How to Sell Your House When Buyers Can’t Get Over the Road Noise

If you’ve lived in your home for a while, you might well be used to the beeps and vrooms from a nearby street, particularly in a city or bustling suburb. But for some potential buyers, just the thought of road noise detours them to another listing.

“When you find somebody that doesn’t care about road noise, then it’s really not even an issue. The problem is that we don’t find those very often,” said Brian Thomas, a top-selling Denver, Colorado area agent with 16 years of experience.

Thanks to the popularity of Google Maps and other aerial and satellite views, some buyers will check out the location online beforehand and “decide they won’t even go look at it in person because it’s backing up to a road,” said Thomas.

No wonder our experts say that to sell a house with road noise, it’s vital both to price your home right—and highlight other features that could win over buyers concerned about hearing hums of engines instead of songbirds and cicadas.

A house with a road near it, creating noise.
Source: (Gabriel Crismariu/ Unsplash)

How much noise is too much?

Noise is among the most significant location factors that affects the value of residential property, along with view and school quality, according to Collateral Analytics, a company based in Honolulu, Hawaii, that develops real estate analytic products.

One reason it ranks so high is because noise isn’t just simply bothersome. It’s become a public health issue, “the new secondhand-smoke,” according to The Washington Post. In fact, the state of Texas is experimenting with “quiet concrete” on two stretches of highway, dropping the sound to a level equivalent to a 70 percent reduction in traffic.

That said, even if it seems like you can hear your neighbor’s muffler daily, your street might not be as noisy as you think.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) maps noise levels of transportation nationwide. An overview of the interactive map notes that more than 97% of the nation’s population has the potential to be exposed to noise from interstate highways and aviation at levels below 50 decibels—roughly the noise level of a humming refrigerator.

(For additional reference, 50 to 69 decibels is as loud as conversational speech. A vacuum cleaner has a noise level at about 70 to 79 decibels.)

Studies show that consistent noise levels of 55 decibels or more can cause hypertension, sleep disturbances, and other health issues. But according to the BTS, less than one-tenth of a percent of the population could potentially experience highway and aviation noise levels of 80 decibels or more, roughly equivalent to the volume of a garbage disposal.

Road noise vs. noisy roads

To buyers, however, some road situations are worse than others. A high-traffic road certainly has the perception of being noisy, as well as being difficult to get in and out of the driveway, according to U.S. News World Report. Being near a traffic light implies hearing vehicles idle; a home next to an on-ramp or within sight of a highway might seem convenient for commuters but also loud.

In a neighborhood, a corner spot—considered a premium location in the 1950s and 1960s—now isn’t as desirable because of the typical configuration of the yard, U.S. News says.

As far as noise, a cul-de-sac is the best location because it has only one entrance and exit.

“If you’re backing to a subdivision road, a road that runs through the neighborhood, that’s not nearly as bad,” said Thomas, who has one client whose house is adjacent to a housing community entrance and backs up to a four-lane major artery.

A house in Denver with road noise.
Source: (Kayra Sercan/ Unsplash)

How does noise affect home value?

Noise can affect home value if the noise is significant, but it’s hard to gauge by how much because of different property values around the country.

“If you’re in Beverly Hills, I can tell you it has a definite impact,” said Mike Ford, a member of the American Guild of Appraisers and a general certified real estate appraiser serving greater metropolitan Los Angeles since 1986.

He likened the noise level about a block from the freeway as “the Gran Prix at Monaco.” Sellers in that location could have a home valued 10%-20% less than others several blocks away, he said.

Yet that difference in price also is related to the land’s overall value. Collateral Analytics studied the relationship between median home prices and noise levels in the San Diego, California, metro market for 2016 and 2017. “Higher noise generally implies lower values,” the company said, noting that the noise in this area is high but the land also has high value.

“There might not be any impact,” Ford said, adding that if the market doesn’t recognize a benefit from adjusting the value, there typically is no adjustment.

Depending on market conditions and the type of roadway involved, Thomas said he’s adjusted pricing from 1%-10%.

“A lot of people in Colorado love outdoor living just because it’s so beautiful and the weather is so fair most of the time. We love our backyard; we love our patios,” he said.

“The way Denver is laid out, there are minimal roads for maximum housing. So when your house backs up to a road, even if it’s a minor road, people really don’t like it, and we find that the pricing of the houses has to compensate for that.”

Setting a price—and expectations

For what it’s worth, noise isn’t the only factor that appraisers and agents weigh in terms of setting a reasonable selling price. A view of open space, a creek, woodlands, mountains, or other scenery adjusts a price upward. Power lines, water tanks, or even a view of your neighbor’s house towering over your yard tends to adjusts it downward.

“What do you see and hear when you look out your back window?” Thomas said. “I just actually listed a house yesterday, for example, that in this neighborhood where the houses, other than the interior lots, either back to a little bit of open space, to a road, to power lines or to a water tank. And in this situation, the water tank is the least objectionable.”

