Looking For an Affordable Home? Try Main Street -- Anywhere

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Ride-Along With A Realtor As U.S. Housing Market Looks To Rebound in 2015
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By Eric Reed

New York -- If you want to meet more girls, consider changing your name to Ryan. If you'd like to encourage Norse fishermen to move to a remote shoreline in the North Atlantic Ocean, have all the mapmakers label it something cheerful like "Greenland." If you'd like to increase property values, try renaming your neighborhood something pleasant like "Willowy Boulevard."

It turns out, that might actually help.

Recently, online real estate broker Zillow.com (Z) put together a survey of how property values relate to the street names they're on. The team discovered that there's a lot of power in a name. Street names can indicate whether a neighborhood is old or new, rural or downtown and, often, expensive or cheap. In fact nationwide it turns out that property values can swing pretty widely, predicted by nothing more than the street where they're located.

"We looked at years of data about sales and listings," Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff wrote in The New York Times. "We learned three things about the relationship between home values and street names: First, names are better than numbers. Second, lanes are better than streets. Third, unusual names are better than common ones."

How much of a difference can this make? Sometimes enormous.

The most common street name in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 2nd Street. (There are roughly a thousand more 2nd Streets than 1st Streets across the country, which really drives that American educational crisis home.) Nationwide a house located on 2nd Street is worth about 48 percent less than the national average, all other things equal. Spell out the name and you make matters worse; "Second Street" homes sell for 60 percent less than average.

In fact, numbered streets turn people off everywhere in the country except for Atlanta, New York City and Denver. In New York people presumably don't have many other choices, but in Denver it turns out they actually prefer streets with numbers instead of names.

Main Street a Minus

Proud as we are of our website namesake, Main Street U.S.A. fares no better. By Zillow's estimate a home on Main Street loses 44 percent of its value just by dint of the mailing address. As Rascoff noted, common names in general suffer this fate, and Main Street is one of the most common a town can have.

Occupiers everywhere will be pleased to know that Wall Street, while fairly common, tends to have homes worth about 60 percent of the norm. (In fact, after several random searches, it's surprisingly hard not to have property values worth less than normal. One wonders if there's a cluster of gloriously titled neighborhoods out there with their thumbs on the scale.)

So where's all this property value going? Well, it turns out that every developer who named his sun-blasted subdivision "Shady Acres" was actually on to something. Descriptive names like "Lake Front" and "Sunset" often are indicators of high value, as are unusual names and "Ways," "Drives" and "Boulevards."

Homes located on Sunset Way, for example, tend to be about 76 percent more expensive than average while Lake Forest Drive gets an 11 percent bump. Idiosyncratic history buffs can also take heart: homes on Verdun Avenue cost 123 percent more than the national average.

For the Fun of It

It's dangerous to read too much into this data though. Rascoff specifically warns readers not to confuse correlation with causation here. In reality, it's pretty unlikely that home buyers pay close attention to the street signs. Far more likely, they pay attention to what those street signs reflect.

Lake Shore Drive has more value because, odds are, that house is somewhere close to a lake and people like water. Mechanically numbered streets may reflect a grid-like or heavily planned development, and older neighborhoods are more likely to end in "Street."

Still, the numbers are there and names have value. They say something about a neighborhood, and might even be a good place to start if you're looking for something affordable.

After all, if you want to save money, it turns out you can't beat Main Street.

To have some fun with Zillow's tool, MainStreet decided to plug in a few well known streets from popular culture. Here's how they stack up against the real world:
  • Yellow Brick Road -- Greater by 12 percent
  • Mockingbird Lane -- Less by 23 percent
  • Evergreen Terrace -- Less by 10 percent
  • Spooner St -- Less by 26 percent
  • Sudden Valley Ct -- Less by 24 percent
  • Privet Dr. -- Less by 19 percent
  • Baker St -- Less by 42 percent
  • Grove St -- Less by 24 percent
  • Beacon St -- Greater by 80 percent
  • Sesame St -- Less by 7 percent
Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website A Wandering Lawyer.
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