Backing Onto The Tracks!

Raise your hand if you’ve either heard somebody say, or if you’d said yourself, “It’s a great house….but it backs onto the train tracks.”

Is that an automatic deal-breaker?  Or simply something to factor into the overall value proposition?

I shot this video last night of not one, but two GO Trains passing by each-other, behind the fenced backyard of this house.  Let me know what kind of value you’d put on not having this behind your home…

Seriously, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I literally sat there like a fool for a half hour to get that shot, but I digress…

So what is the consensus here?

Automatically a deal-breaker?

Or something you factor into the decision and value proposition?

If we had an unlimited budget, we’d never consider a house with a train passing by it every hour, but alas, very few of us have never-ending financial resources, and in the 2016 market, for the right house, you almost have to consider this.

But how do you quantify something like this?

When it comes to pricing single-family homes, we put the highest emphasis on the location, then we start to look at the property itself and a variety of criteria.

But at what point do we look at what’s around the specific property?  Not the neighbourhood or the location, but a specific item like a train track behind the house?

Does that come before anything else; before location, and act as a non-starter?  Or does it come after you’ve already decided to have a look at the property, and thus it’s something you evaluate at the end?

I’ve had clients with houses above the subway, I’ve had clients with houses on major streets, and I’ve had clients with trains in their backyards.  They all say the exact same thing: “You get used to it, and over time you don’t hear it any more.”

Could you deal with that train?

Would you be okay buying an $825,000 house for $750,000 if it meant you had the train in your backyard?

Or is it a deal-breaker right off the hop?

26 Comments

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  1. Geoff says:

    I lived in a loft that quite literally backed onto a go train and occasional freight train line. Most of the time, it was kind of serene, looking out the window, there were trees and one set of train tracks. Every morning the go train would go by, and sometimes at night the freight train would go by. Sometimes it would be louder than other times. I knew when I bought it that I was buying my place at discount, and would sell at one too. Once you make peace with that, you’re good. As a side note, I far preferred living there with their scheduled trains, versus living on yonge street when you’d hear the buses or firetrucks going by.

  2. BillyO says:

    GO trains might be an issue for some right now, but consider that the province will be electrifying the tracks and using smaller trains (higher frequency though), which will be much quieter than the current diesel fleet

    1. Joe Q. says:

      This is an excellent point — but it seems to me that electrification is still a very long way off. Service frequency increases will likely happen long before then (similar to what has happened on the Lakeshore GO line over the last 6-8 years).

  3. ParkhurstBessborough says:

    It wouldn’t bother me. The trains aren’t loud, and besides, noise could be much worse: I bet airplanes would be louder, or neighbours who don’t know what an “inside voice” is. Very entertaining post, David.

  4. moonbeam! says:

    I understand your readers’ hesitation…. But I have to say that the trains have not been a problem for me in 14 years! there is a fence, a hedge, about 10 feet of land, and a bit of a ravine as a buffer between the backyard and the tracks. The noise is not excessively loud, it’s over quickly, and there is no noticeable vibration. Lots of happy uncomplaining neighbours on this side of the street, and the houses seem to sell quickly and well! Could be a better situation than other properties with a train…

  5. jeff316 says:

    What about a flight path? Fire hall? Police station? I’ve been surprised at how loud/frequent the planes are when I’m at home, so much so that people on the phone with me can hear them. I’m not sure where the closest police station is to our house but sometimes the frequency of sirens in the summer makes it sound like we’re in Baltimore.

    1. AndrewB says:

      Mavis and Derry area of Mississauga is a designated flight noise zone. They get pretty loud. Doesn’t seem to have affect housing prices there too much though.

  6. mark says:

    We almost bought a house backing onto greenwood yard and decided to back out when we went back to the street to guage the sound one night – that screeching of subways would drive me insane.

  7. condodweller says:

    Personally, I’d be more worried about the vibrations than the noise. Also, derailments is a very good point as well. One can buy a decent house still for 750k in the GTA that doesn’t have train tracks behind it. I would give up location not to live next to the tracks.

    I’m sure this house would sit on the market longer but if one saved the 20% up front, there is no loss if it sells for 20% less later unless of course the value doubles and the $ value is much larger.

