Good buys located on busy roads Good buys can be found on busy roads

April 04, 1993|By Andree Brooks | Andree Brooks,New York Times News Service

Let me live in my house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

When Sam Walter Foss, the 19th-century New Hampshire poet, paid this tribute to curbside living a century ago, he wasn't kidding.

Living close to the road -- even better, a crossroads -- meant enjoying to the fullest the fellowship of passers-by. It provided easier access to vital services. It made a statement about the owner: He or she loved people.

All this changed as heavier traffic, increased noise levels and a quest for privacy drove more homebuyers in search of back roads and tranquillity.

As a result, some of those fine historic and older homes have now assumed Cinderella status, so unloved that brokers say such houses often sell for 15 percent less than they should.

"If I say the house is on Mamaroneck Road or Weaver Street," said Susan Greenberg, an agent with the Scarsdale, N.Y., office of the Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate Centers, referring to two of the town's busiest thoroughfares, "I immediately get resistance. It becomes a tough sell even at a lower price."

All of which has made such houses some of the better buys around. "I don't think we could have afforded Scarsdale if we hadn't bought on a main road," said Thomas Bailey. He and his wife, Carmenza Gallo, bought a four-bedroom, 65-year-old Tudor along Post Road in 1990.

Not only may these houses provide larger, more interesting quarters for less, but much can be done to shield the home from the impact of its location.

In the February issue of the Old House Journal, Michael Marchant, an auditor in search of a "place of my own," writes about a Victorian home in Weaverville, N.C., that had been abandoned, apparently because it was close to a busy road.

"There was nothing separating the house from the road except dust," he writes.

But then he began thinking creatively about how to buffer himself from the commotion.

The overall goal, owners say, should be to create a barrier that helps purify the air, muffles the noise, deflects the glare of passing headlights and prevents passers-by from peering through windows.

An initial consideration should be to select buffer materials sympathetic with the style and setting of the house. "Otherwise the screening will upstage the house itself," warned Stephen P. Mack of Ashaway, R.I., who re-creates houses and estates by transporting historic structures. Worse still, it could make the house feel like a prison.

Mr. Mack faced the problem at his own home, a 1792 farmhouse only 15 feet from the road on one side and at a point where the road takes a sharp curve.

His solution was to start by building a 500-foot-long, 3-foot-high dry stone wall, typical of 18th-century houses. On the side where he needed 8 feet of total screening he added a 5-foot fence of vertical boards on top of the stone wall, painted blue-gray to blend with the stones.

Directly in front of the house, where he also needed 8 feet of screening, he used a 3-foot berm under the fencing instead of a wall, to avoid making the frontage appear "like the great wall of China." The former barren area between the house and the road then became an enclosed garden.

Shifting a house to the rear of the lot can cost more than $20,000, said Mr. Mack. Thus it may be practical only when the cost is reflected in a resulting rise in value, he said.

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