A House Tour With Two-Wheeled Appeal

By Whitney Malkin
Associated Press
Saturday, September 13, 2008

PORTLAND, Ore. -- With gas prices high, bicycles flying out of stores and a buyer's market for houses, a handful of real estate agents around the country are touting the two-wheeled appeal of their listings.

Some even show houses exclusively by bike, wheeling through the neighborhood with potential buyers to show off bike lanes and bike-focused businesses and repair shops.

Clad in a purple helmet with plastic flowers dangling from her handlebars, Portland's Kirsten Kaufman is part of a new generation eager to replace the stereotype of agents hauling clients around in fancy sedans or SUVs.

The mother of three started hosting bike tours earlier this summer, doling out energy bars and apricots to clients whose passion for pedaling weighs heavily in their choice of homes. Some are hard-core cyclists. Others are moving into the city to avoid increasingly expensive and onerous commutes.

"It's becoming more common to see families committing to driving less," Kaufman said. "I think it's a part of the market that will continue to grow as gas gets more expensive."

Over the summer, sales of homes dipped by more than 15 percent from last year, according to the National Association of Realtors, leaving Kaufman and other agents looking for ways to spark business.

Bike agents say pedaling with clients is providing that boost. Behind a niche market that represents only a sliver of national sales is a bigger trend -- a fundamental shift in the way people think about buying homes.

Real estate agents and industry surveys indicate that home buyers are placing more importance on cutting their gas bills and commute times and that homes near urban centers and subway, train and bus stops are selling faster than those in the distant suburbs.

In June, a Coldwell Banker survey showed that more than 95 percent of agents say rising gas prices are a concern to their clients. More than three-quarters of clients say higher fuel costs are increasing their desire for city living.

"Living out in the suburbs just isn't a big deal anymore," says Matt Kolb, a bike agent who owns Pedal to Properties, a Boulder, Colo., firm. "People want to live, work and go to school within a six-blocks radius -- that's changing the way they look at property."

Pedal to Properties has five agents, a fleet of 48 cruiser bikes and big plans for nationwide expansion. Next year, the company will stretch into Oregon and Texas.

"For people who want to drive less, it just makes sense that they'd be looking for different things in a neighborhood," said Emily Gardener, a Portland woman who has been looking for a new house with Kaufman on the same bike she uses to pedal to the office each day.

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