Cul-de-Sac vs. Dead End Street vs. Paper Road

Cul-de-Sac vs. Dead End Street vs. Paper Roads

Cul-de-Sacs, dead ends, and paper roads are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they are most certainly not the same thing, and it is important that homebuyers know the difference.

While there are no universally accepted definitions for each of the three terms, most localities generally refer to them as follows. As always, check with your municipalities engineering or planning department for more information.

Dead End

Dead End StreetDefinition: A dead-end is a street or road that has only one connection that serves as both its inlet and outlet.

Most of us are pretty familiar with what a dead end-street is. Your neighbor may have had a portable basketball hope that they wheeled over to the street when they wanted to play pick-up.

The important distinction between a dead end street and cul-de-sac is this: A dead end street simply ends at a point, while a cul-de-sac terminates in a large rounded sphere. The latter allows for more parking spaces at the end of the road, additional street frontage for surrounding properties, and room to turn a car around in one turn.


Cul-de-sacDefinition: A cul-de-sac is a dead end street with a rounded end.

Cul-de-sacs have more frontage at their terminal, allowing for more homes or wider driveways.

Cul-de-sacs are quite common in newer developments and subdivisions, as most modern builds have double-width driveways.

Paper Road

Paper RoadDefinition: A paper road is a street or road that appears on a map, but has not been built.

While this may sound odd, paper roads are actually somewhat common. For example, if a landowner wanted to subdivide their property, they may have an architect or city planner create a map.

As they start to sell off the project, life circumstances change, and they cancel the remaining property sales. In such cases, while the paper roads may appear on a map, they were never built.

Benefits of Buying a Home on a Cul-de-Sac, Dead End Street or Paper Road

The primary benefit of buying a home on a dead-end street or cul-de-sac is the absence of thru-traffic. This results in less noise and pollution.

Sometimes, homeowners on a dead-end street choose not to pave the road, thereby deterring anyone from parking on it. While a homeowner on a main street would not have such an option, those on a private road may.


Perhaps the biggest downside of buying a home on a dead-end street or cul-de-sac is that in some localities, maintenance falls on the homeowners. For example, in the event of a heavy snowstorm, a private plowing company may need to be hired at the expense of the owners on the street.

Additionally, bigger-ticket expenses, such as adding gas heat to the street, require the installation of an underground gas line. This may be the responsibility of the homeowners. Adding piping for gas can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or more.

Paper roads can often contain unknown easements or right-of-ways for neighbors, utility companies, and the broader community. These can seriously impact the value of the real estate in which they cross over or are near. Always check with an experienced attorney before buying a home with nearby paper streets, easements or right-of-ways.

Conclusion – Cul-de-Sac vs. Dead End Street vs. Paper Roads

Now you have learned a little more about cul-de-sacs, dead end streets, and paper roads, and their overall impact on surrounding properties. As the old saying goes, you can fix a home, but you cannot move it.

I always advise my clients looking at homes to keep an eye out for what surrounds it. While that may seem obvious, it is easy to simply focus on a home and ignore the neighborhood.

These days, most information is easy to find online. Check Google Maps, Google Earth, and GIS and Zoning maps from the municipality in which all the homes you are interested in are located. A survey may also show the surrounding area.

One last thing, since the terms are often used interchangeably, do not discount a property just because its description says private road, paper road, and so forth. Many agents, and homeowners, misuse the words, which scares away buyers. These simple mistakes often hurt sellers, but can be useful to buyers, as competition and overall demand may be unintentionally reduced.

Thank you to Open Street Map for the above screenshots! OpenStreetMap® is open data, licensed under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL) by the OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF).

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