real estate

Do train tracks reduce home value so much?

Steve McLindenDear Real Estate Adviser,
My home is in perfect condition but it won't sell, apparently because it backs up to rail tracks. My agent, who tells me more than 50 people have come to our open houses, has responded to this by recommending price reductions of up to $54,000! I won't be renewing her contract. I'm quite unhappy as a result of this situation and don't know what else to do. Can you please give me some suggestions?
-- Sue C.

Dear Sue,
Unfortunately, the sales engine can slow to a chug for marketers of homes that back up to railroad tracks, though that doesn't mean the right buyer isn't lurking out there.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise that your house might have to be priced less per square foot than recently sold comparable, or "comp,” neighborhood homes that don't back up to tracks. In fact, that discount should have been factored into the price when you bought the place.

A report by Entrepreneur magazine provides some enlightenment. The magazine studied property values near freight railroad tracks in Cuyahoga County in Ohio from 1996 to 1999. Its findings show an average loss in value of between $3,800 and $5,800 (5 percent to 7 percent) for homes 1,250 square feet or less located within 750 feet of railroad tracks. Larger homes, however, showed mixed results.

You don't say whether the train tracks are used primarily for freight or commuter lines, or both. Anecdotally, commuter-track adjacency tends to reduce the size of the buyer pool in some markets and enhance it in others. Chicago-area real estate agents weighing in on the subject online say homes set along the noisy "L" or Metra lines tend to languish on the market and may even cut as much as 20 percent off their value. However, in dense, redeveloped urban areas near commuter rail stops, condos and other homes tend to appreciate because of the easy access, other agents say.

What can make a big difference is the frequency of trips past the house or the level of sound or vibration they cause. Regular train clatter is one thing, but if the horn blows frequently at a whistle stop near the property, marketing efforts can be tougher. A busy crossing that regularly holds up traffic nearby might make things worse. If there is no tree or foliage buffer between you and the tracks, soot can tend to collect on the roof, lawn and car.

I can't quibble with your idea of replacing your agent since you are dissatisfied with the lack of results. But his or her idea of a sizable price reduction might have been proper, given the situation. This time, be sure to look for an agent who has marketed similarly challenged properties. The larger agencies usually can produce somebody of this ilk. And make sure your home will be offered on just about every imaginable online venue to increase your buying universe.

I should also note that most people who live near train tracks say they simply get used to the sound relatively quickly. Some even find the rhythm of the passing trains charming or lulling. What's more, the train right of way often creates an open park-like area behind houses, which creates the illusion of a larger yard. Many residents use this right of way as an access point to what in essence becomes a long, linear walking or jogging area along the tracks. These could be conversational items for your agent.

If it's a low-volume track behind the house, you and your new agent might produce some data on frequency of trains, their use, the times they pass and any other tidbits of information that serve to reassure buyers that they're not buying on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.

There's a buyer out there somewhere for your home. But be ready to heed your new agent's pricing, showing and marketing advice. Good luck!

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