This is a guest post by valued contributor CuriousCat. Her previous work was the dissection of the new CRA rules on suites. Huge thanks to CuriousCat for this post:
In this environment of low inventory, the average house hunter may find themselves looking at, considering and even purchasing a “less than perfect” house. What can you live with it? How do you address these challenges? Perhaps you didn’t even realize this WAS an issue until you moved in because you are a first-time homebuyer, or you are from out-of-town and homes here are just different than what you are used to, or you had to make a quick decision in order to secure the house. This is the first of a series of posts I’m hoping to write that will address different challenges that I have come across, being a first-time homeowner of a 1939 pre-wartime house in Saanich West.
CHALLENGE: BUSY STREET
In a perfect world, everyone would own a home on a quiet cul-de-sac where children play street hockey on the road with plenty of on-street parking. You may drive by a house on Bay Street, or McKenzie and think to yourself, who would ever live there? I would never! But people do and during our house hunting journey, we seriously considered 3801 Quadra Street. I really liked this house. It had large rooms, a floorplan that flowed and made a lot of sense, and a flat deck in the backyard right off the dining room. I was picturing where the furniture would go as I was walking through it. The fact that it was on Quadra, a busy street, was definitely a concern, but dismissed as being a minor inconvenience without too much thought. In the end, we did not purchase this house because of the price, not because of the location.
This would be a pretty lame post if it was about a theoretical purchase I never made. We DID end up purchasing a very similar house in the 300 block of Gorge Rd West. So here is the reality of owning a home on a busy street.
The noise factor: Possible traffic sounds are high-speed vehicles. Can vehicles actually get to a high speed in front of your house? Things that affect this are how close/far you are from an intersection where a vehicle will be forced to slow down and stop. The main culprits in my case are actually the police and the ambulances. This brings me to the next source of noise – sirens. Is your house on a fire or ambulatory route? Gorge Road is a main connecting route for ambulances heading to Victoria General Hospital. They can be heard from anywhere in the house, but less so in the basement. The police go by fast, but rarely activate their sirens. Fire trucks have the loudest sirens, but are more rare, so when they do go by, it’s more “I wonder what’s happening?” rather than an annoyance. I asked a friend that lives on Craigflower his experience with sirens, and he indicated that he was on the fire truck route and thus hears those more often than ambulances. Unless you are directly on the highway, you will not hear semi-trucks, however larger delivery vehicles, concrete trucks and box vans are louder than regular vehicles. Also, being on a bus route, I can identify the sound of a transit bus without looking out the window, but it is not particularly loud, just different. Luckily, Victoria does not have trains anymore so that is a non-issue. And sound carries very well over water, but there are no high speed boats on the Gorge. The kayakers are pretty quiet. 😉
One thing that helps to reduce the noise factor is the actual distance of the house to the street. My house is about 50 feet from the road. The Quadra house is 35 feet. The further, the better! Sound travels equally in all directions in which there is air, so the more obstacles between you and the source of the sound can make a big difference. Walls, fences, trees, will block sound because they absorb the sound vibrations. Having trees in the front yard provide privacy and block sound. Being in the backyard, the house itself helps to block sound, and having a fountain or other water feature can also mask the traffic noise, but you will never be able to fool yourself that you are not in a city. Having good windows also helps with sound blockage as long as you keep them closed. So when you are touring a house on a busy street, if you are concerned about the noise, don’t simply stand there and think, “Yeah it’s quiet.” Go the extra step and open the window, especially if you love fresh air. And try to view the house at the same time of day you would normally be in the house.
Traffic: The traffic on the street affects how easily you, your guests and delivery drivers, can access your property. Does the house have a wide driveway that allows you to turn around? If not, do you have a good view of the road when backing up? Is the traffic so dense at times where vehicles will be backed up, physically blocking you from getting out of your driveway? Or do you need to wait in line to turn into your driveway? Can the UPS truck pull over to deliver a package? My section of Gorge Rd used to be four lanes but was changed to two lanes with bicycle lanes. This is better than Quadra that has 4 lanes. The delivery drivers pull over in the bicycle lane with their hazard lights on and traffic is generally not disrupted. I have a great field of view backing out of my driveway in all directions and can easily do the “illegal” backing out over the center line to head east. The odd time there is too much traffic and I’m waiting too long, I can use the parking lot at the Canoe Club to turn around. One benefit of a busy street are that cars are actually not allowed to park on it! I never have a parked car obstructing my view when backing out. Meanwhile my inlaws that live on a cul-de-sac, their street is so full of parked cars on both sides, backing out of their driveway is like threading a needle. Also, delivery trucks have no room to manoeuvre and the center island of the cul-de-sac is actually a hindrance.
Safety: Being on a busy street means more foot traffic, less privacy. Random strangers walking by may get a look at the contents of your garage and you may worry about thieves having the opportunity to steal items from your front lawn/driveway/garage. However increased foot traffic seems to protect against this, rather than encourage it. I have left gardening items on the boulevard, the garage door open for hours (purposely and accidentally) and nothing has ever been stolen. I used to worry people will steal my solar lights, or a rake left on the boulevard while I went to get something from the shed, or my bike right out of the garage, or even the groceries out of my trunk, but this has never materialized. We did have one incident years ago where a thief was breaking into cars, but we had left the door unlocked and no valuables inside. (My husband actually caught the thief and recovered all the stolen items he had taken from other vehicles.) Some tips from the police: If you do not park your car in the garage, do not leave a garage door opener inside your vehicle – use a keypad instead. And if you do not have an alarm on your car, you may be better off leaving it unlocked with no valuables inside. Thieves are looking for small things they can easily sell or exchange for drugs. The thief we caught had a screwdriver and was damaging the locks to get inside. His backpack was full of loose change, headphones, a couple cellphones, etc.
Parking: This is a concern no matter the house you buy. Don’t think just because you have on-street parking available, life is golden! A quiet side street can be a parking nightmare if your neighbours are renting their rooms to students or every house has a suite. I do not have a long winding driveway that can fit 4 vehicles. I do not have on-street parking. What I do have is access to an actual parking lot across the street. Problem solved. (Actually, hosting a party at my house, I never have to worry about where my guests will park, as long as they are not staying overnight.)
My final criteria was aesthetics. I do not like the way houses that are too close to the street look. The threshold for me is probably 30 feet from the road. Also, I prefer homes that are elevated above the street rather than level or lower, as you see less of the road from inside the house. How about you? Would you ever consider a home on a busy street, such as this one?