North is Preferred in Real Estate for an Age Old Reason

by Karen Briscoe
July 15, 2013

The reason that north is preferred over the south is for a very old and fundamental reason.  In the northern hemisphere water runs generally from the north to the south.  Most communities were developed near a water source for it is a basic human need.  Also, water sources were and still are a primary means of transportation.  When there is “run off” the water and the smells associated with it are going to naturally run southward.  Thus it is highly desirable to be “up wind” of those smells, sights and sounds that are less desirable.   Therefore the more financially capable and savvy people selected their home sites on the northern end of the community.  Those that did not have the means were left with the dredges – land in the river bottoms, or the “other side of the tracks” where often the trash dump is located.

As often happens, people make a preference and don’t really even understand why.  If the affluent over time tend to settle in the northern end of a community which becomes a town, then eventually a city and then a metro area, then the higher quality homes would have of course been built in those locations.  The schools in those communities would tend to be the strongest academically, drawing the best teachers and administrators.  The city services would be the best as the tax base would be strongest in those locations and local government would want to provide well for their best constituency.

The upscale shopping follows the income level of the residents.  Thus the higher end retail establishments, restaurants, grocers and other services focus the majority of their capital and advertising toward this clientele – wanting to be conveniently located in close proximity to where the affluent reside.

If one were to study the majority of metro areas in North America, they would find that the best and more expensive real estate lies in the northern sections.  There are a few exceptions of course, as there are to any rule.  For example, in Fort Worth, Texas, the stockyards were located to the north of the city; thus, much of the up market housing is located south of Fort Worth.

There was a study conducted by Brian Meier, associate professor of psychology at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa about this phenomenon.  The study was cited in the Wall Street Journal on July 4, 2013, this is a link to the article:  According to Paul Meier:  “When all else is equal, people have this bias to think that northerly areas are better or more affluent.”  It is because in most areas they are better and more affluent.

Preferences often follow without people truly understanding why they are leaning in a particular direction.  Oftentimes our language picks up on those leanings.  As Paul Meier went on to point out that “north” and “south” are spatial concepts which we attach emotional meaning to; thus we are “feeling up or feeling down, on cloud nine or down in the dumps.” Music often portrays these emotions as in Billy Joe’s 1983 song about the “downtown man” who is blue-collar in love with the “uptown girl” who is upper class.

It is important to understand all the myriad of factors that go to create and retain value in real estate.  Karen Briscoe and Lizzy Conroy are active and experienced Realtors® in the Northern Virginia, Washington DC and suburban Maryland market place and would be delighted to assist with this process for you, whether it is home buying and/or selling.  Please contact via the means most convenient for you:, 703-734-0192,

Karen Briscoe is Principal of the Huckaby Briscoe Conroy Group (HBC) and author of "Real Estate Success in 5 Minutes a Day". She is an Associate Broker in Virginia, a Certified Luxury Home Market Specialist, and a member of the Women’s Council of Realtors. Karen began her real estate career developing residential lots with the Trammel Crow Company in Dallas, and in commercial real estate with The Staubach Company in the Washington, DC Metro area. Karen has a Masters Degree from Southern Methodist University and her BA from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri – her hometown.
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