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improve your neighborhood!
Every neighborhood has problems: the house
in disrepair, traffic noise, and trees blocking views are just a few examples.
Fortunately, if neighbors work together, these problems can often be resolved.
Warning: this page is long, as the entire chapter is on one
page, to make reading it easier. This page is copyrighted. For reprint permission, contact
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Homes needing repairs
Larry and Janet R. lived an older well established
neighborhood. The homes were the most expensive in their town, with deep lots, narrow
front yards, and attractive landscaping. Their home was one of the smaller, less expensive
homes. The home next door had a well tended front lawn, but was in disrepair, with peeling
paint and a leaking roof, affecting the value of Larry and Janets home.
When I asked Larry about the home next door, he said it
was occupied by an elderly woman, Margaret T., who didnt have much money. Her
husband had died many years ago, leaving her with a small pension. She was able to obtain
a special exemption from property taxes, but did not have enough money for upkeep. She and
her husband had one child, who died about 10 years ago.
Although she was in her 80's, Margaret T. was still
active, volunteering at a local day care center and the battered womens shelter.
Whenever any local charitable group needed assistance, they could count on Margaret.
Larry and the neighbor on the other side of
Margarets home took turns mowing her small front lawn. They mowed it at the same
time they mowed their own front lawns. The rear yard had a very large concrete patio, a
few fruit trees, and a small vegetable garden. Larry and his neighbor pruned the trees
every year. Margaret tended her vegetable garden, and gave most of the fruit to her
Unfortunately, the poor condition of Margaret Ts
house affected the value of Larry and Janets home. They were planning on selling
their home in three years when their children were older, and moving to a larger home in
Larry and Janet werent sure what to do. They
didnt want to file a complaint with the building department, and couldnt
afford to fix up the house themselves. I suggested contacting the local association of
Realtors in their town. Once a year, they fix up the home of a local resident. Last year
they had worked on a home owned by another elderly woman who could not afford the repairs.
Some elderly people dont like help, considering it
"charity," but Margaret T. was already accepting help from her next door
neighbors. Margaret was well known in the community for her volunteer efforts, and had
received several awards. Many people would feel it was an honor to help her out now.
Larry and Janet contacted the local association of
Realtors, who were very willing to help out Margaret M. Six months later, roofers,
painters, electricians, carpenters, landscapers and other members of the community spent
three days working on Margarets house and yard. Her house was painted inside and
outside, the front and rear porches and roof were replaced, electrical system upgraded,
and automatic sprinkler systems for both the front and rear yards were installed.
Materials were supplied by a special fund of the local association of Realtors.
Larry and Janet increased the value of their home and,
more important, helped their neighbor.
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The abandoned gas station down the street from Julie and
Stuart R.s home was a real eyesore. The building was boarded up and the concrete was
cracked and weed choked. The owner of the site, the TCB Corporation, a multinational oil
company, put up a chain link fence around the property, but didnt do any
maintenance. The gas tanks and contaminated soil had been removed, and the site had been
declared toxic-free by the county environmental department.
The location was no longer viable for a gas station, so it
was shut down six years ago. The retail gasoline business had changed, and TCB Corporation
had many vacant service station sites around the country. The property was zoned for
commercial uses, such as offices or stores. But for various reasons, the site was not a
good commercial location.
When I appraised Julie and Stuarts home, I mentioned
that the gas station affected the homes value, as well as the values of other nearby
homes. Some buyers may even see it as an indication of a declining neighborhood. I told
Julie and Stuart that other gas stations had been turned into parks in other cities.
Julie and Stuart decided to do something about the
abandoned gas station. They sent flyers to all their neighbors, asking them to come to a
meeting at their home to discuss what they could do about the problem. Ten neighbors
showed up for the meeting. Looking at all the possible alternatives, they decided on a
park. The neighborhood had many families with small children, and needed more parks with
None of the people at the meeting had ever tried to do
anything like this, and werent sure how to proceed. One of the neighbors, Jane R.,
used to work as a secretary for a local subsidiary of the multinational company who owned
the site. She volunteered to find out who to contact at the main office. Another neighbor,
Sally Q., volunteered to search the Internet for information on other neighborhoods that
had succeeded in changing a gas station site to a park, and contact them. Julie and Stuart
offered to go to city hall, and find out what needed to be done to rezone the site. The
neighbors decided to meet again in a month.
At the next meeting, Jane R. reported that she had spoken
with the department responsible for disposing of excess land at TCB Corporation. They sent
her a copy of the standard proposal form for selling the site. Sally Q. found information
on the Internet about two other neighborhoods that had succeeded in converting an
abandoned gas station to a park. Both of them were willing to help. Julie and Stuart
reported that the city planning department was very receptive to rezoning to a park, but
the city lacked any funds for for land purchases or park construction now or in the
immediate future. However, if the neighbors could get funding for the land purchase and
park construction, the city agreed to maintain the park.
