by Ellen James Martin - Apr. 25, 2009 12:00 AM Universal Press Syndicate
With their third child on the way, a postal carrier and his homemaker wife were eager to sell their small, suburban house and move to a larger place in a nearby neighborhood. Their home was all ready for the market but for one snag: The next-door neighbor's yard was an overgrown mess, and they feared they'd take a hit on their home's price.
Homeowners who live near a neglected property may have to sacrifice as much as 20 percent off the market value of their home if nothing is done about the neighbors' mess, says Sid Davis, a real-estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home."
Such a discount is especially likely nowadays, he says, "because buyers are looking for any rationale they can find to justify a deep price reduction."
But in many cases, home sellers living near "a neighbor from hell" can avoid such a costly discount by resolving the problem amicably, as the postal carrier managed to do, Davis says.
Though the neighbor refused to do the cleanup work on his unkempt yard, he agreed to let the postal carrier, along with other concerned residents, take on the task themselves. This helped lead to a successful sale for the postal carrier and his family.
Experts on neighbor relations say one key to such a positive outcome is for prospective sellers to try to resolve the problem with the neighbors' without an adversarial confrontation.
"Never blame your neighbors or call them jerks. Always treat people respectfully and avoid letting your anger get out of control," says Emily Doskow, an attorney and co-author of "Neighbor Law."
Here are a few pointers for home sellers seeking to get neglectful neighbors to cooperate:
• Try to reason with your neighbors.
Unless your neighbors seem dangerous or unbalanced, Doskow suggests you go to their home in person in hopes they could be willing to fix the problem voluntarily, as many people are.
"Go over to the neighbors' house with a positive attitude," she says. "Give them the benefit of the doubt. Start out with a statement such as, 'I'm sure we can resolve this together.' "
In a surprising proportion of cases, Doskow says residents who receive a neighbor's complaint in a tactful way will volunteer to take corrective action immediately.
"Take the approach that you want to provide information," she explains. "For example, you might say, 'I'm not sure if you're aware that your garbage is flowing into our yard.' "
When calling on your neighbors, Doskow recommends you go alone or with just one other person.
• Volunteer to do the corrective work on your neighbors' property.
In an ideal world, every resident of your community would maintain high standards of upkeep for their properties. They'd keep their lawns mowed, their bushes pruned and their trees trimmed. They wouldn't allow litter to accumulate in their yards or let a broken stair railing go unrepaired. But in the real world, some people are unwilling or unable to stay on top of their maintenance work, even when they're asked to do so politely, says Davis, the real-estate broker.
In your attempts to clean up a messy neighbors' property, you may be joined by other local residents who are equally concerned about the problem. Just remember to politely request the wayward neighbors' permission before you attack their cleanup work.
• Seek outside intervention as a last resort.
No matter how diplomatically you approach your neighbors, you may be repeatedly rebuffed. If so, you may need to take stronger action to get the problem solved, Davis says.
Short of a lawsuit, which could be very expensive and time-consuming, you may wish to consider filing a formal complaint with your neighborhood association (if you have one) or with your local government office, he says. Possibly you and your messy neighbors will be referred to a mediator in an attempt to settle your dispute harmoniously.