Trainspotting

Nobody wants a train running through their backyard, but yet houses adjacent to train tracks still sell every day!

How much of a difference in value do you think this makes?

Having a train adjacent to your neighbourhood, your property line, or even your home isn’t necessarily a fate worse than death, but to some people, it can be.

My mom has a train running behind her back fence, and while she didn’t seem to mind it, her younger sister certainly let her know how she felt.

Some people just have nothing positive to say, and when my aunt first came to my mom’s new home back in 2001, the first thing she said was, “Oh my god – do you know that you have a train running through your backyard?”

My mom said, “No Dale, I don’t.  Thanks for pointing that out!”

My aunt was shocked!  A train!  Imagine!  I guess they don’t have trains north of Finch…

People who live next to trains say “You get used to it, and over time, you don’t even notice when it’s going by.”

But isn’t that what any homeowner would say about anything?

For those who live underneath the major flight-path for all plans leaving Pearson International Airport – do they also claim to “get used to it?”  Is there any way to not notice when a 747 streams jet fuel over the roof of your house?

Or what about the house across the street from your property with the yellow “CAUTION” tape where the news-vans had camped out for weeks after that notorious serial killer was busted?  Would you also claim, “That’s ancient history!  We barely even think about that awful, horrible man and all those terrible things that he did right under our noses…”

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Pretending not to notice is one thing, but actually not noticing or forgetting is another

There are some major train tracks running through our city, and a lot of property owners hear the gentle hum of the train a few times per day, not to mention those that live above a TTC subway line and feel their basement vibrate every three minutes.  That is a lot worse that a train, in my opinion…

Consider the major train routes in Toronto and the neighbourhoods that they cross through.

At Millwood Road in Leaside, a major train route split into two directions: one goes south and traces the Don Valley Parkway toward the waterfront – not really interfering with anybody’s home, and the other heads west through Leaside, Summerhill, Rosedale, Rathnelly, The Annex, The Junction, and Bloor West all before we even get to the Humber River!

Just look at the names in that list!  Those are some very pricey areas!

So it’s fair to say that homes do sell in areas where trains are prevalent, but of course there must be some sort of price adjustment!

I remember as a kid, cleaning gutters on houses on Nesbitt Drive, and seeing a giant sixteen-car train lumber on by.  I recall thinking, “Man, this really sucks!”  But maybe that’s because the piles of leaves I had made near the back fence started to blow all over the place, and not because I was thinking from a real-estate perspective as a teenager…

Regardless, some houses are a lot closer than others to the train tracks.  Houses on the south side of Leacrest Road in Leaside are several hundred feet from the train tracks below, and during the spring/summer when the trees are thick and leafy, you can barely see the trains or the tracks themselves.  However, if you follow that same track further west into the Governor’s Bridge area, houses like the one I mentioned on Nesbitt Drive have back fences that are a few feet from the tracks.

Some of you who reason, “I would never buy a house next to a train track no matter what,” won’t see the difference between the houses on Leacrest and those on Nesbitt, but trust me – there’s a big difference!  It’s not just about the noise but rather the ‘feeling’ of being boxed in – like how I describe downtown Toronto condos that are only 20 feet from the one next door.

Over the last few years, I’ve made this unintentional link in my mind between the words “Summerhill” and “train.”  I don’t know why, but whenever I see a new listing for a house on Summerhill Avenue, the first thing I think of is, “Yeah, but it probably backs onto a train.”

People pay $1.8 Million to live on 60-foot-deep lots in the Summerhill Market area, and yet all I can think of is the train.  It just goes to show you “To each, their own” applies here, and that location trumps a single drawback like the proximity to a train.

Imagine living on the last house on Astley, Standish, or Glen and being a dozen feet from the tracks.  Does this warrant significant consideration when you’re in the buying-stage?  Do you want to live in the Summerhill Market area so badly that you’ll put up with the train ruckus 24/7?

As you move further west, the train tracks split right in between Mathersfield Drive and Shaftsbury Avenue – two very pricey streets where houses routinely sell in multiple offer situations.  So it’s not like the market is completely ignoring homes that are, in some cases, literally on the tracks, and neither are the buyers.

The question is how much of a difference this can make.

25 The Esplanade is great example of how the train tracks can play a role in pricing.

For those that aren’t familiar with this building – it was completed in 1987 but feels almost-new, and there are handful of different model suites in the building.  None have outdoor space, and none have owned parking.  Point being – it’s very easy to compare apples to apples.

The south-facing units can often be a tough sell, as the rail yard is right outside the window.  There isn’t just one train track but rather close to a dozen!  Cars roll by at all hours of the day, and it’s impossible to pretend like you don’t notice.

At any time of the year, you can witness a $15,000 – $20,000 difference between a south-facing unit and north-facing unit in this building.  The former stares at the train tracks, and the latter looks out at the downtown core.

Now, there are exceptions to the rule.  South-facing units that are high up enough will give you a water view and you only see the train tracks when you look directly down at them.  But overall, the prices speak for themselves: buyers would rather pay more money to not have to look out at the train tracks.

I’m generally speaking in terms of the 650 square foot, 1-bedroom units, which range in price from $280,000 to $340,000 – again depending on the condition of the units (some are in original 1987 condition), and the view.  So $15-20K in this respect represents around 5-7% of the purchase price.

Can the same be said for houses?