One of the neighbors remembered that many years ago, when
the neighborhood was first developed, it had a voluntary association called the Oakwood
Home Owners Association. Another neighbor, who recently purchased his home, said the
association was mentioned in the title report on his home. They decided to reactivate the
As they read over the form provided by the TCB Corporation
for selling the land, they noticed that there was a reference to a special community
program, where TCB donated the land to the local community. Sally Q. said that both the
neighborhood associations she contacted had obtained their park land for free. One had
also received a substantial grant from the oil company for park construction. Julie and
Stuart R. reported that when they spoke with the city planner, Charlene M., she indicated
that her department was willing to help in any way they could.
Jane R., who used to work for a subsidiary of the TCB
Corporation, said that another local company, Johnson Medical Supply Company was owned by
TCB. Jane said that TCB was trying to expand their medical products division, which
included Johnson Supply. Both TCB and Johnson had been mentioned unfavorably in the local
newspaper several times. They wanted to build a large warehouse for their expanding
medical supply business, but some residents were concerned about truck traffic.
The newly reactivated Oakwood Home Owners Association sent
flyers out to all the home owners, notifying them about the next meeting to discuss the
park. This time they met at the local school and had 100 attendees. They elected Julie R.
as President, Jane R. as Secretary, and Tom T., a local CPA, as Treasurer. Jane R. had
contacted the local newspaper, who sent a reporter.
The next day, the local newspaper had a story on the
meeting, focusing on a small group of neighbors trying to do change an abandoned gas
station site into a park for the local children. The president of Johnson Supply, the
local TCB subsidiary, saw a great opportunity and told his public relations department to
get busy. The day after the story appeared in the newspaper, they contacted Julie R., the
associations new president, saying they would start working on a plan for the park
Within a week, Johnson Supply had persuaded TCB to donate
the gas station site to the city, notifying the Home Owners Association and the local
newspaper. They set up a joint committee with Johnson Supply, the city planning
department, and the Oakwood Home Owners Association, to work out the details of the park.
The planning department expedited the rezoning and provided assistance in park design.
Many employees of Johnson Supply, including the president, lived in the city. They
volunteered to help build the playground. Johnson Supply agreed to pay for all the
Three months later, members of the Oakwood Home Owners
Association and employees of Johnson Supply spent two weekends building the park. A local
landscape construction company provided supervision and heavy equipment, a deli donated
lunch, and a local massage center provided on-site massages at the end of the day for
Johnson Supply finally got their warehouse expansion
approved and became more active in the local community. When their employees drove by
children playing in the completed park, they felt good. They had helped out the
The Oakwood Home Owners Association continued to work on
making their neighborhood better, and increasing their property values. Even more
important, they were now a real neighborhood, where they worked together and knew each
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Many years ago, Anne B.s very small neighborhood was
occupied by owners of nearby small farms. Over the past 30 years, all the farms were sold
to home developers. Her neighborhood had always been considered "second class"
as it was separated from the main part of the city by a small river and used to be the
"farm" area. Although the farms had been sold to developers, her small
neighborhood of much older homes still remained the same, and was still considered
"second class" by many people, including residents of the neighborhood.
I had appraised many homes in her neighborhood over the
past ten years, and always mentioned the traffic problems. The home owners were concerned,
but had never made any objections, as a group, to the increasing traffic. A business park
had been developed ten years ago, but vacancy had been high until about three years ago,
when the local economy became much stronger. The neighborhoods narrow streets were a
convenient way to get to the business park. A four-lane street had been built for access,
but it was less convenient for commuters than Ann B.s street. More and more noisy
busses were also traveling down the street.
Anne B.s home was located on a corner of two of the
busiest streets. The city was planning on re-routing even more traffic to her small
neighborhood, including more bus traffic. Anne was thinking about selling her home, and
asked me to tell her what her home was worth now, and what it would be worth after the
re-routing of traffic by the city. She liked her home and her neighborhood, and
didnt want to move. But she didnt want to own a home that would decrease in
value because of the increasing traffic.
