Would you think to ask whether the road in front of the home you want to buy is public or private?  If so, you’re way ahead of the average buyer.


Turns out, it’s an important piece of information for you to know.  Why? 

Because private streets aren’t automatically maintained by the local or state or federal government.  Most often, the responsibility for maintenance falls to the people who own the property adjacent to the road.  That means plowing, sanding, repairing pot holes, resurfacing, dealing with related storm drainage issues and any other item pertaining to its upkeep.

Bottom line: If you own property on a private road and there’s a problem with it, that problem is your problem.

Surprisingly, many streets in established developments have never been turned over to the local authorities to maintain because they were not constructed to meet the department of transportation’s minimum requirements. The most common reason is the developer was unwilling to spend the money to get it right.  So, the government refuses to assume the responsibility for them and the costs fall directly to the homeowners.

Further, private roads make your lender nervous.  Many lenders will deny loans on property served by a private road.  They fear no one will take responsibility for it and the road will fall into a state of disrepair, which could have a negative effect on the value of the home.  Fortunately, lenders fears can usually be put to rest if you can produce a Private Road Maintenance Agreement that demonstrates someone has accepted responsibility to care for the road.


How do you know if a road is private?

The average person can’t tell by simply looking at a street.  And assumptions such as, “The road must be public because it’s paved and in a planned development that’s been complete for years,” are often flat out wrong.

Your most reliable source will be the local transportation department.  Start with your town or city.  It’s usually easier to reach a human being on the local level and, if they don’t know the answer, they’re typically more willing to take the time to point you in the right direction. 

If it turns out the road is private, that’s not necessarily reason to reject the property.  However, be mindful that, over time, living in a community with private roads will be more expensive than if they were public.