Home Sellers: Keep Bad Neighbors From Derailing a Sale

bad neighborsSelling a house is difficult enough without having bad neighbors making the task even harder. You know the type: The family up the street straight out of "Deliverance," or the party-hearty teens who play music so loud it rocks your walls and jars your molars.

When buyers come looking, you want not just your house but the whole neighborhood to look its best. Your block's curb appeal is as important as your home's.

Bad neighbors come in all shapes and sizes. (Take a look at this house belonging to a prominent Congressman -- with its unkempt lawn, peeling paint, and cluttered yard -- if you don't believe us.) As a home seller, you want to make sure the neighbors don't derail your real estate deal.

Here are five common problems and tips on how to resolve them.

1. The foreclosure next door.

Some of the worst offenders on the property eyesore scale are the homes owned by banks. Not only will the foreclosed homes get your buyers thinking that prices may fall even lower (a bad thing), lenders who foreclose on properties rarely maintain them (an even worse thing).

Nothing screams "ugly" as loud as an unmowed front lawn and trash strewn all over the yard. And let's face it: More than one foreclosure victim has left smashed glass windows behind as a thank-you note to the lender who wouldn't work with them to save their house.

If your problem is a foreclosed house, you can call the bank -- and listing agent if it is on the market -- and insist that they at least protect the property to prevent vagrants from moving in. You can also ask that they maintain the yard to minimum standards of presentability, which are actually spelled out in your municipal code.

Contacting your local municipality is your next step. Every community has ordinances regulating the appearance of properties, especially as it relates to health or safety standards. In Chicago, for example, grass that's taller than eight inches is a violation.

Municipal property inspectors will tell you that they are limited to what they can see from the street. If you want them to see what your prospective buyers will see, invite them into your house and point out the visible garbage dump in the backyard next door.

What you can't do is go and clean up the mess yourself. That would be trespassing and illegal.

2. You live next to a junk collector.

Your meighbor may just have aesthetic standards that differ from yours. He may be a hoarder, blind to the idea that his many garage sale finds are not appropriate lawn ornamentation. He also may not have any other place to store that old washing machine he keeps around for spare parts.

Since it's in your best interest to get his yard cleaned up, why not offer to pay for doing it? Be honest, be direct and be generous. For the price of a $200 shed, you and your prospective buyers won't have to look at his yard cluttered with trash. The same idea goes for a neighbor's fence that needs painting or trees that need trimming. Remember, every month that your house sits on the market unsold costs you money. If your neighbor's falling-down deck is an eyesore to your prospective buyers, offer to help him fix it over the weekend -- on your dime. You will likely come out ahead financially.

A nearby property's overgrown yard, peeling paint and clutter can easily knock 5 percent to 10 percent off the sale price of your home, said Joe Magdziarz, the president of the Appraisal Institute. It also will cost you in time spent on the market.

3. Abandoned cars.

Getting cars removed from the street may be harder than getting your neighbor's yard cleaned up. For one thing, you have to establish that the car is abandoned. If the car has been up on blocks for six months in front of a neighbor's house, chances are he owns it. It still needs to be registered though, so check for a current registration sticker.

Let's start with the easy one first: For a car without license plates, most cities have a hot-line number for you to call and they'll come and tow it away. In New York, it's 311. If the car has license plates on it, report the plate number to your local police and tell them the car has been sitting there for however many weeks. From the plate, they can identify the owner and will know whether it has been reported stolen.

If the car belongs to a neighbor, find out how long cars are allowed to be parked on a public street without a ticket being issued. Of course you can always just knock on the neighbor's door and offer to pay for the car to be stored in a garage where your neighbor can work on it. Remember, you are leaving this neighbor behind just as soon as you can and biting this bullet may hasten that goal.

4. Noisy or undesirable neighbors.

As unbelievable as this sounds, many people are simply unaware that they are disturbing you. They may blast their music until 3 a.m. or think it's fine to sit on the front stoop of your building, drinking beer, oblivious to the idea that they are bothering anyone. They won't stop until you tell them it's a problem for you. They may not stop then, either, but at that point they lose the excuse of ignorance.

When you have showings, ask your neighbors to please keep the racket down. (You might need to disclose to buyers that you have neighbors who entertain frequently; check with your real estate agent.) You can also ask the HOA or property management company to speak to the stoop drinkers; we bet that's a violation of building policies.

Just as some sellers leave a TV on during showings to drown out the noise of the nearby freeway, you might need to figure out an "override" solution to your noisy neighbor problem too. Would planting some sound-absorbing shrubs help "quiet" the loud kids next-door?

5. Dogs who menace.

One offshoot of the housing crisis is that many house pets have been left to fend for themselves when their owners moved. It's unfortunate for the animals and also unfortunate for the neighbors who live with packs of now-wild dogs roaming the neighborhood.

Solution is simple: Call animal control. Since it may take a while to capture the dogs, do it as soon as you notice the animals. Keep tight lids on trash cans too.

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