Thomas said he looks for houses that are comparable in terms of interiors, then compares those with lots that abut open space and those near roads. “I’ll see what type of a price difference within about a quarter-mile radius would be,” he said.

When the market has more sellers than buyers, a price reduction makes more sense than investing in features or modifications that mitigate noise, he added.

“A price reduction in this market makes more sense than going out and buying a bunch of trees and planting them in the backyard. Because in order for the trees to make any difference, you’d have to buy 12- and 15-foot trees, which are pretty expensive, $2-3 thousand dollars for the right tree. Replacing windows or anything like that is going to be another high-dollar item.”

A fountain outside a house with road noise.
Source: (AEAE Photo/ Shutterstock)

Turning down the volume

If you’re not ready to put your home on the market just yet—or you’re wondering how to mitigate road noise before you sell—there are several options. A multi-faceted approach, such as using structures such as walls and berms and vegetation such as shrubs and trees, is more effective than a single tactic.

The residential landscapers at the website LandscapingNetwork.com, a leading educational source in the landscaping industry that sprouted from a site founded in 1999, take this a step farther, recommending a balance of methods that:

Shrubbery and trees

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agroforestry Center notes that the width of a noise buffer as well as its distance from the center of the nearest traffic lane makes it effective.

A buffer that’s 100-feet wide and 12-feet high can reduce noise from a road above 40 miles an hour of about 10 to 15 decibels if within 50 to 80 feet of the center of the nearest traffic lane.

In general, the closer your barrier is located to the source of the sound, the more effective it will be. To absorb sound, choose broadleaf evergreens with rougher bark, many branches, and thick, fleshy leaves, landscapers say.

The Georgia Forestry Commission recommends shrubs such as dwarf wax myrtle (3 to 5 feet high) and trees such as wax myrtle (10 to 20 feet high), sweetbay magnolia (about 15 to 25 feet high), American holly (20 to 40 feet high), Arizona cypress (about 30 to 40 feet high) , and Virginia pine (about 40 to 60 feet high).

Fencing and walls

A stone wall along the proper line, even at two to three feet tall, affects noise coming from tires, according to This Old House. 

A barrier fence, such as a solid stockade or board fence, or a masonry wall (stone, brick, or stucco-covered concrete) block sound best. “As a general rule, the more solid the fence or wall, the quieter it will be, because sound waves are reflected by dense objects,” the website says.

A five- or six-foot masonry wall reflects sound back toward the source. Add a clinging vine such as Boston ivy or creeping fig to cushion or refract sound as well. Attractive partitions in your yard made from material such as corrugated metal or fiberglass are more flexible but will deflect sound, landscapers say.

Installing a bamboo fence or growing bamboo also will bounce noise back toward the road and away from your home because of its height, according to the home-decorating website Hunker, based in Santa Monica, California. Try the Backyard X-Scapes 6×16-foot natural jumbo reed bamboo fencing panel at Home Depot for $69.95.

Water features

A fountain is one water feature widely used to create “white noise,” i.e., noise that masks unappealing sound. Landscapers recommend finding one that splashes loud enough over rush hour but also dials down to a more subtle level when the surrounding noise is quieter.

Try the Garden Treasures 34.6-inch metal tiered outdoor fountain at Lowe’s, which includes an auto shutoff pump, for $169. The Bluworld Water Garden 48-inch fiberglass wall outdoor fountain, which can be wall-mounted or free-standing, combines the deflection of fiberglass with a white-noise water feature. Also at Lowe’s for $395.

Triple-paned windows and solid-core doors

Along with creating a backyard oasis, you also can reassure buyers nervous about road noise that they won’t hear anything indoors because how well your home is insulated. 

Triple-pane windows, which seal two layers of gas within a frame, provide good sound reduction as well as insulation in colder climates. The construction makes for “a very thick, heavy, and expensive sash,” notes This Old House. Lowe’s sells double-hung windows with triple panes ranging from $300 to about $550.

Don’t forget about the exterior doors. HGTV personality Don Vandervort (The Fix) says on his website HomeTips that doors typically are a wall’s thinnest barrier. A solid-core exterior door will block sound better than a hollow-core door, which has a drum-like construction. Adding rubber or vinyl bulb door weather-stripping and a door-bottom weather-stripping sweep will seal out any noise that might seep around the edges.

Talk to your agent to get more noise mitigation ideas

Lastly, talk to your agent about how to best market your house’s location to the road. Thomas said he often doesn’t mention it because he wants buyers to view the house as a whole. “There may be features about the house that they fall in love with that are higher on the priority list than the road noise,” he said.

But in some areas, being close to shopping and leisure sites, such as a golf course or park, could be a selling point, Ford added. “Whether it’s a negative depends on whether it’s more convenient to walk to a commercial shopping center than it is to drive.”

Header Image Source: (Derek Thomson/ Unsplash)

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