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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. 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. 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!
Good post. Someone in my neighborhood called the city when my mower guy missed a regular time of mowing. I have no idea who so now I look at everyone and wonder if it was them. If they had talked to me I could have explained and told them when he was coming.
I can totally relate. When I ripped out the downstairs vanity (that same post and time where that lawn pic is from above), someone in the neighborhood called the city too. I didn’t get fined, but I was warned that I had to clean it up in X number of days. This was back when I had first moved in and began working on the house; it had a LOT of work going on, so I assumed it may have been a knee-jerk reaction to the new homeowner who was suddenly making a bad house WORSE by turning her front yard into a debris field. Afterward, I did make more of an effort to make sure my neighbors knew that I had a LOT of interior problems to fix before I could focus my efforts outside, and I haven’t had many problems since. I think it definitely has a lot to do with how often they see me working on SOMEthing on the house and now know it’s just me, working hard, but getting there little by little. I’m sorry you had that experience, but I hope you don’t get those kinds of calls anymore!
We’ve definitely taken the “just do it for them” approach–sometimes with their permission, more often without. Our nearest neighbors were very elderly (around 90) and frail when we moved in–now they are living in a nursing home, and their house is on the market. Their yard had become completely overgrown with invasive shrubs that made it impossible for us to see oncoming traffic when leaving our driveway. Knowing that they rarely left the house, we figured that if they were even aware of the problem, it was beyond their capability to deal with it–so we just trimmed them up ourselves. Meanwhile, we’ve cultivated some goodwill by removing a tree stump pro bono when we already had rented a tractor, helping tow people stuck in the snow in their driveway, etc.
That’s awesome! You sound like the kind of neighbor I’d like to have :) I definitely think that’s the right way to go… you never know when you’ll need your neighbors to help you, and it goes a long way to let them know you care about the neighborhood as a whole.
I can’t wait to see a full patio reveal. The picture up above with the chair and planters look nice. After you power washed it and painted it I bet it turned into a nice space that you can actually use.
I’m actually working on some new outdoor spaces this summer! That patio is just too tiny, so I’m hoping to level out the yard and then build some platform decks on top. It’s still in the works and I’ll talk about it in a future post!
We have had neighbors who abandoned their house for about a decade now. It’s a horrible eyesore, and other people in our semi-rural community are really upset about it, but I’d prefer to have it empty and the back deck used by hawks than to have these people there. I have been very Gladys Kravitz about keeping an eye on the place all these years, so they’re used to me sticking my head out of the front door when they do show up (they come for their mail but nobody’s lived there for years). I think the neighbors on the other side call the county a few times a year, and the grass gets roughly cut. I go out of my way to be almost obsequiously chatty whenever we do cross paths, and he knows that I could cause him a world of pain if I called the county or the cops on all his many transgressions so we have a cordial-enough relationship. That said, it will be nice when someone moves in who will clean up the yard, but I’d still rather have no neighbor than a neighbor with a barking dog or loud ball-playing kids.
Great advise. We have a weird neighbor situation, in that we live on the edge of a main road and one neighbor is a lawyer’s office, and the other has a plethora of what can only be described as “mentally challenged” adults. We do our best. Usually when they have an issue with anything we’re doing, they march over and start yelling. And they have very poor social skills so it’s usually them blurting stuff out and us trying to smile and be non-threatening while gently edging backwards. The most common issue is when we put one too many trash bags out on trash day. We get a lecture about how the town will never take our extra bag, and we’ll probably be fined and written up [we share a driveway with them, so all our trash gets lumped together on trash day]. Meanwhile the town always takes the bag and hasn’t fined us yet… Conversely, we love the people in the other 2 condo units in our house – we share pet sitting and plant watering duties with each other, and it’s just nice to have someone there who is available to help!
Having someone who can look after your pets when you’re away is a HUGE help. I am glad to have my parents within driving distance, but I try to use them for babysitting sparingly so as to not bug them too much!
This spring, we purchased too much mulch and decided to just ask and see if our neighbors could use it. Just like that, our extra mulch was out of our drive and two neighbors had pretty front yards. One even went out and put in new plants. Win!
I love this. We lived for many years on a huge property with no neighbours, so never had to worry. When we built our house, there were issues with our street number (long story), and all our mail was being delivered to our neighbours. Some stuff was automatically addressed to us at their street address. They were visited by our utility people because of the confusion, and I’m pretty sure they were getting really annoyed by it all (we’d be in the front yard and they’d drive past without looking at us, much less return our wave hello). Plus, when we built, we had to clear the block of land of most of the trees, which made their house much less private.
It was a simple fix. I went over to them one day and introduced myself, and then briefly explained the situation (i.e. it’s not our fault, please don’t be cranky). Our oldest sons are now friends and we’ve loaned them yard appliances when theirs died.
We’re not about to share long, lazy summer evenings around a barbeque, but hopefully this is enough to show we’re here if they need us.
