The Draw of the Flaw

By Dan Rafter
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 27, 2007

When Steve Isenberg moved to Rockville last year, he gladly bought a condominium directly across from the Metro tracks.

For some, the noise from the commuter trains zipping in and out of the nearby Rockville station would prove too much to bear. But for Isenberg, being that close to the rails was a major selling point -- just one example of how some home buyers find the bright side of what others would consider huge negatives.

"Traffic here is pretty horrendous," said Isenberg, who works in downtown Washington as a financial systems specialist with the U.S. Postal Service. "I absolutely did not want to drive into Washington, D.C., every day. I didn't want to have to deal with the traffic. That was my motivation for living near public transportation."

People in the District and its suburbs purchase houses that sit alongside busy roads or directly under power lines. They buy residences that have no yards, or those within spitting distance of factories and busy nightclubs. These are things that can't be fixed with a coat of paint -- what's called in the real estate business an incurable defect.

The question others ask is an obvious one: Why?

What would bring someone to purchase a home with such an obvious problem?

"Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder," said Henry Burrell, an agent with the Bethesda office of Long & Foster Real Estate. "When looking for a home, different variables come into play. Some of those things are priorities. Some aren't, even things that others would consider serious problems."

Here, then, is a look at some of the reasons buyers purchase that home located just a few sniffs from the town dump.

Putting a Price on Imperfection

Often the big reason for buying a house with an obvious defect is to get a lot of home for a lot less money.

Frank Dodd, associate broker and branch owner with the Clinton office of Real Estate Professionals 100, helped a client purchase a home in Brandywine last year for about $20,000 less than the listed price.

The secret? The house sat about 200 feet from railroad tracks. This didn't bother the buyers -- the house has thick bushes to buffer it from the tracks, and the trains coming through the residential area move more slowly than normal.

But the buyer didn't let the seller know this. Instead, Dodd and his client negotiated as if the proximity to the tracks represented a major problem.

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