Over the years I have had the pleasure of selling homes in what many buyers have described as unfavorable locations. Homes that front or back up to busy roads (typically highways 85 or 280), homes that back up to train tracks (along the Cupertino foothills and Central Expressway) and homes that are near high voltage transmission lines. One of the more difficult locations has been homes that run along Highway 85 between El Camino Real in Mountain View and Highway 280 near the Los Altos/Sunnyvale border. The problem hasn’t been the Highway noise (although that doesn’t help), its been the high voltage transmission lines that run parallel to highway 85 and the creek.
Along this corridor, buyers who might be adverse to highway noise, check the noise level simply by standing outside the home and listening to the traffic at various times of the day. Noise is easily measurable, just open your ears. If one is walking through an open house and hear “soft music” playing throughout the home, guess what? There is traffic noise and the market value of the home is likely adversely affected by this noise. For agents and their sellers, this is a poor attempt to drown out the noise and it could be argued (in a court of law) that the seller is trying to hide a material defect about the home.
FYI: highway 85 is usually loudest between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. In the afternoon, Highway 85 traffic noise tends to travel south, from the bay towards Los Gatos.
What is harder to measure is the effect, if any, the high voltage transmission lines have on a buyer’s purchasing decision. I am most familiar with a two mile stretch of high voltage transmission lines that run parallel to highway 85 between highway 280 (to the south) and the El Camino Real exit in Mountain View (to the north). On the south side of highway 85, these transmission lines effect the desirability of homes in the Cherry Chase neighborhood. To the north side of highway 85, these transmission lines effect the value of the homes in south Los Altos along Fallenleaf Lane as well as the Belleville/Bedford neighborhood of Sunnyvale. Below is a map showing the approximate location of the high voltage transmission lines along highway 85. The blue line is the approximate location of these transmission lines.
There can be some advantages to properties that have transmission lines overhead. The most obvious is that these properties typically have larger lots. For example, if the average lot size in the tract is 6500 sf, the lot sizes with transmission lines are typically 9,000sf -10,000sf. However, one should note that one can’t build habitable structures or swimming pools under or within the setback of the transmission line’s footprint.
The biggest disadvantage of owning a home near these high voltage transmission lines is the “fear factor” associated with Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF’s). EMF’s are invisible fields of force created by electric voltage (electric fields) and by electric current (magnetic fields). Wherever there is a flow of electricity, both electric and magnetic fields are present. Similar to mold exposure, there aren’t any standard guidelines that a consumer can use to understand the long term health effects of exposure to EMF’s.
There are several websites that discuss EMF’s. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) discusses EMF’s in good detail. There is a link to the best source that I have found on the subject. This 64 page booklet that has some great, although somewhat dated (2002), information on the subject. P G & E has a good discussion about EMF’s. According to P G & E’s website:
“The California Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Health Services have not concluded that exposure to magnetic fields from utility electric facilities is a health hazard. Pacific Gas and Electric Company, like other utilities, relies on information from the federal and state health agencies which conduct EMF research and monitor this issue to help evaluate potential risks.”
The website gives further information about several studies conducted on the subject. Its interesting. The discussions presented appear to me to be similar to the ones athlete’s have made in regards to performance enhancing drugs….”I have never tested positive for steroids.” Unfortunately, the athletes don’t claim that they didn’t take steroids, rather the tests didn’t conclusively detect steroids. Being somewhat idealistic, I wish the EMF studies would have a definite measurable conclusion. That way, consumers can make a decision based on facts and not conjecture. So what’s a seller to do when they are attempting to sell their home near a high voltage transmission line?