Noise Pollution and Property Values

photo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez quoted me in What Is Noise Pollution and How Does It Affect Property Values? It opens,

When it comes to a home’s value (and your sanity), noise pollution can be a major downer. But what is noise pollution exactly? Most people have different definitions of what noise pollution actually is—anything from sirens to a barking dog, or the noise of traffic on the street outside.

While outside noise isn’t totally escapable (even the prairie has ambient noise), home buyers will want to be on the lookout for excessive noise pollution, because it could affect a property’s value. After all, you don’t want to live in (or have to eventually unload) a place that requires a lifetime supply of earplugs.

First, let’s define what noise pollution actually means.Re

What is noise pollution?

In defining noise pollution, there are several variables in the mix.

“Noise pollution is basically any noise that you don’t like, but I guess we would define it as noise that most people generally don’t like,” says Brooklyn Law School Professor David Reiss, research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. “When governments regulate noise, however, it is usually based on how loud a noise is.”

For example, Reiss explains that according to A Guide to New York City’s Noise Code, in that city, “Noise that exceeds the ambient sound level by more than 10 decibels (dB) as measured from 15 feet from the source as measured from inside any property or on a public street is prohibited.”

Of course, the ambient sound level in NYC is considerably louder than in a rural area.

How to measure noise pollution near a home

Although decibels are used to measure the intensity of a sound, there are more accurate ways to identify noise pollution around a particular house. When it comes to getting ballpark figures for typical noise levels, Tom Davies, Co-Founder and Manager of the property buying company Accelerate Homes, suggests that most buyers figure out the day-night average sound level (Ldn) or the day-evening-night average sound level (Lden), which are measurements that can help assess the impact that road, rail, air, and general industry has on the local population. Either of these measurements give a potential buyer a much more accurate assessment of overall noise pollution near their home. To measure these levels, get a regular decibel meter, take hourly readings, and plug those numbers into this online noise calculator.

You can also check this interactive national transportation map created by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics to get a general idea of noise pollution levels created primarily by interstate highways and airports in your area. Just type in your address (or the address of any home you’re considering) and get a general reading. Red means loud—think vacuum cleaner (like 60dB-80 dB), and purple means even louder, like the constant sound of a garbage disposal (80 dB and up).

Identifying noise pollution culprits

It’s not always easy to figure out what’s making all the noise, but it is possible.

“While some of the main factors could be easily spotted—like the proximity of highways, stadiums, airports, train, and bus stations—other factors like specialized traffic (regular truck deliveries or rubbish removal), or the presence of neighbors with loud dogs, are far less likely to be spotted at first sight,” says Davies. The only way to get to the bottom of it is to talk to the neighbors.

Reiss also suggests taking it a step further.

“Visit at different times of the day. For example, if there is a bar across the street, drive by on a Saturday night,” he says. “Also, ask local government officials, like community board district managers, about noise complaints.” Basically, it’s up to you to do your due diligence on sound.

How noise pollution affects property prices

High noise levels don’t automatically correlate with lower prices, Reiss says. Some of the most expensive homes in New York City are located in midtown Manhattan, a busy area that’s home to the theater district, the tourist magnet Times Square, and many major corporate offices.

“But within a certain market, there will be those who value quietness and those who value being in the middle of the action,” he says.

To get a true reading on how noise pollution will affect the value of a property, “you would need to distinguish short-term noise—like a neighboring construction site—from permanent noise—like from a neighboring firehouse,” says Reiss.

High Rents and Land Use Regulation

photo by cincy Project

The Federal Reserve’s Devin Bunten has posted Is the Rent Too High? Aggregate Implications of Local Land-Use Regulation. It is a technical paper about an important subject. It has implications for those who are concerned about the lack of affordable housing in high-growth areas. The abstract reads,

Highly productive U.S. cities are characterized by high housing prices, low housing stock growth, and restrictive land-use regulations (e.g., San Francisco). While new residents would benefit from housing stock growth in cities with highly productive firms, existing residents justify strict local land-use regulations on the grounds of congestion and other costs of further development. This paper assesses the welfare implications of these local regulations for income, congestion, and urban sprawl within a general-equilibrium model with endogenous regulation. In the model, households choose from locations that vary exogenously by productivity and endogenously according to local externalities of congestion and sharing. Existing residents address these externalities by voting for regulations that limit local housing density. In equilibrium, these regulations bind and house prices compensate for differences across locations. Relative to the planner’s optimum, the decentralized model generates spatial misallocation whereby high-productivity locations are settled at too-low densities. The model admits a straightforward calibration based on observed population density, expenditure shares on consumption and local services, and local incomes. Welfare and output would be 1.4% and 2.1% higher, respectively, under the planner’s allocation. Abolishing zoning regulations entirely would increase GDP by 6%, but lower welfare by 5.9% because of greater congestion.

The important sentence from the abstract is that “Welfare and output would be 1.4% and 2.1% higher, respectively, under the planner’s allocation.” Those are significant effects when we are talking about  real people and real places. The introduction provides a bit more context for the study:

Neighborhoods in productive, high-rent regions have very strict controls on housing development and very limited new housing construction. Home to Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area is the most productive and most expensive metropolitan region in the country, and yet new housing construction has been very slow, especially in contrast to less-productive large cities like Houston, Texas. The evidence suggests that this slow-growth environment results from locally determined regulatory constraints. Existing residents justify these constraints by appealing to the costs of new development, including increased vehicle traffic and other types of congestion, and claim that they see few, if any, of the benefits from new development. However, the effects of local regulation extend beyond the local regulating authorities: regions with highly regulated municipalities experience less-elastic housing supply. (2, footnotes omitted)

The bottom line, as far as I am concerned, is that localities that are attempting to deal with their affordable housing problems have to directly address how they go about their zoning. If the zoning does not support housing construction, then no amount of affordable housing incentives will address the demand for housing in high growth places like NYC and San Francisco.