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Over the last few years of living and working on a house largely by myself, I’ve found few substitutes as valuable as a friendly, helpful neighbor. There are the ones who lend tools, the ones who are experts at something I am a complete dunce at (like the neighbor who reminds me when to fertilize the garden beds), and the ones who have similar floor plans or have dealt with the same problems (our homes are all around the same age and built by the same company). In exchange, I am usually the house that has an extra beer or refills for various tools (string trimmer line, etc.).
I learned most of my habits from watching how my parents got to know their neighbors. They both grew up in small towns and understood the importance of being “neighborly”. Even without an HOA or established subdivision organization, it wasn’t at all unusual for our house to be a place where neighbors stopped by if they needed something. I’m thankful that when I first moved in, I made an effort to get to know one or two of my neighbors (and when I got Charlie, it was even easier… everyone loves puppy kisses!). Even those that I haven’t actually met, I wave, smile, and I try to be nice to their kids (within reason; soccer balls bouncing into my yard are fine, but kicked into my SUV are not). Still, it can be hard to know how to handle bigger issues like curb appeal problems. Trees can grow into fence lines; yards can go unmaintained. Hell, on more than one occasion, I’ve been the neighbor who has something weird in their yard, so we all know it’s not a one-sided thing.
Out of curiosity, I recently went searching online for advice on the subject. And the top autofill options I found?
- how to get away with a murderer (uh, that’s not even the actual title of that show)
- how to get neighbors wifi password (these guys are assholes)
- how to get neighbors cable
- how to get neighbors evicted
- how to get neighbors car towed
- how to get neighbors dogs to stop barking
- how to get neighbors to fix fence
- how to get neighbors to cut grass, cut trees, etc.
Yikes. And when I finally found some actual articles on the subject, most of them briefly touched on being a decent neighbor, but most of the advice (like this one) came off super passive-aggressive to me:
- dropping off a “friendly” note (with or without a gift)
- notifying the HOA (I don’t have one in my subdivision, but most of my friends that do tell me they are pretty aggressive with “friendly” notes all on their own)
- calling the city to have them enforce housing codes
Oh, man. I so, SO do not agree with these methods as a first or even second course of action, and I’m genuinely disappointed that these methods pop up in the top three (!) suggestions for many articles. I get that sometimes there’s just no other way, but I couldn’t help but wonder if these were mostly searches by people who had never even spoken to their neighbor. According to one survey, 75% of respondents made no direct contact with a neighbor over an issue.
When it comes to confrontation, a lot of people are bad at it (or at least, they feel that they are, which can make almost anyone feel uncomfortable). But avoidance and passive-aggressive note-making are generally terrible ways to deal with other disagreeable situations (breaking up with your significant other, a coworker constantly cooking fish and boiled eggs for lunch, etc.). So why do people suddenly think that this is a good or ideal solution for neighbors?
Your neighbors can be your biggest allies. They can keep solicitors out, watch your dog when you go out of town, and call the cops if they think someone is breaking into your home (or in my case, break into your house for you, dig you out of a snowbank, or give you lawn care advice). So, since this article has gone on long enough with my own griping (ha), here are a few things I’ve tried that have served me well to establish long-term benefits with neighbors, make the neighborhood a nicer place to live in, and help motivate those around me to care for their own homes the way I care for mine.
How to get Neighbors to Fix Curb Appeal Problems
Realize whose problem it really is.
Real talk: the fact that you think your neighbor’s house is an eyesore isn’t really their problem—it’s yours. You are the one who wants it to change, so it’s your problem to deal with, and your job to find out if there’s a solution. Some things are easy to figure out just by having a quick conversation and asking your neighbor how they are. Maybe they’ve recently fallen ill or left/started a new job that has them preoccupied. Maybe they just haven’t noticed that part of their siding fell off during a recent storm, and you’re the first person who even brought it to their attention.
Making friends with your neighbors (or at least making them the kind of people who will acknowledge you when you smile and wave, allow you to pet their new puppy, etc.) is a huge part of how happy or pissed off on a daily basis you might be when you come home. This includes being friendly with neighborhood kids, even if they are oblivious that they are tromping through your new flowerbeds (because it previously looked like crap and it was okay before) or making the dog bark her head off by walking through your yard. Do this just because, but also because when the time comes, you can tell them nicely what the issue is. It’s even easier to casually mention home improvement tips when you’re already sharing stories about your own recent improvements (ex: “Did you know that red or yellow flowers are recommended when you’re trying to sell a house?”). Don’t forget to say please and thank you.
