Do train tracks reduce home values?

The answer may depend on your location and proximity to transit. One tip: Find an agent experienced with similar homes.

By MSN Real Estate partner Nov 11, 2013 10:46AM

Commuter train outside Chicago, Ill. (© Bruce Leighty/Getty Images)/Design Pics/Corbis)By Steve McLinden, Bankrate

 

Q: 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?

 

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

 

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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 because you are dissatisfied with the lack of results. But 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.

 

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53Comments
Mar 3, 2014 10:19AM
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They would also find a drop in value if their house was near a foundry or firing range.
 
Mar 3, 2014 6:21AM
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NEIGHBORHOOD  DOGS CONSTANTLY BARKING IS A LOT LARGER PROBLEM THAN TRAINS AND PLANES,,,,I WOULD CHOOSE THE TRAIN OVER THE DOGS ANY DAY....YES. I HAVE EXPERIENCED ALL THREE
Mar 3, 2014 2:25AM
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It wouldn't bother me a bit, unless there was a whistle sign nearby.
Nov 14, 2013 3:28PM
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I work for the railroad and the reason we haul hazardous stuff like propane is because federal law requires us to.

Nov 14, 2013 10:17AM
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When my husband and I first moved to GA we ended up renting an apartment about a 1/4 mile from train tracks. We didn't know the area and we didn't hear or see tracks when we went to see the apartment (tracks were hidden behind a tree line). If we had there is no way we would have rented the apartment. Every once in awhile you could actually feel the vibrations. The trains seemed to run about every 1.5 hrs and there was also a RR Crossing about a 1/2 mile away so we would hear the horn constantly (we used to joke that the night driver had a vendetta against our neighborhood because he would blow the horn excessively at 2am every night). I work from home so it was driving me crazy and it felt very unprofessional to be on the phone and having the train whistle blowing loudly in the background.

We toughed it out for 2 years, but when we bought a house earlier this year, we didn't even look at houses that were within 5 miles of any train tracks even if we thought they were cute. You couldn't pay me to live near one of those again. I can get used to just about everything else (planes flying overhead, etc.) but for some reason I cannot block out train noises. 
Nov 14, 2013 1:33AM
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Show the house on weekends when rail traffic is minimal.
Nov 13, 2013 8:57PM
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I would hate the noise and the vibration.  I want to sit out in my backyard and listen to birds, not train whistles.  But my big objection is the stuff that freight trains are hauling.  A derailment anywhere nearby could put your life at risk from a variety of chemicals, flamable substances, or even nuclear substances.  Thanks, but no thanks. 

I also don't want to live in a house that is near a school or an airport or a major thoroughfare.  Quality of life and safety are important to me.  So I prefer not to live someplace with built in risk factors.

Nov 13, 2013 8:45PM
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were the tracks there when you bought the house, or did they build the railroad after you moved in?
Nov 13, 2013 7:10PM
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I have worked for the railroad for many years if the trains bother you look for some place else! some people love the trains.
Nov 13, 2013 4:31PM
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GOD I know railroad fans that would love to have his house.  e especially.  I mount an automatic camera near the tracks juast to photograph the trains as they pass.  What he nees to do is advertise in a railroad magazine (Kalmbach Publishing) House for railroad fans only -- all othersneed not apply. And go for original price.  Give all the particulars on the house and the trains.  #  # #
Nov 13, 2013 4:20PM
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Caveat emptor - don't fire the realtor because you negotiated a bad price when you bought the house with the railway in its backyard.
Nov 13, 2013 3:29PM
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San Malo, a high-end beach community in San Diego County has waiting lists for buyers whom are willing to wait years for the privilege of buying there. Trains run within several feet of some of the homes and the remainder of homes in the small community are 200 feet or less from the tracks.
Only multimillionaires live there.

I conducted a survey of Newport Beach, California and found that homes under the Orange County airport flightpath appreciated at a greater rate than all areas in the city. The cheapest homes were the furthest in distance from the airport. Go figure!
Nov 13, 2013 12:25PM
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When I was 7-8-years old, we lived across a one-lane dirt road from railroad tracks. I would never buy a home near tracks or an airport--no matter how cheap it is.
Nov 13, 2013 12:09PM
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Rented a place backing to train tracks. The trains were SLOW freight trains that were moving between two sites in the same town and didn't have rr crossings so the conductor would actually get out and stop traffic, get back in and chug across. If I didn't know that ahead of time, I NEVER would have considered living there.
Nov 13, 2013 10:20AM
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My House in Fort Worth was right up next to the train tracks..  maybe 100 yards to the track from by back door  but my property was to the end of the track.  sold it the first day and as a matter of fact full asking price and I KEPT the gas and mineral rights under the land as well.,  Realtor did not even have to show it more than three times and said that two of them were ready to buy it.  It just goes to show you that it is still the golden rule of LOCATION LOCATIONLOCATION.  My house was in a great location and the train was really no big deal.  after a month I never even heard it...Location is still what determines the best market.  My townhouse in Houston is by train tracks again but my LOCATION is PERFECT and the view of downtown is spectacular at night off  my rooftop deck.   Again LOCATION.  but everyone is different.  If you see a lot of other nice houses in the area, I think you should have nothing to worry about.  Now on the other hand if there are no other comparable houses that would be a serious sign....
Nov 13, 2013 9:52AM
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I bought my first home condo at age 25 I did not do my homework there were train tracks just behind me about a block away so I couldn't see it up close so I never thought about it. Well let me say this I closed and moved in and every 20 min a load train came by blowing the air horn and squeels. It took me 3 years to sell it and I lost 15 grand on that condo. Never again I bought a house 3 months ago but I did my homework I looked for trains busses, main roads, fire and police noise, load schools, and people living by the new house for loud music or so on. Once I knew the noise was not there I bought the house it took me 2 months to decide on the house.
Nov 13, 2013 9:40AM
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Frankly, I don't see why anyone would want to live up against a railroad track. Find another location. You will be happy you did.
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I deliberately bought my house near train tracks because I love trains. There is also a speedway two blocks away and you can hear them on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I love race cars also. Then there is a go cart track just a few lots behind my house and they run about five days and nights a week. I am also in the direct flight path for our air port and the National Guard's touch and go training flights. So there is a lot of noise if you listen. I 've been here for years and it doesn't bother me a bit. I've lived in neighborhoods where none of these exist but the neighbors were horrible, with music too loud all day and night, constantly barking dogs, teenagers revving up engines and just all kinds of horrible noise. I'll take my house where its at and love the noises.
Nov 13, 2013 8:31AM
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Unfortunately for the average savy home buyer, trains do tend to be a problem for the seller, especially in today's market.  You have the problem with vibration that does transmit to the homes near the tracks and could cause cracks to the structure, possibility of train derailment and "hobos" that use the tracks.  Personally I would not buy a house at any price that is close to train tracks, unless I buy the property at a very very low price for rental.
Nov 13, 2013 7:59AM
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It may cost a few hundred dollars, but if you really want to know the value, get it appraised by a licensed appraiser.  They are literally the only player in the real estate game without a vested interest in the sale.  You may end up finding your real estate agent was right on the price reduction.  You may also find other factors with your home other than the railroad tracks that current market buyers would find unappealing.  
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