When it comes to real estate, most buyers understand those three little magic words, location, location, location.
They know it’s better to live next door to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif. than the shuttered Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa. That it’s better to live in Newport, R.I., famous for its gilded-age mansions, than the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, infamous for turning a former bison-grazing site into a highly contaminated chemical production facility.
Similarly, it doesn’t take a real estate genius to figure out it’s better to live in a New York City high-rise overlooking all of Manhattan than a five-story condo in West Covina, Calif., overlooking the BKK landfill.
While it’s fairly easy to avoid Superfund sites written up in the headlines, less obvious are dozens of potentially disagreeable and undesirable real estate locations common to nearly every neighborhood that you should steer clear of or at least be aware of before making an offer on a house.
Some of these locations might surprise you. Indeed, some may not bother you in the least. You might even find they complement your lifestyle, but you should — to protect your resale value if nothing else — be ready to do your due diligence.
So, here’s our checklist of 20 potentially dubious neighbors and nuisances that you may or may not want to cozy up to. Keep it in your hip pocket the next time you go house hunting. Who you choose as your neighbor is ultimately your decision, but let it be known, in the interest of full disclosure, that you’ve been duly warned:
- 1. Cemeteries
- 2. Funeral Homes
- 3. Fire Stations
- 4. Hospitals
- 5. Water Treatment Facilities
- 6. Power Plants
- 7. Active Mines and Abandoned Mines
- 8. Unstable Hillsides
- 9. Busy Intersections
- 10. Freeway On-Ramps and Off-Ramps
- 11. Bus Stops
- 12. Gas Stations
- 13. 24-Convenience Anything
- 14. Supercenters
- 15. Highways
- 16. Power Lines and Voltage Towers
- 17. Landfills
- 18. Foreclosures
- 19. Concert Venues/Sportsplexes
- 20. Closed Schools
- Eye of the beholder
“I don’t know many people who want to live next to a graveyard,” said real estate agent Amanda Pohlman with Keller Williams in Cleveland, Ohio. “A lot of people consider it bad luck. For some, it might be a little too close for comfort, it’s like you’re invading their space.”
2. Funeral Homes
Like cemeteries, your neighbors won’t make a lot of noise, but you should ask yourself if you’re okay with hearses rolling out of the next door driveway two or three times a day. It might spook some future buyers.
3. Fire Stations
If you value your sleep, wailing sirens could be considered unneighborly. Yet Cara Pearlman, a real estate agent in Bethesda, Md., said she heard that if you live near a fire station, you might get a discount on your homeowner’s insurance. “The paramedics also will get to your home a lot faster,” she said.
Again, emergency services are vital to every community, but the 24/7 hum of a hospital can have you running for some Ambien, especially if the hospital has a helipad. But real estate agent Pohlman defended the Cleveland Clinic, regarded as one of the top four hospitals in the United States as rated by U.S. News & World Report. “It the cultural center of our city,” she said. “Everybody wants to be near it (University Circle).”
5. Water Treatment Facilities
Just hope management includes landscaping as a budget item. Only a chain-link fence separates the eastern border of the sprawling Metropolitan Water District facility in La Verne, Calif., from the rest of the town, but without any vines or other foliage to conceal the site’s buildings, backhoes and other heavy equipment, the plant has devolved into a neighborhood eyesore.
6. Power Plants
You may be unfamiliar with the town of Hinkley, Calif., but you might recall the name, Erin Brockovich, who helped trace the contamination of Hinkley’s water to the chemical, hexavalent chromium, leading to a $333 million class-action suit against Pacific Gas and Electric. According to Neighborhood Scout.com, the median value of a Hinkley home is $139,909, cheaper than 95 percent of California neighborhoods. See what the latest home mortgage rates are in your area:
7. Active Mines and Abandoned Mines
Active mines provide clear and present dangers and abandoned mines are not places you want to be poking around in unless you’re a professional geologist or spelunker.
8. Unstable Hillsides
It’s better to live on top of the hill than at the base of one. Torrential rains can super-saturate land and move the earth, causing massive mudslides and loss of life below (La Conchita, Calif., 2005; Oso, Wash., 2014). In the beachside community of Malibu, Calif., the town’s main traffic artery, PCH or State Route 1, is regularly closed after storms, creating commuter gridlock.
