally taking abutting property.
The most common problems with public trails are litter, unauthorized motorized vehicles, and unleashed pets. Many trails are patrolled by police on bikes, or walking patrols, and while assaults aren’t common, they do happen, but less so than in other public areas.
If you do decide to buy property near or abutting a public path, particularly if the access is to a river, beach or other public feature like a park, talk to neighbors who already live along the path to determine if the path, or access to it, is a plus or a problem. Find out what property easements, if any, exist and what rights others have to the land.
For instance, an easement gives a person or entity the legal right to use someone else’s land for a stated purpose – as in crossing your land to use that public trail. Written easements are typically contained in deeds, individual documents, on plats, and in condominium and homeowner association documents, so check those before you buy, and ask your Realtor and a real estate attorney for advice before signing any documents.