Thanks for the reminder that we’re all people, and we just need to talk to each other to start solving problems.
Thank you for the post! It really helps to think about these things outside of our own little issues. We purchased our home about 8 months ago. Since then, a new neighbor has purchased the empty home across from us. We were excited to see someone finally take care of the house. The lawn has been left to die and their kid leaves his toys all over my yard, the street, and everyone else’s yard. The neighbors on the right let their 3 year old wander without supervision and they leave trash all over their yard and mine. The neighbors on the the left are helping foster kids who leave their trash all over my yard. Not to mention none of these parents watch their kids and they have literally been ganging up on my kids and hurting them. I have talked to the kids MANY times asking them nicely and eventually firmly to put their trash in the bins but it seems to make the issue worse. I have told the parents about the kids behavior. But again, they just don’t watch them. In our court everyone else has just let the kids trash stay in their yard and don’t care about the dead lawn. I honestly don’t even want to live here anymore. It’s strange. It’s a nice neighborhood, but when you turn into our court it’s the ugliest court. All dead lawns. I have worked hard these 8 months making our front yard nice. I’ve waved and smiled, chatted. I’m a afraid I will sound snooty if I ask if they need help with their yards. And it would be like 4 other yards I’d be working on. It really didn’t look this way when I purchased the home. I’m at a loss! Maybe if I help just one neighbor? I have 4 kids, 3 with special needs, a traveling husband, and I homeschool. Not a lot of time on my hands. Help!
I’m so sorry to hear about this, Bethany! That’s a really tough situation. I don’t have kids myself, but I’m a firm believer that making friends with neighbors truly goes a long way. It’s unfortunately always awkward at first, and building a rapport to the level of being able to ask a neighbor to do something takes time, and it almost ALWAYS begins by going out of your way to be kind (at least, in my experience with mine).
It sounds like your neighbors (such as the ones with foster children) are probably already dealing with a lot, so perhaps one small gesture of help can go a long way to starting that dialogue. They might have their hands full to the point where the neighbor asking about the lawn is the least of their worries (just from a “we don’t know what other people are going through” kind of thing), so you might get a completely different response than you expect. They might welcome the help. I don’t have all the answers of course, but in my opinion, starting from a friendly place is the best place. And if/when that doesn’t work, that’s what fences are for. I like to do the “natural” fence, so I am actually in the process of planting a nice tall hedge all along the back of my yard because one of the fences that divides us (that I don’t own myself) is breaking down and not being replaced. When it’s getting out of control as a last resort, such as doing property damage, there’s also HOAs and/or local code enforcers who can help (I had to do that once a few years ago over a tree falling down and it not getting cleaned up down the street, and it got immediately resolved).
I hope you find resolution on your lawn!
Have any wisdom for people that live in a condominium? I have a condo in Jacksonville, Florida and in the last 20 years the complex has been over-run with investors which means renters and they don’t care at all about their surroundings and I don’t understand. They smoke and flick their cigarettes or cigars (most likely pot) everywhere. They eat food and just drop the trash. I have tried to lay down new mulch but they have now put so much trash in it I don’t know what to do cover it with new mulch? I have put down grass and planted plants, but they just trample them. They leave furniture outside. I am very nice and act cordial but inside I’m seething.
Hmm… first, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It always sucks to have inconsiderate neighbors of any kind. Second, I would maybe suggest taking a look at how people in NYC care for the little patches of trees/soil outside of brownstones and such… that might give you some ideas on how those get fenced off to reduce trampling and damage (and even what kind of plants might withstand the constant battery). I remember when I last visited being surprised that people put so much care into just a few square feet of gardening space AND kept them maintained enough despite the foot traffic of people walking by. Hope that helps!
This post says that if my neighbor’s house is ugly it’s my fault for thinking so. That’s the number one tip? I agree that being nice to ypur neighbors and being friendly goes a long way in your living situation, but the idea that a neighbor bringing down the tone of the entire neighborhood – yes, other neighbors have commented on it too – is everyone else but the owner’s fault is a pretty privileged attitude.
I would love to see a revised version of this article where, “Remember there may be nothing you can do about it, and you may need to accept that planting 20-foot hedges in your own front yard is the only option” is the /last/ point, not the first.
Hm, I think you’re the one who needs to check privilege, here. The entire first point I made is that YOU are the one who wants change. Recognize that a different point of view exists. Until you actually know your neighbor, you don’t know what they’re going through, and reaching out is the first step, not the last. Maybe they have something bigger going on than caring about their overgrown bushes, Lydia. Offering help or just a friendly face can go a long way to making a neighbor feel welcome and being receptive to requesting they do something to please YOU and the rest of the neighbors trying to tell them what to do with property THEY own. You’re asking them to change something to make YOU happy. Being ganged up on like that is far more likely that they will dig their heels in and deny anything you suggest, even if the request is fairly reasonable. I don’t think it’s the article that needs to change.