Dealing with difficult neighbours

by Yvonne Dick
There’s always a fear that a property you’ve listed for sale is going to be viewed at a lower value because of surrounding properties and their condition, or because of bad neighbours.
When listing a house for sale, it is important to assess the neighbourhood.  Note any potential negatives such as nearby entertainment venues, bars, railway lines and noisy neighbours along the block. Take a look at how the other homeowners keep their yards. Is it in line with the look you would like to see in the property you are selling?
“Generally we try and take the path of least resistance” with sellers’ neighbours, said Adam Bendig of Re/Max Connex Realty in Rockwood, Ontario. “It’s nice to knock on the door and say hi, or if there is bad blood (with the seller), try to remedy it prior to selling the house. The past issues may be minor but people hold grudges longer than they need to.”
Don’t forget to leave business cards and make sure that everyone you meet has a way to get in contact with you if they have any problems. Talk with the seller and make a list of any difficulties they ever had with neighbours, paying attention to what and how things are said. You want to clearly understand what the issues are and how serious or minor they may be. Assume nothing and always clarify.
“Sometimes it can be a financial issue — if a property doesn’t look up to par, it might just be that they’re not capable of taking care of their house and maybe they need help” cleaning up their yard, said Bendig. 
He suggests offering to help out with cleaning projects as a way to build better relationships between neighbour and seller.
Privacy walls or fences, large plants or temporary decorative items can help make your property sale smoother by accenting the house rather than drawing the eye to other houses or their occupants.
What if you are considered the bad neighbour? For instance, what if a neighbouring property feels they are being harassed by open houses scheduled during the time they sit down to dinner?
“A gift card can go a long ways toward smoothing things over. We’ve done that with clients as well as neighbours when small issues have arisen,” said Bendig.
Neighbours can be quiet, yet deadly — passive aggressive or prone to blow a fuse for unpredictable reasons. While they are in the minority, head it off at the pass with open communication.
“When you leave notes you just don’t get the same response,” he said. “Show them the courtesy of discussing what’s going on and how you’d like to see things. Explain that you are trying to sell the house. If you feel tensions are escalating during a conversation with the seller’s neighbour, back off and come again another time.
If you think a neighbour is not going to respond well to the seller talking to them, be prepared to step in as a sort of mediator. It takes the personal aspect down a notch because it is now a professional talking to them and not the neighbour that they don’t get along with. 
Bendig said one of the tools in the sales rep’s kit is being able to show neighbours how what they are doing affects property value. It can benefit the neighbour if they realize others may see their own home as more valuable.
“A lot of people have in their head the worst-case scenario. Nine times out of 10 just talking with people, they are more than willing to work with you.”
Bendig said your last resort is getting local bylaw enforcement officials involved, but if you go that route, “you might stir the pot a little more than you want.”
(Reprinted with the permission of REM magazine.)