A shaken Rebecca Rand said the bulldozer ripped right through her kitchen. Another neighbor, Mary Davis, upon receipt of a frantic call from her husband, ran from her home just before the colossal machine demolished it.
While good fences are said to make good neighbors, it was a fence that set Barry Swegle off. This particular fence was erected by a neighbor, lining the driveway Swegle used to get to his property. It was a long-standing dispute and Swegle finally snapped. He used a logging bulldozer to damage or destroy several outbuildings, a truck, a boat, a power pole and four homes in the neighborhood (including those of the two women above).
Thankfully, Swegle is an extreme case and not all neighbors are this nutty – but many can be annoying. Disputes are common, and it’s how you handle them that will determine their outcome – and potentially, the value of your home.
What if your neighbor’s habits and lifestyle jeopardize the sale of your home – or at the least, affect your ability to get full market value for it? Attempting to reach a resolution with a problem neighbor will require diplomacy and patience.
When to Disclose a Dispute With a Neighbor
Home sellers have an obligation to disclose to the buyer any adverse conditions that may materially affect the home’s value. Naturally, sellers are hesitant to meet this obligation out of fear they’ll drive away the buyer. Failure to disclose, however, may result in a trip to court and huge amounts of money out of your pocket.
If a neighbor creates a nuisance, you are most likely required to disclose that. Your real estate agent is the expert on disclosure regulations in your area, so don’t hesitate to ask questions.
If you still feel that a problem with a neighbor doesn’t require disclosure, take heed of a 1998 California court case in which the seller failed to disclose ongoing disputes with a neighbor. Sometimes the arguments became so heated that the seller was forced to call the police.
After the buyer moved into the home he, too, experienced problems with the neighbor. He eventually learned about the seller’s undisclosed disputes and sued the seller. The buyer prevailed in court, winning a rescission of the sale, court costs, attorney’s fees and damages.
There’s an old real estate adage that all sellers should follow: “If in doubt, disclose.”
The most common dispute among neighbors is about noise, according to FindLaw.com. Barking dogs, domestic disturbances, loud music and noises associated with motor vehicles are among the complaints most often reported to police.
So, just how much does a noisy neighbor affect your home’s value? “I’ve seen many situations where external factors, such as living near a bad neighbor, can lower home values by more than 5 to 10 percent,” Appraisal Institute President Richard L. Borges told Business Insider. For a home that should sell for $200,000, for instance, a bad neighbor might cost the seller $10,000 to $20,000.
How to Deal with a Noisy Neighbor
The folks at Nolo suggest talking to the errant neighbor to try to come up with a solution. They recommend that you approach as if he or she has no idea there’s a problem. Be calm and friendly.
If this doesn’t work, visit the neighbor again to remind him about the problem, and say that you hope the two of you can solve it without involving the police.
If you think the confrontation may become heated, send the warning in writing – again being polite and friendly. Enclose a copy of the local noise ordinance that addresses noise problems.
Unfortunately, short of calling the police or suing the neighbor in a court of law, this is probably the most you can do to get a loud neighbor to cease and desist.
This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land
Another common dispute between neighbors occurs over property boundaries. Perhaps your neighbor plants a tree or installs a fence, and it just so happens to be on your property.
A dispute over property lines must be dealt with quickly, so that it doesn’t cloud your home’s title. Dealing with this problem is similar to dealing with noisy neighbors. First, however, do your homework.
“Find your settlement papers and search for a drawing that indicates your property line. You can find this information on the plat, a representation of the property survey, which you should have received at settlement,” suggests Ann Cochran, writing for the National Association of Realtors®.
You’ll need this as proof of encroachment when you speak with your neighbor. If you can’t find it, Cochran suggests that you check your state or county government’s website for the information. If all else fails, you’ll need to order a survey of the property.
Armed with the proof, visit your neighbor and calmly explain the problem. Hopefully, this will bring about a resolution. If it doesn’t, your next step is to write the neighbor a letter, once again documenting the encroachment, and again, asking that he remedy the problem. If you still see no relief in sight, consider mediation, and finally, if all else fails, a lawsuit.
So when it’s time to sell, unless the noisy neighbor shuts up or the encroacher moves his stuff back to his side of the property line, you’ll need to disclose the problem to any buyer that submits an offer on your home.