How to deal with a neighbor's bad curb appeal
Purple paint. Peeling siding. Junk. Trash. Unkempt lawns.
When a house on your block commits the sin of bad curb appeal, sometimes it’s just an eyesore.
Other times, it can be hazardous, impacting your quality of life. A yard piled with junk or littered with trash might attract rats, for example.
Worst of all, if you’re trying to refinance your mortgage or sell your home, your neighbor’s ugly property can cost you time and money.
If your own property is pristine, its appraisal value still will suffer if even one other home on your block looks bad. Your house probably will sit on the market longer and sell for less.
If you have to act, you have plenty of options, from playing nice to going to court. Here are 8 ways to restore visual harmony — and your home's value.
It might seem like common sense, but how often have you let something fester simply because you haven't confronted the situation?
If you don’t know your offending neighbor, or it’s been a while since your last friendly chat, buddy up to him.
Take your neighbor a pan of brownies, some extra produce from your garden or an invitation to a neighborhood potluck. Ask him how things are going. Don’t mention the problem.
Just be nice.
Once you’re on good terms with your neighbor, you’ve established the foundation from which you can ask him to help you with your problem.
That’s right — your neighbor’s bad curb appeal is really your problem more than his, so ask for his help, keeping in mind that your neighbor might be clueless that something about his home is upsetting you.
Most people want to get along with their neighbors and want to be helpful. Give your neighbor an opportunity to do these things, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Offer to meet your neighbor halfway in dealing with the issue. She might feel overwhelmed, not know what steps to take, not have the time or be short on cash.
Offer to find a charity that accepts car donations and to help your neighbor get a tax deduction for getting rid of that eyesore. You’ll even schedule the pickup and do the paperwork.
Tell your neighbor you’d be happy to babysit one afternoon while she sorts through her junk pile. Tell her you needed to rent a Dumpster to clean out your garage anyway and she’s welcome to use it. Pay for the Dumpster rental.
Rave about your lawn care crew, and tell your neighbor you’ll send them over to pull weeds and mow the grass next week. Pay the extra $20. Maybe she will be so pleased with the results that she’ll hire your crew permanently.
If you don’t have the time, the money or the physical capability required to help your neighbor, others might.
Many localities have home improvement programs for low-income homeowners, veterans, seniors and other people who might have trouble maintaining their homes.
Here are some places to look for help:
- Rebuilding Together, a network of nonprofits whose volunteers make repairs for low-income homeowners.
- Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush with Kindness program connects volunteers with low-income families who need help with painting, landscaping, weatherization and minor repairs.
- Your state and local governments (call the housing department, or search online for "single-family rehabilitation" plus your city’s name).
- A local office of the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- In rural areas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Very Low-Income Housing Repair program helps senior citizen owner/occupants.
- Home improvement television shows. The odds of your neighbor being chosen for the show are long, but if you can find a home renovation or landscaping show that’s accepting applications, try nominating your neighbor. The DIY Network show Desperate Landscapes is one option.
Instead of singling out your neighbor for his bad taste or seeming irresponsibility, have your whole block or whole neighborhood work together over one weekend or several weekends to improve everyone’s curb appeal.
Here’s one way you could implement this plan: Have a local real estate agent host a free event for the neighborhood with tips for improving curb appeal and reasons to do so (i.e., improving property values, increasing safety). The agent gets free advertising, and you and your neighbors get free professional advice. You also get to know each other better in the process of learning and helping each other.
Who knows? Your neighbor might be clueless that his actions are harming or irritating others. You also might discover that your own curb appeal needs some work!
The only catch is that you’ll have to convince your offending neighbor to participate. Still, getting everyone involved means you’re less likely to offend or antagonize anyone, because you won’t be making them a lone target.
If the problem isn’t affecting your home’s value, blocking the view is a peaceful solution. It lets your neighbor continue using her property as she pleases and lets you add privacy and ambience to yours.
Here are three options:
- New landscaping. Dense, fast-growing greenery makes an attractive shield. Look for hedges, trees and shrubs that grow quickly, keep their foliage year-round and are disease- and pest-resistant and low maintenance. The best choices depend on your climate, but consider ficus plants, pittosporum, honeysuckle, Russian olive plants, privets and arborvitaes.
- A new fence. Check with your local zoning board first; you may need to have your plans approved and obtain permits, and there may be rules limiting fencing materials or how high you can build.
- Sheer curtains/translucent shades. These allow light to filter into your home, but mask or blur your view to the outside. They also make it harder for nosy neighbors, marketers and criminals to see what you’re up to.
If a neighbor isn’t interested in a little friendly assistance — and he’s perfectly within his rights to refuse — you might choose to bring your local government’s code enforcement office into the picture.
Cities and sometimes even neighborhoods have rules about what homeowners can do with their homes and how they must maintain them (and the yard). There are often limits on how tall grass can grow, how far landscaping can hang over public sidewalks, what items are allowed in the yard, what color homes can be painted and much more.
Just be aware that getting the government involved can have unpleasant ramifications. Going around your neighbor "is only going to fuel the fire, and frankly, if you’re selling, you want friendly neighbors for all sorts of reasons," says relationship expert April Masini of AskApril.com.
But if going to your neighbor directly with your concerns has failed, getting the city involved can make sense.
A mediator is a neutral third party who is trained in resolving disputes. You can’t force your neighbor to go to mediation, but if he’ll agree to it, the National Association for Community Mediation’s website (http://www.nafcm.org/public/findhelp) can help find a mediator. Also try the Association for Conflict Resolution (http://impak.acrnet.org/members_online/members/acr_directory_public.asp). You might pay a fee for mediation services, but some nonprofits offer them for free.
If mediation doesn’t work, or if your neighbor won’t agree to it, you can take more drastic action and sue your neighbor in small claims court. This step should be a last resort.
You don’t need a lawyer, but you’ll have a stronger case if you can prove the neighbor’s actions have harmed you in some way. The amount of damages you can recover varies; most state limits are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. For larger sums, or if you want expert professional guidance, you’ll need to hire an attorney.
If your existing neighborhood doesn’t have a homeowners association to impose aesthetics, you can try forming a HOA, or you can sell your home and move to a different neighborhood that already has a well-run HOA whose rules you like.
Neither option makes sense if you’re dealing with one bad neighbor. However, if bad curb appeal is a neighborhood-wide problem, one of these solutions might be the best way to preserve your home’s value over the long run.
Forming a HOA in a community where the developer didn’t put one in place means researching your locality’s rules about HOA formation and getting most of your community on board. You’ll need to hire an attorney to help set it up, elect neighbors to run it and agree with your neighbors about what rules the HOA can impose and enforce.
It would be easier to move to a community with a HOA in place, though you’ll pay the transaction costs of selling your home (at a discount, thanks to your bad neighbor), moving and getting a new mortgage.