In Autonomous Vehicles’ Future, Garages Go Away: Here’s 10 Big RE Impacts

One Friday morning late last month, a fully electric, 12-person EZMile EZ10 Gen II shuttle whispered from its current top cruising speed of 12 mph to a designated school bus stop.

The driverless vehicle–manufactured by Ligier Group and running EasyMile autonomous software–is being operated by Paris-based global transport operator Transdev, and is set to be the preferred mode of school bus service for kids of upwards of 20,000 families that settle into neighborhoods in one of America’s solar-themed, sustainable towns of the future, just outside of Fort Myers, Florida.

The pilot test at Kitson & Partners’ Babcock Ranch went off, as expected, without a hitch. On Fridays now, the AV shuttle is in use among early-phase buyers in Babcock’s Trail’s Edge neighborhood, whose 30 or so kids attend charter programs at Babcock Neighborhood Schools. Those kids, parents and onlookers are getting a sneak peek at an immediate future of autonomous vehicles and their eventual impact on communities, towns and cities of tomorrow.

A future that very possibly spells the inevitable end of an American residential icon, the garage.

New Communities, Fewer Garages

Kitson’s Babcock Ranch is a smart, sustainable, tech-enabled community at the vanguard of master-planned community development, but it’s not alone in its pursuit of neighborhood design and engineering that’s friendlier to the planet. Similar initiatives underlie emerging new mega-developments like Austin-area “EcoSmart” community Whisper Valley, which will be home to 7,500 single- and multifamily households, and Los Angeles-Santa Clarita Valley’s Newhall Ranch from Aliso Viejo, California-based FivePoint Communities, whose first two phases will include 5,000 units, all designed and engineered to leverage clean and renewable energy technology to meet zero net energy standards for all its commercial and residential buildings.

Newhall’s early-stage neighborhoods in its Valencia master plan include an electric charging station in every single-family unit. Later master plan phase design envisions an eventual endgame for personal vehicle use, which would, in turn, eliminate altogether the need for garages. Here’s Babcock Ranch developer Syd Kitson’s take on mobility in an autonomous vehicle nearer-future.

“It’s going to transform the way we think about the design of communities of the future. When you think about how we’re one day going to be able to eliminate parking garages, parking areas, and garages in the homes, you need to think through how all of that works together. At Babcock we’re starting the process.”

If garages—almost indelibly linked in our social zeitgeist with the American Dream of social and economic mobility, status and stature—go the way of the dodo bird, extinction won’t happen overnight by anyone’s account. Today, two-car garages dominate as structures most likely to accompany new homes in eight out of nine U.S. Census regions, according to recent National Association of Home Builders analysis of Census Survey of Construction data:

“For new single-family completions in 2017, 65% of homes offered a two-car garage. Another 20% of homes possessed a garage large enough to hold three or more cars. Just 6% of newly-built homes had a one-car garage, and only 1% possessed a carport. Another 7% of new homes had no garage or carport.”

By 2030, or so, as communities like Kitson’s Babcock Ranch, Boston-based Taurus Investment’s Whisper Valley, and FivePoint’s Newhall Ranch become more commonplace around the nation, the garage phenomenon will become less and less a fixture of residential property ownership.

Already, top 10 national builder KB Home has teamed with Hanley Wood’s Builder magazine on a concept home—KB Home ProjeKt—with architects at Irvine, California-based KTGY and Scottsdale, Arizona-based landscape architecture and community planning company Anderson Baron whose smart-healthy home features forecast a post-garage near-term future.

“The three-car garage — once a conspicuous signal of homeowner prosperity — will become a rarity, as driving yourself is replaced by on-demand travel via Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing options, KB Home predicts. Car owners will have charging stations for their Teslas and other electric vehicles,” writes Tiffany Hsu in the Los Angeles Times.

This begs the question. What happens as more communities create land plan that factor in an incredibly shrinking need—especially on a personal property ownership level—for garages? What could or would take the place of an American-as-apple-pie garage as a hotbed of innovation, invention and bad rock and roll? Here are 10 implications and ramifications that could help enable investors, planners, architects, and other real estate pros see around the next corner and prepare for the profound impacts an autonomous vehicle future will have on residential property values.

Density and Land Optimization

Taking an actual 40-acre tract for future development by KB Home in the Henderson, Nevada, masterplanned community of Inspirada, Anderson Baron reprogrammed the site plan—assuming an AV future where privately-owned cars may become unnecessary. The same 40 tract, traditionally laid out, allowed for 5.5 dwelling units per acre, or a total of 217 units. Subtract garages from each property and the parcel allows for a 31% increase in home sites, a total of 285 units at 7.24 to the acre.