If we looked at a house on the south side of Leacrest, or the north side of Nesbitt or Summerhill (ie. the side with the train) that was priced at $1,500,000, and we considered the exact same house on the north side of Leacrest or the south side of Nesbitt/Summerhill, would we find that those houses sold for $1,600,000?

I think possibly more.

I think the difference is more profound with houses because you have a backyard to consider where you kids play, where you garden, and where family outings are that much more impacted by the roaring train.

Or, for those people that don’t care about the trains, let’s say “not” impacted.

Again, I think the votes will be split on this one.  It’s hard to be unbiased, and there are both short/quiet trains and long/loud ones.

The train tracks in Liberty Village come to mind.  I’ve sold three north-facing condos in the Monarch buildings to buyers who all say that the train is too quiet to disturb you if the patio door is closed, and that the train comes by very seldom.

And at the end of the day, if you get a perceived discount on your condo or house because of the potential train noise, then many buyers will take the discount and run with it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a wedding rehearsal at the Lambton Golf Club, which, coincidentally, is right next to a giant train track…

13 Comments

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  1. Parkette says:

    I am very curious.
    We are thinking of eventually (if we do not get something else) buying a place around Mulock Avenue and Lloyd Avenue (Toronto). What do you think of property value?

    We want a place so close to the transit but yet not go broke.

    Thank you in advance for any feedback.

  2. Andy Robinson says:

    I lived on Shaftesbury Avenue in Toronto for a few years and the CN/CP rail line was directly across the street from our house – we HATED every minute of it and the house was NOT that easy to sell.. and definitely lowers the property value – everyone knows this. The freight trains go by at least 20 times a day and the entire house shook each time.. the noise is unbearable inside and out.. you cannot have a conversation on the street and sleeping is a serious problem. This was a mistake (us buying the house) and although we made some money, we could have made MUCH more had we bought elsewhere.. NEVER EVER AGAIN will we buy anywhere near the tracks! Nightmare on Shaftesbury Avenue!

  3. Krupo says:

    Reminds me of the houses we checked out or declined to check out, especially one in the Junction area which was PERFECT, except for being 2 or 3 doors away from the main railyard. Several city blocks can be doable. Several doors away, not so much, and I like trains.

  4. Geoff says:

    Sporsch – what city was that townhouse in? I live in mid-town Toronto and I can’t get to downtown toronto in 30 minutes most days….

    1. Sporsch says:

      Geoff,
      True…30 min may be a bit of an exaggeration. Trying to remain anonymous here (there aren’t too many properties like that) but essentially think outskirts of the GTA, lots of parkland. On a good day, no traffic, exit-to-exit on the hwy can be 30 minutes (driving in town will add substantially to that of course). The house would have been a ratings-winner if featured on HGTV

  5. Sporsch says:

    Dave,
    I have a relative who advised that they had made the real estate purchase of a lifetime -a farmhouse, 30 min to downtown Toronto, with acreage, bordering a parkland, under $400k (this was a few years ago). Not only did they have a railroad track running adjacent to their property but it was unfenced and their driveway actually ran under the track -a tunnel was part of the package. The fact that this remote farmhouse had been divided into two and was actually a semi may also be one reason why, nearly half a decade later, they sold the house for…under $400k.

  6. Martin says:

    I lived on Sudbury St. in King West. The entire south side of the street backs on to railway tracks about 100-150 feet from the townhomes (the same tracks that the people at Monarch are seeing). When we bought we honestly thought that it would be an issue, but it wasn’t. The train was very quiet and never woke us up. It mostly ran at rush hour when we weren’t home. The property never shook or anything of this nature. It was essentially a non-issue even for resale. That being said, I’m not sure that the situation would have been the same if it was a major freight route as opposed to a GO train route.

  7. WEB says:

    The arrival of Porter Airlines (and now Air Canada) at the Island Airport has had no impact on property values on the harbourfront. In most of the units you cannot hear the planes (in south facing units in condos on the south side of Queen’s Quay West you can) but when you are outside it is noisy as hell! Also, often the smell of jet fuel wafts through the neighbourhood. But property values have not been affected.

  8. Moonbeam! says:

    It’s true you can get used to some things… but no guarantee. Sometimes the ‘thing’ is an irritant that can’t be gotten used to. In my case, the train was very very easy to tune out, since it goes very seldom and very quickly (as opposed to constantly and lengthily)… plus there are tall trees and some vacant land between my yard & the track, which muffles the noise….

  9. Joe Q. says:

    A while back I went to an open house for a nice townhome in the Christie Pits area that happened to sit directly over the subway line. The whole house shook when the subway went by underneath — you could even feel it on the third floor. The listing agent tried to convince me that it was only really a problem at rush hour, because that’s when the subway was busiest (or something like that) and in any case the subway doesn’t run late.

  10. DB says:

    LOL – “I guess they don’t have trains north of Finch…”

    Love the see you next Tuesday comment…but not as good as the time you put someone in their place for pretending East York is Leaside.

    1. Rod says:

      Leaside was East York actually. You have that reversed.

  11. Geoff says:

    I bought (and sold) a loft on prescott avenue and my unit literally backed onto a single set of train tracks. When I bought it, I knew I got it discounted because of the tracks — and so when I sold it, I also knew I had to discount it for the same reason.

    I will say though that my fears when I bought it (at 25) were a little unjustified – 1 GO train at 6am and 1 go train at 6pm and the occasional slow moving freight train – most of the time it was quiet. Compare that to living at yonge/finch, where I heard the buses squealing (way worse than a subway train imo) and fire engines all the damn time though.

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