A private road is essentially a micro-community, or a tiny town with its own culture and sometimes complex history. Another private road, only a mile away, can have completely different property values.
There are local private roads where nothing more is in place than an informal and entirely voluntary group of dedicated residents who work together, while accepting that some of their neighbors choose not to participate. On the flip side of this are other local roads where the annual meeting is very well attended and a highly anticipated social event. The dues and fees can be minimal or astronomical and often do not follow seemingly logical assumptions like: “amenities will cost you more,” or “this road is short so the fees must be low.”
When working with your buyer agent to find your new home, consider and discuss whether or not homes located on private roads should be included in your search. With so many street and road classification’s regularly used in municipal ordinances it can be very confusing for home buyers, home owners and even our own local policy makers to understand exactly what type of road they actually live on.
A private road can mean many things from a paved cul-de-sac in a neighborhood to a rural dirt or gravel right of way. Who owns the road, has permission to use it and is responsible for things such as: winter plowing, drainage and grading; which may depend on a number of variables.
Ask questions about how the road maintenance is managed and what is expected from each homeowner on the road before buying a home. Some private roads easily manage their budget by collecting quarterly or monthly dues and have a surplus to work with in an emergency; however there are others who haven’t been able to budget appropriately or can hardly manage to keep the roads cleared in the winter or to communicate with one another.
Over time, homes sell and the dynamics maybe improved or strained depending on the governance and cooperation or lack of it.
In Windham, approximately 48 percent of Windham’s roads are classified as “private” and provide access to approximately 14,000 acres. Recently proposed ordinance restrictions will require private roads to be upgraded from the nearest public street for most new development; which could mean the majority of these roads will never receive any significant upgrades.
Who maintains your road? As with most things in real estate; “It depends.” There are local private ways or roads which have been accepted by their municipality to receive annual winter plowing and sanding, but they are increasingly rare. Your buyer agent can help to review any fees and the costs associated with road maintenance. It is wise to reach out personally to the homeowner who handles the business of the road, with any questions or concerns you may have before buying, because even the best buyer agent will not be moving in with you after the closing.
Most lenders will require a Road Maintenance Agreement (RMA) or a formal road association to be present in order to finance a home situated on a private road. These are typically but not always recorded in the local County’s Registry of Deeds. If you have been denied a refinance or purchase due to the lack of a formal RMA or road association it may be a lender policy and not a regulation and a different lender may be able to help you.
Nicole is a real estate broker with 11 years’ experience specializing in single family, residential and new construction. She lives in Windham with her husband and four children.