Open Space Gains

The same 40-parcel, programmed traditionally with garages attached to each property, would accommodate 2.97 acres of open space, just shy of 8.4% of the total neighborhood tract. A driverless-car future site plan eliminating all of the individual property garages and clustering a few common-use parking garages for the community, would nearly quadruple open space in the 40-acre parcel to almost 11 acres, a full third of the acreage.

Less roads and infrastructure

Removal of garages that occurs because people don’t need them allow for homes to cluster differently, based on walking and connection patterns rather than road access to each property’s driveway. In the hypothetical connected community of the future—where both walkability and sustainability rank as property valuation and community priorities—developers would need to build 41% less infrastructure. This translates into a reduction from 8,527 linear feet of street length to 4,992 feet.

Affordability Gains

The calculus of affordability changes. Start with the fact that a two-car garage can add $25,000 to $30,000 to the cost of a new home, and the structure then adds further to operating costs in electricity use and air temperature loss. Secondly, if households do not bear the cost—about $10,000—of owning a car and driving it 15,000 miles a year, and can instead use public and private transportation services to get around, it could profoundly change the monthly payment economics of homeownership. This is not to mention the total cost of ownership savings homes in highly sustainable communities on monthly energy outlays, the third-highest monthly expense, after mortgage principal payments and property tax.

Increased health from walking

Trips from remaining garages or drop zones for residents might add as much as an extra 600 feet to the front door for residents, while not eliminating the possibility for rideshare services to deposit people at their doorstep. Walking, for both health and transportation reasons—first- and last-mile mobility—can change both the economics of health and the health of local economies, as productivity, resource allocation, pollution, and noise impacts evolve in more walkable neighborhoods of the future.

Scooterville U.S.A.

Scooter use and services are growing faster now than rideshare, and there’s no reason to believe we won’t begin to see scooters proliferate in so-called “walkable” masterplanned communities as car use declines. With that explosion has come a whole new level of need for emergency orthopedic care due to scooter-related injuries as Lime juices up and Bird takes wing. Expect the urban bikeshare craze also to spread to master-planned communities reprogrammed for walkability in a post-garage streetscape.

Self-Storage Abounds

As Millennials gain spending power and amass storable goods, Baby Boomers downsize, and self-storage trends toward automation, the eventual elimination of privately owned garage space represents a big upside for real estate investors in the self-storage asset class. App-based valet-style storage may evolve from swapping out seasonal window treatments and holiday decorations to more of a real-time square-footage as a service mode.

Parcel Delivery’s Explosion

Digitally enabled buying, receiving and returning of goods together add up to power consumers have seized and want more of. Accenture notes that parcel delivery services are on pace to grow 9% annually, to more than $343 billion globally by 2020. Communal drop boxes, lock boxes, block-level refrigeration kiosks, pick-up points, and concierge style parcel handling will become commonplace as communities swap out garages for green space.

Mobility’s Electrifying Near-Future

Fort Myers, Florida-area new master plan Babcock Ranch’s deal with global EV player Transdev to provide school shuttle services comes amidst a sweeping transformation in mobility from fossil-fuel based to renewable battery powered vehicles. In Deloitte’s overview on its Future of Mobilityseries, analysts Scott Corwin and Derek M. Pankratz note: “While uncertainty abounds, in particular about the speed of the transition, a fundamental shift is driving a move away from personally owned, driver-driven vehicles and toward a future mobility system centered around (but not exclusively composed of) driverless vehicles and shared mobility. The shift will likely affect far more than automakers—industries from insurance and health care to energy and media should reconsider how they create value in this emerging environment.”

Left to our own devices

In an autonomous vehicle-dominated future, how we spend time being entertained and accessing information changes dramatically. According to U.S. Department of Transportation data cited by Autonomy founder and CEO Ross Douglas, Americans in 2015 tallied up 84 billion hours driving their vehicles. Douglas writes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend an average of 50 mins per day on Facebook, more than any other leisure activity, with the exception of watching television and movies (2.8 hours per day). It’s more time than people spend reading (19 minutes), participating in sports or exercise (17 minutes), or social events (four minutes). It’s almost as much time as people spend eating and drinking (1.07 hours).

“Should AVs take over, then potentially 84 billion hours of new screen time, undisturbed by the pressures of home and work, could be up for grabs. That can only be good news for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and a bunch of smaller players like Bloomberg, LinkedIn and video gaming companies.”

As the founders of Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon can testify, garages mean business and innovation. And as, the Kinks, Nirvana, the Ramones, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Tommy James and the Shondells and other garage bands that made it have show, garages mean business, and then some in culture and society. What’s beginning to be clear as well, however, is that neighborhoods with no garages may also mean big business and big-time innovation—and then some—in communities of the future.