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August 31, 2010

Buying on main roads – what’s the big deal?

We all know the old real estate adage ‘location, location, location’ and the careful consideration needed to ensure capital growth. However equally important is the position of a property within that location – an unwise choice can have significant consequences if you need to sell in a soft market.


Homebuyers are often tempted to inspect properties on main roads, especially during periods where the market is rising and there’s reduced stock. It’s not hard to be tempted when priced out of a desired suburb and ‘lo and behold’ a seemingly attractive and affordable option arises.

I can understand the thought process – my home country is the United Kingdom. When I initially came to Australia I wouldn’t have blinked twice at the concept of main road living. However finding a property away from a main road in England is much harder to avoid considering the size of the country, and therefore not so detrimental to long-term value.

When I point out all the factors involved in main road living it doesn’t take long to educate a Melbourne-based buyer through the investment and lifestyle pitfalls it represents. Usually the only negative factor they’ve considered is noise and this is clearly the most obvious drawback. Passing traffic, including trucks and public transport, promise a constant filter of background cacophony, which will affect at the very least the outdoor areas around the property. The inside zones can be somewhat protected with double glazing and well designed doors, however in the summer it would be unreasonable to assume windows will be constantly closed, therefore noise won’t be restricted outside.

However noise from passing traffic is only one negative aspect to consider. Main roads are frequented by more than just commuting traffic. They’re our main arterials. Often zoned industrial they offer minimal protection from certain business developments and high-rise apartment blocks which are becoming increasingly common eyesores on the horizon to accommodate the booming population. Shops, pubs, takeaways, petrol stations, all attract a general ‘riff raff’ of pedestri an traffic which in turn brings

an extra layer of fracas and general security concerns.

If you think building a higher front fence will offer a layer of protection, think again. Some councils restrict height parameters for front fences, making it difficult to totally cordon off the property’s street frontage. Along with this it’s not unusual for litter to blow over into the front or delivered letters and newspapers to go missing.

Other issues can include the fear of small children or pets escaping out the front gate and running onto the road (not as uncommon as you may think).

Also, if you’ve ever experienced the immense frustration of trying to turn right onto a main road during peak hour traffic, you’ll get an idea of how frustrating it can be spending 10 minutes every morning accessing a main road from your driveway, not to mention the implications this could hold in an emergency.

With all these points factored into the equation it’s no surprise that the long-term investment potential of properties with a main road address can be affected.

To get a good price for a property the selling agent needs to attract as many buyers through the listing as possible. Real estate sales agents don’t so much sell a property as market a listing. Marketing is a challenge with main road positions. One trick is to list the property without an address; when the buyer rings to enquire the agent diminishes the negative aspects of the position by pointing out the positive features of the house.

Once a buyer attends the inspection other tricks are employed – closing the front door upon entry to diminish noise and in some cases enhancing presentation of the house with hired furniture to distract from the obvious external downside.

In a booming market (which is usually due to a shortage of listings – evident in Melbourne towards the beginning of this year), homes on main roads can often sell equally as well as properties in the surrounding quieter streets. Buyers needing to purchase and feeling the prolonged pressure of a competitive market will often overlook the negatives. However in a market as we have at present where buyer sentiment is ‘cautious’, properties in poor locations tend to hang around longer and often a drop in price is the only way to ‘do the deal’.

When looking back at historical data there are a few common factors to be noted with these listings. Owner-occupiers – and for that matter tenants – discover the downside of main road living within the first few weeks of occupation. Therefore main road property often has increased activity in its sales and rental history. If listed for auction it’s not uncommon for agents to encourage ‘prior’ auction offers – selling under the hammer is harder if desirability can’t attract enough bidders.

If all of the above doesn’t caution you to steer clear, then make sure the prominent factor in your choice to live on a main road is due to a personal lifestyle decision and not based on investment potential alone, or you could find yourself holding onto a lemon.

Catherine Cashmore is a senior property adviser and buyer advocate for JPP Buyer Advocates – the largest dedicated buyer advocacy in Melbourne. With extensive experience in all matters regarding real estate, JPP successfully purchases and negotiates over $100m worth of property each year for clients. http://www.jpp.com.au


  1. One other main road factor – pollution. It’s amazing how much more grubby your house can get … in a rental, I couldn’t work out what the dark line was on the cream carpet under the door. It turned out to be buildup of pollution as it blew under. Fine grime builds up on indoor and outdoor furniture…

    Comment by foolio — September 1, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

  2. Great point foolio – one I had neglected to mention.

    Comment by Catherine Cashmore — September 1, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  3. We actually live on a main road in Sydney and yes everything you mention above is correct, however the worse thing of all is the after hours maintenance. We can live with the traffic, the pedestrians, but when the road needs resheeting or maintenance or water or electricity etc, all of these things are done in the middle of the night so traffic is not in a gridlock in normal hours. And when they pack up all the equipment before the day starts it is with all the fanfare of the Easter Show.

    Comment by JonN — September 3, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  4. Good comment JonN – It would be interesting to see how many people currently living on a main road would choose to do so again if given the option. In Melbourne there is currently many high rise developments being approved on main roads over riding local council objection. It’s a worrying scenario for innocent buyers caught in the middle.

    Comment by Catherine Cashmore — September 3, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  5. I would add that its not just main roads. Try living in a suburb 30kms from the Melbourne CBD – well off the main road but opposite a sports oval where the council allows the streets to be clogged with 1000 plus cars every weekend then accepts the so called sporting fraternity can drink and party with unbelievably loud amplified music till 4am the next day and bad luck for the rate paying residents. NOISE from amplified music , cars and doof doof car radios is in plague proportion across Australia – especially after 10.00 pm and I am amazed that workers who have disturbed and broken sleep are able to function at all and I am sure productivity in the workplace is badly effected by allowing this to happen. Living near hotels , sports clubs , schools , parks and other so called community facilities can be equally bad as any main road. There are many bush locales that provided peace and serenity until the fires and now floods devastated their property. Even when you do your research , councils overturn planning rules – there are no guarantees and that makes home ownership far less attractive or secure as it once was.

    Comment by Ken McAvoy — September 7, 2010 @ 2:56 am

  6. Not only the grubby line of soot on the carpet, the pollution and difficulty getting in and out of your drive-way – another point to consider is that your childrens safetly may be at risk. There are still (luckily) some suburbs that exist where at 3:10 every afternoon, the neighbourhood children are all riding their bikes and playing cricket in the street. Albeit rare, this is not going to happen on a main road – in fact the only safe place to ride your bike would be a local park.

    Comment by Amanda Segers — September 8, 2010 @ 11:29 am

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