Homeowners on busy streets deal with buzz, good and bad

By Laura Barnhardt Cech
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 12, 2009

Russell Baum owns a three-bedroom colonial in a desirable neighborhood in Arlington. The brick house has hardwood floors, a fireplace and a separate garage and is close to restaurants, the post office and the library. However, that's not all it's close to -- the property faces Washington Boulevard, a bustling commuter route. "You're bucking the conventional wisdom when you buy a main-road house," said Baum, a Foreign Service officer now selling his home.

Life on the highway, whether it's in the shadow of a Beltway sound wall or along a city thoroughfare, isn't for everyone. But there are advantages to living near the road more traveled, real estate experts say.

Such homes are often priced below comparable houses off the beaten path. They are convenient, shaving commuting time. And they can be more peaceful than you might think. Some owners even say the hum of the traffic sounds a bit like ocean surf.

Still, it's important to consider the realities of living with a main street, or even a four-lane highway, as a next-door neighbor, according to property owners and real estate experts.

Someone looking at a house along a busy road should want to see the property during peak traffic times, for example. Parking may be a significant consideration. And it's especially important for buyers to research state and local transportation plans.

"You need to know what's on the books," said Barbara Ciment, a real estate agent who lived on busy Kemp Mill Road in Wheaton for 25 years. "Make the call. You need to hear for yourself."

For her, the economics were worth the annoyances of living on a busy road, including the wait to pull out of the driveway into traffic and motorists who knocked on her door when they broke down.

"As an agent, I was more concerned about the investment," Ciment said. "I wouldn't have gotten the same return on another house."

Homes on a busy road are almost always priced below similar properties, which can put an otherwise unaffordable neighborhood, school district or type of home within financial reach.

On average, real estate appraiser Wayne Wallace said, he deducts 10 to 12 percent for a property on a main thoroughfare. But he said there are notable exceptions.

Condos are almost always more valuable if they're on a main road, according to Wallace.

And in a bull market, an appraiser might not deduct from the house's value at all.

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