Drag your bins to the curb and away from the curb promptly. Put your trash in trash bags so that loose debris doesn’t find its way into a neighbor’s yard or draw hungry vermin. Bring your dog inside if she’s barking. Simply try to be a better neighbor. Even if you aren’t trying to be passive-aggressive to anyone, there’s no telling when someone might infer that you’re trying to deliberately inconvenience them with your behavior. In the same way that bad behavior can fester and create more problems, remind yourself that having better neighbors starts with your own actions, and no one is perfect.
Offer to help.
Like I mentioned above, there might be an actual reason why your top priority for getting their house repaired isn’t their priority. Illness, age, travel, job status, family status, etc. could all play a role in whether or not your neighbor even notices that there’s something they should be dealing with right now. If you’re already doing your part in trying to get to know them — as, you know, people — you can also offer to help; that might be all that they needed to help them realize that people in their neighborhood are looking out for them. It won’t kill you to put another nail in their broken fence picket if you’re already replacing one of your own. And if you can get the issue taken care of that much faster by lending a tool or a few hours of your time, it’s win-win.
And my favorite tip of all:
Fix up your own house!
A contractor once told me, “Curb appeal is contagious.” And I have found that to be such a true statement that I try this approach all the time. It can take a little more time than say, dropping in a passive-aggressive note into your neighbor’s mailbox, but it really works! Plus, there’s no risk of possible retribution by looking like an asshole (save your sweet treats and flowers for when you’re truly trying to give something to your neighbor without asking for anything in return).
Sure, the argument could be made that this is still passive confrontation, but this is by far the easiest and most pleasant (read: least cringe-worthy) way of doing so. The trick is simple: focus on your own house’s problems and curb appeal issues; we all have areas to improve (glass houses and whatnot). By leading as an example, you are establishing that you care for your home. Through guilt, pride, jealousy, or some combination of emotions, they will be reminded to care for theirs as well. After all, no one really wants to have the crappiest looking home on the block, just as no one (usually) wants to be labeled the person stinking up the break room with their nasty, sulfur-y lunch. But anonymity is the enemy of good neighbors, both in the workplace and next door. The more you work on your own yard, the more you’ll start to see other neighbors picking up a rake, cutting back bushes, etc. It’s almost like when someone starts the wave at a stadium: it may not hit everyone all at once, but it will grow in size and come back around again and again. It also makes your neighbors more forgiving if you’re taking your sweet time in fixing something that was bothering them (“hey, he/she’s at least working on it… maybe I should cut him/her some slack.”). I would know… I’ve been working on my house little by little for a long time!
And better yet, while you’re out working on your house, you have a 100% greater chance of actually having a conversation with your neighbor face to face, which can lead to accomplishing all of the other things above in a much more natural way—even if it involves a more confrontational request that they deal with the overgrown tree that’s uprooting your fence line.
Other improvement options
If the objectionable item can be hidden or a neighbor simply can’t get to a repair soon enough (even if they have good intentions), there are simple alternatives to help create some visual appeal while you wait things out to be resolved. There’s always the option of adding a fence (though if you’re still trying to maintain or hope to repair the relationship with your neighbor, try to make it a nice-looking one, not a “spite fence“)…
And adding raised garden beds also spruce up your home and help hide less-than-ideal features…
If all else fails…
If you and your neighbor just can’t see eye to eye, you’ve tried being nice, and things are just starting to become miserable, those other alternative solutions are still there. Sometimes, the city or even the neighbor’s homeowners insurance will have enough of a problem that they might step in, but usually (from what I’ve read) only if it’s a public safety or structural risk. The bottom line though is that I hope if you’re having an issue with your neighbor, you at least give them (and yourself) the option of first resolving it like neighbors. You really don’t have much to lose to try the friendly route first. Hell, they might even dig you out of the snow next winter.
What have you done to resolve an issue with your neighbor? We can all benefit from stories like these, so feel free to share!