    I often wonder what the thought process is for someone who buys a house like this as the only way I would ever consider it is if 750k was my absolute max and there was nothing else available for 750k or less.

  8. Cool Koshur says:

    One more thing I forgot to mention, since most of us work during regular hours. Sound & vibrations from these trains are far greater during night times and could severely impact your quality of sleep.

    You can mitigate the noise by planting trees, Roxul Sound Insulation in walls and importantly installing Encore sound proof windows which are no cheap options either.

    This is a non-starter.

  9. Cool Koshur says:

    All good points. Personally I wont live in that home. I am not a real estate agent, But some good RE agent told me it chops anywhere from 15% to 20% off your property values. They are hard to sell. Same is true with noisy streets. On positive note, you can contest MPAC for adjustments to property taxes. You will be paying 15% less in property taxes

    I have seen these trains use horns at times which are very loud Also freight trains carry heavy load and cause major vibrations more than 200 meters away. I have personally experienced it near Danforth GO station at midnight. Another issue is derailments. Remember what happened in Quebec couple of years ago.

  10. Mark N says:

    The other thing to consider is how will those rail corridors evolve over time? Will traffic continue to increase? Will it become the ‘downtown relief line’ with constant subway traffic? Will it become a high-speed rail line in the future with far more vibration in the house as a result?
    That 10% discount may not be very relevant depending on how usage of the rail corridor evolves, and in fact property values may decline further along high use railway corridors in the future.
    I would buy less house in a better location long before considering railway tracks in my backyard.

  11. hoob says:

    Does David read RFD? This topic just came up there a few days ago… 😀

  12. Laurie says:

    Not a deal breaker for me – I bought a bigger house for a lower price on a high-demand street because the GO tracks are behind the house. And, despite the tracks, 7 years later, I’ll be able to sell this house at just over double what I paid for it. The route we’re on only runs during rush hour on weekdays, so we’re never disturbed at night and the city is passing legislation to stop the horn (which is the loudest, most annoying part of the train), and our 150 ft yard is far enough away that the train doesn’t cause any vibrations. I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to buy another house on tracks, but it hasn’t caused any significant damage to our quality of life since we’ve been here. The ‘you’ll get used to it’ comments are right – it took about 3 months to get used to the noise in the mornings (I’m a late riser) but since then, I often forget it’s there…

    1. Cool Koshur says:

      @Laurie,
      My guess you must be in one of those new contruction by Danforth GO station

      1. Laurie says:

        Nope, suburb of the GTA…. the line I back onto goes north-east of the city.

    2. Joe Q. says:

      The route running behind your house may only run during rush hour on weekdays at the moment, but that might change in the future as GO moves to expand “all-day two-way service” (like the Lakeshore line) to more of its routes.

  13. lui says:

    Still a deal breaker for me.Have constant vibrations on the foundation can’t be good in the long run.

  14. Darren says:

    I’ve lived in a place maybe a couple hundred meters from a track and one immediately next to it. The one with some distance didn’t bother me. I got used to it and didn’t notice it. The one next to the track however was a different story. It was a significant factor in why I moved. Noise beyond belief and often fumes from the train. Never again.

  15. CB says:

    ^ LOL horrible.

    The train would be a dealbreaker for me personally. I’m a light sleeper and those GO trains are loud. I also value my outdoor space perhaps more than my indoor space. We spend a lot of time in the backyard. I knew someone with a subway under their house and you could only feel a slight vibration in the basement. No sound or vibration on the top two floors. That I would consider – it also doesn’t impact your privacy.

  16. Boris says:

    a $500 .22 rifle will solve that owl problem pretty quickly.

    1. hoob says:

      A $50 .22 rifle would too.

      1. Boris says:

        I was thinking an IR scope costs $$

        1. Boris says:

          Maybe a much higher calibre weapon would also be used on a train…

  17. Marina says:

    Well, five years ago I’d have said it’s a deal breaker.
    We bought a house backing onto a ravine. I love it. Except the resident hooting owl wakes us up at 2am about once a week in the summer. And about every other evening in the spring we have to listen to raccoon clan wars. We have decide to find it charming, but for many it would drive them batshit crazy.
    It all depends on the person.

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