9. Busy Intersections
Unless you love the smell of exhaust belching from big rigs or the squeal of tractor-trailer drivers tapping their air brakes or motorcyclists peeling out trying to set new 0-60 mph land records, you should take a pass and seek quieter locations.
10. Freeway On-Ramps and Off-Ramps
Again, take a pass unless noise and congestion make you feel alive. But strangely, Pohlman shared that doctors in Cleveland actually like to live near freeways so they can reach the the Clinic in under 10 minutes.
11. Bus Stops
They’re great if you’re a user of public transportation, not so great if the bus deposits the passengers at or near your doorstep.
12. Gas Stations
Gas stations attract crowds, and what’s to like about watching from your front lawn somebody change his oil. Steer clear.
13. 24-Convenience Anything
Maybe when you were 18, convenience stores were cool. You could always count on them to grab a late-night Slurpee or Snickers, but now they’re you’re a little more settled, convenience doesn’t seem so chill. Safety and quiet, now that’s cool!
See above. The last thing you want to hear is the sound of trucks idling as their cargo is being loaded and unloaded all night long.
The car is still king in America, but should the transportation authority in your neck of the woods ever decide to widen the thoroughfare fronting your property, you could lose a little chunk of real estate, drawing you closer to the traffic.
16. Power Lines and Voltage Towers
Make up your mind to get your buzz from another source. The science is mixed about whether the transmission lines expose you to any health risks, but they look ugly and scare some people (tipping over or snapping in an earthquake), which could hurt future resale.
They’re just dump sites that have been dressed up for sale. Housing developments carved from this kind of makeover suffer from an image problem, sort of like converting sewage into drinking water. Experts say it’s safe, but somehow the notion is still hard to swallow. A study from the Pima County, Ariz., assessor’s office shows that a subdivision near a landfill loses 6 percent to 10 percent in value compared with a subdivision that isn’t near a landfill — all other residential factors being equal, including house size, school quality and residential incomes.
Robert A. Simons, an urban planning professor at Cleveland State University, says that if you live within two miles of a Superfund site — a landfill that the government designates as a hazardous-waste site — your home’s value could decline by up to 15 percent.
A MIT study, which examined 1.8 million home sales in Massachusetts from 1987 to 2009, found that the typical foreclosed home has its post-foreclosure price slashed by an average of 27 percent and that a single foreclosure can decrease the value of homes within 250 feet by an average of one percent.
19. Concert Venues/Sportsplexes
The good news is Eminem and Rihanna are coming to town, the bad news is they’re playing at a venue a little too close to your home, clogging your suburban streets with traffic and with people that don’t anything like those folks in your bridge club.
20. Closed Schools
Unless you hate the sound of children’s laughter, a closed school is rarely a healthy economic sign. Then again, it could just mean the town is full of retirees and empty nesters. That’s the way real estate agent Sherie Hawley of Hawley and Associates in Eugene, Ore., views school closures. “A school closing doesn’t really have an economic impact here, it’s not an indicator of the neighborhood; it’s more of a school board decision to consolidate schools,” she said. “Many of our schools are next to parks, so that means you have more room to jog and walk your dog.” Still, the closing of a school by a cash-strapped district should at least raise an eyebrow. The National Association of Realtors says 75 percent of home shoppers say the quality and availability of schools in the neighborhood is either “somewhat important” or “very important.”
Eye of the beholder
Interestingly, Hawley also noted that real estate agents are bound by a code of ethics. As professionals, they can’t “steer” clients one way or the other. They can simply point out the facts and suggest that their clients follow up with more research.
Hawley added that each potential neighborhood annoyance usually comes with a trade-off. The noise from living next to a freeway or an airport might even be welcome. “If you’re deaf, the noise won’t bother you, but you’ll likely pick up the house at a great discount,” she said.
MyBankTracker is aware that the above represents only a partial list of potential neighborhood nuisances and annoyances. Please use our comment section to share with us other neighborhood irritants that you believe home buyers should try to avoid at all cost.
Peter is a staff writer at MyBankTracker.com who covers banking, personal finance, investing and homeownership.