Location, location, location is the oft-cited mantra in real estate. And a house located on a busy roadway is almost certainly going to sell for less than an otherwise comparable one on a quieter residential street, even in Toronto’s still hot real estate market. Here’s why.
Before my wife and I bought our first house together, I lived in an apartment on Queen St., one of Toronto’s main east–west thoroughfares. The location was super-convenient, but also loud. In addition to the steady traffic and the pedestrians leaving bars and restaurants at all hours, streetcars noisily rumbled past from early morning until late at night. Worst of all, there was a 24-hour bus stop on the corner, just below my bedroom window. On many a summer night the squeal of bus brakes and a loudly idling engine interrupted my slumber.
Streets with a mix of commercial and residential properties often also have added noise pollution from early morning deliveries and late-night garbage pickup, and main roads are the preferred routes for police, fire, and ambulance services to race to an emergency.
As a result of noise concerns, when we started shopping around for a home to start our family in, a busy street was one of our deal breakers. (I’ve also written about why I wouldn’t buy a corner lot property either.)
Parking is usually prohibited on main arteries during rush hour so if a home on one of these roads doesn’t have a garage or parking spot, the owners will find themselves constantly having to move their vehicle to avoid getting ticketed or towed. If you do have a driveway you’ll want to reverse into it when you get home or be faced with backing out into traffic the next time you need to leave.
Playing road hockey is a rite of passage for many young Canadian kids (myself included), but you’d never set up a net on a busy street. The kids would be yelling “car!” more often than they were taking shots on net, not to mention the obvious safety concerns. As a result, buyers with young children – or pets that are prone to bolting – will generally consider the elevated risk of accidents to be a detriment.
It’s hard to quantify precisely how much of an impact a busy street has on value in part because no two homes are truly identical. But if you take two otherwise comparable homes in a neighbourhood where one is on the main drag and the other’s on a quieter side street, the home on the side street will typically be on the market for a shorter amount of time and will sell for about 10 to 15 per cent more.
With all those reasons listed why you might not want to buy on a busy street, there is an alternative perspective: busy streets can equal bargains. In a hot market – such as the one Toronto real estate has been experiencing for years – if a home doesn’t sell within a couple weeks of its listing date, it develops something of a stigma.
People tend to wonder, “What’s wrong with it?” The busy street can be “it,” which can equate to a great opportunity for buyers trying to get into the market. With no bidding wars to contend with, you may even be able to buy a home for (gasp!) less than the asking price.
Toronto townhouses are a popular choice for infill developers looking to convert old commercial properties into more valuable city real estate. The downside for buyers is that these converted commercial lands (old gas stations, auto body shops, etc.) by default tended to be on busy roads.
The upside though, again, is the potential to own a new home for a discounted price. (The one exception to the rule is a property on a primary street that’s mixed commercial and residential. Developers often bundle these together for townhouse or condo developments driving up their value.)
And keep in mind one final benefit to being on a high-traffic street when it comes time to sell: lots of people will see the “For Sale” sign.