The Walmart Effect on Home Prices: Economists Say Home Prices Have Increased Near Stores

PHOTO: Proposed Walmart lot
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Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, has been accused of skimping on workers' wages, but critics now may have a hard time arguing the presence of the giant retailer negatively affects housing prices.

An economics research paper from the University of Chicago and Brigham Young University found that the presence of a Walmart led to the increase of housing prices by 2 to 3 percent on average for homes within 0.5 miles of the store. For houses located between 0.5 and 1 mile of the store, prices increased 1 to 2 percent.

The researchers analyzed 159 stores that opened between 2000 and 2006 that had available housing price data, and compared home prices 2.5 years before and after the Walmart opened.

Devin Pope, an economics professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who wrote the paper along with his brother, Jaren Pope, an economics professor at Brigham Young University, said many people have written about the positive and negative effects of Walmart stores, which number more than 4,400 in the U.S., including Sam's Club warehouses. Walmart has 10,130 retail units in 27 countries, according to the company website.

The study, published as a working paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research in May, is called "When Walmart Comes to Town: Always Low Housing Prices? Always?"

It looked at stores in 20 states, all with varying numbers of stores. California had the most stores analyzed at 36, while Florida had the second largest number at 21. Six states, including Tennessee and Wisconsin, had only one store each that was analyzed.

Pope provided a list of 19 of the 36 stores analyzed in California. The cities were spread throughout the state, from Placerville in the north to Chula Vista, near the Mexican border.

Pope said housing prices may provide some picture that shows the net impact of a Walmart store on a neighborhood.

"When you see housing prices increase and a change in an environmental amenity, there is a group of people happy with that amenity," he said.

The company employs about 1.4 million people in the U.S.

Devin Pope said the analysis controlled for other factors that may have led to the price increases, such as national housing trends. The paper does not explain how home prices changed in each city because the analysis was conducted at the aggregate level to control for national trends.

Pope said the paper did not research trends past 2.5 years after the Walmart was built, but it is possible prices would increase further.

However, he said, he would be surprised if home prices did not decrease in some of the 159 communities he studied as a result of the Walmart.

Randy Millwood, a resident in Lincoln, Neb., thinks his neighborhood is going to be one of those communities.

Retired military and stay-at-home dad, Millwood, 45, is concerned that a 24-hour Walmart Supercenter proposed to be built in the middle of the premier subdivision where he lives will negatively affect prices by affecting the quality of life.

Home prices in his development range anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000, he said.

"A supercenter is not the way to go. Maybe a smaller market -- that might be something that we could get behind," Millwood said of the smaller Walmart Neighborhood Markets. "A supercenter is just ridiculous."

In Nebraska, the average Walmart Supercenter spans 185,000 square feet with about 142,000 items, according to Walmart's website.

This proposed Walmart, Millwood said, may be on the smaller side, at 133,000 square feet, but he is still against it.

Walmart Neighborhood Markets are about 42,000 square feet with about 29,000 items. As of April 30, Nebraska didn't have any Walmart Neighborhood Markets, but it did have 32 Walmart Supercenters and three Sam's Clubs.

Alternatively, Millwood suggested Walmart build a supercenter just west of the subdivision, a development prepared for a "big box" store like Walmart with taxpayer money in 2008. Those plans were scratched, in part, because of the economic downturn.

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