Road Noise and Its Effects on Napa Valley Real Estate Values
When buyers think about living in the Napa Valley adjectives like bucolic, serene and natural come to mind. This isn’t always the case.
Having traversed and shown properties up and down the valley for more than a decade I often find myself giving caution to buyers about the effects of road noise on real estate and enjoyment values. Living outdoors is a significant element of any property’s value in California. Napa Valley’s picturesque vineyard views entice occupants outside even more than other parts of the region. Therefore what you hear (or don’t hear) from your balcony, pool or deck side matters… a lot!
Properties affected by road noise can fool many unsuspecting buyers in photos and descriptions on line. Most local realtors can spot them fairly easily either by address, price, or how long a property has been on the market.
Several years ago I did an exhaustive research project on the subject of how road noise directly affects Napa Valley’s real estate, going back to the mid 1980’s. I started with a list of approximately 200 sold properties with main thoroughfare addresses including Hwy 29, the Silverado Trail and several of the crossroads that connect the two up and down the valley including Dunaweal Lane, Bale Lane, Pope St., East Zinfandel, Rutherford Road and Oakville Crossroad.
Once I had a fair sampling of relevant sold properties I studied the sales history, going back to each property’s original listing date and price. Here is what I discovered: the average days on market for a property affected by road noise was 30% longer than the average days on market of all properties sold for any given time period; and the sold price per the first asking price value averaged 68%. Even I was surprised at this number and re-worked the numbers several times to make sure the result was correct.
Sellers of road noise properties are tough clients who often change realtors more than once, believing and hoping it is the agent’s fault the property isn’t selling. Occupants of road noise homes get used to the sound of cars and trucks and motorcycles when they’re outside or enjoying a cool breeze with doors and windows open. “It isn’t constant,” they say, and it’s true. There are times when the roads are not busy and outdoor enjoyment is pleasant and quiet. It takes most sellers a long time to concede that so many buyers don’t want to adapt to that particular detractor of value when road noise is apparent.
There are three key reasons it takes road noise properties longer to sell, and why they sell for less:
1. Intolerance-The majority of the universe of Napa Valley buyers is intolerant to road noise. Therefore the pool of buyers willing to buy a house with road noise is significantly smaller.
2. Supply/Demand factor plays a role as well. Since there are significantly fewer buyers willing to buy a road noise house, and since road noise listings stick around the market longer the supply side more often than not outweighs the demand.
3. Discount in/discount out. Road noise sellers forget that when they purchased the property they got it for less because of road noise. Despite mitigation efforts such as walls, foliage and fountains, there’s only so much drowning out an owner can do. The discount in/discount out concept must play a role in getting sold via price. If there is less demand and more supply price is affected.
The truth of the matter is many of the most stunning properties and views throughout the valley are located on The Trail, off Hwy 29, or on one of the picturesque, vineyard-lined crossroads, where some level of traffic noise must be tolerated due to the science of a Napa being a valley.
The Napa Valley is a 30 mile narrow stretch, growing more narrow as you get farther north where the Vacas and Mayacamas mountain ranges, which create ‘the valley’, come close together. At its widest the east/west distance between these two ranges in only 5 miles apart. The Silverado Trail traverses the Vacas range, and Hwy 29 traverses the Maycamas. Both of these picturesque main roads provide hillside and valley floor locations for jaw dropping views.
We all know that sound travels up, so how far away a property is from a main road determines how loud or muffled the road noise is. For a while I lived on the Silverado Trail in St. Helena, right on the Napa River. The property level was actually below the level of the road (more specifically, it was lower than the level of wheel wells where road noise emanates from). My house was less than 500 yards from a busy stretch of the Trail, yet we experienced minimal road noise (but traded that advantage with some potential flooding issues). There are exceptions.
When buyers see a lovely property on line with an asking price that seems too good to be true, often it is because of road noise. I once had a listing on Hwy 29 just north of downtown St Helena. It was a stone winery built in the 1860’s that had been converted to a stunning residence sometime in the late 1960’s. It was listed twice before I took it on. The road noise was a significant detractor of value, though you couldn’t hear a whisper while inside the thick stone walls. The problem was spending time outside in the lovely gardens and poolside. Since it had previously been a winery we switched the direction of marketing the property as a residence to a potential winery, and made lemonade out of lemons. The high profile location was a great asset to a winery and tasting room. The property sold within a few months, after being on the market as a residence for a couple of years. When my clients purchased the property in the early 90’s it had been on the market for about the same amount of time as a residence. They got a terrific deal because of the road noise then, and were about to experience a similar discounting experience as sellers.
Don’t be fooled or immediately discouraged based on an address alone. When I did my research I discovered many properties that had high profile road addresses that had zero road noise issues. Those that are buried deep into the valley floor, or that are located on an internal knoll off one of the major hillsides are absolute gems! These are the properties that sell very quickly and for the highest market price.
I happen to specialize in tracking and finding these gems as they come on the market for this reason. Buyers love them, and they love me for finding them. Road noise expertise is one of the best reasons buyers should work with an experienced local agent who knows the terrain well.
Road noise presents a particular challenge for winery estate buyers because on one hand you live on site and want peace and privacy in your personal life; but you may want a more high profile location for your winery, if retail sales are going to be a key part of your marketing plan.
Bottom line- road noise is a factor in Napa Valley’s real estate values. It is almost impossible to avoid when searching for property here. This is why buyers should keep an open mind, and not rule out properties without physically standing on site, at various times of the day, to determine for themselves how much of a bother it is, or perhaps that it is more tolerable than you may have presumed.
The best advice I give my clients when they consider buying a property affected by road noise is “You make most of your equity in the negotiation”, i.e. discount in/discount out.
Authored by Katie Somple
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