She had spoken several times at city council meetings
about the traffic problems, but no one seemed to listen. Recently, the local newspaper had
published a letter she wrote about the problem. I suggested she join with her neighbors to
fight back against the plans for increased traffic. Anne said she had tried to get a
petition started, but was a very private person and knew few of her neighbors. Going door
to door was difficult for her. She had public speaking experience and was comfortable
speaking at the city council meetings. Writing reports was part of her job as a personnel
vice president at a large company, so writing the letter to the local newspaper was also
Several years ago, I had appraised another home on her
street, owned by Burt N., who was also very concerned about the traffic. He was very
outgoing, lived in the home his parents built, and knew everyone in the neighborhood,
including owners who rented their homes to tenants. Burt had quit school in the eighth
grade to help out his family during the Depression, and wasnt confident dealing with
city officials. He had never spoken with the city, or even written a letter to the editor
of the local newspaper.
Burt was one of the few neighbors that Anne knew, but she
had never thought about working with him to reduce traffic. I suggested she contact Burt,
as they were well matched, with complementary skills. Anne was the "brainy"
educated person, with an advanced college degree and experience writing and speaking. Burt
was the "people person" who knew everyone.
In their city, history and tradition was very important,
including how long you had lived in the city. At city council meetings, everyone,
including the city council members, mentioned how long they had lived there. Living in the
city your entire life, and being a second or third generation resident, was important.
Anne had only lived there for 5 years, but Burt was third generation. His family was one
of the founding farm families.
Anne called Burt that same day, and they became a winning
combination. They decided to ask the city to change the bus routes to other streets, and
close off the entrance to their neighborhood from the business park, so commuters would
not drive through.
Anne wrote the petition, and Burt got everyone in the
neighborhood, even absentee owners, to sign it. Anne made sure that all the proper
procedures were followed in obtaining the signatures.
As an experienced personnel executive, Anne was familiar
with working with the media. She and Burt planned a press conference before presenting
their petition at a city council meeting.
They both knew that Burt would have to speak in public, so
Anne coached him. Although he was not well educated, he spoke well. With some coaching by
Anne, he was able to use his natural skills and showed that he had the ability to become a
dynamic and persuasive speaker, surprising both himself and Anne.
They set up a news conference the day before the city
council meeting, at a bus stop on the busiest corner in the neighborhood. The home next to
the bus stop was occupied by a family with three small children who had put up a large
chain link fence to keep their children and pets from going into the street and getting
injured. It was summertime and the children were not in school. The three children, and
their two small dogs, would be in the front yard playing. The time was during peak morning
Anne contacted the local newspapers, and radio and
TV stations. The press conference was attended by a local TV station and a reporter for
the local newspaper. The buses belching smoke as they pulled away from the curb, the heavy
car traffic on the narrow street, and the children looking through the chain link fence
provided some good shots for the TV and newspaper reporters. Burt was disappointed with
the low turnout, but Anne knew they only needed one good story in the media. Other stories
would follow later.
Anne was the polished professional speaker, providing
information on what the problems were, and what they wanted the city to do. But Burt was
the star. His anecdotes about what the neighborhood was like when his parents first moved
there, and how he wasnt opposed to progress, but really missed his dog Spike that
got run over by a car last year, were great human interest stories.
That evening, both Anne and Burt appeared on a five minute
segment on the TV stations news hour. The next day, the morning paper had pictures
of the buses belching smoke and the children behind the chain link fence on the front
Anne and Burt had persuaded many of their neighbors to
attend the city council meetings in support of their petition. The media publicity packed
the city council chambers. So many people were in the hallway trying to get in that they
set up speakers so everyone could hear the proceedings.
Anne and Burt didnt get everything they wanted. The
street was closed to through t traffic, but most of the bus routes stayed. However, the
traffic situation was greatly improved. Their property values increased, and Anne
didnt have to sell her house.
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Big trees next door
Sam S. purchased his "dream" home 15 years ago,
on a hillside with a beautiful view of the lake. In the daytime during the summer he loved
to watch the boats. In the spring and fall, migrating birds came to the lake for a brief
rest. In the evenings he watched the twinkling lights in the homes surrounding the lake.
His excellent lake view increased the value of his property by 10 percent.
When Sam purchased his home, neighbors had an informal
agreement not to let their trees block the views of their neighbors. His neighbor down the
hill had always kept her trees trimmed so they didnt block Sams view of the
Then Sams neighbor sold her home. The new neighbors,
Jason and Carol C., had two teenagers with noisy motorcycles, who had their friends over
for backyard pool parties which lasted late into the night. Sams children were
grown, but he remembered their teenage years, and could live with the disruption until
they were older. But the neighbors didnt trim their trees, and Sams view was
When Sam asked his Jason and Carol several times to trim
their trees, they said they would "think about it" but never did anything. Then
Sam decided to retaliate. Every time the teenagers pool parties got noisy, he called the
police. Sam purchased some old, beat-up cars and parked them in front of their house. He
even considered sneaking into their yard late at night and poisoning their trees, but was
afraid their dog would bark and wake up his neighbors.
Sams next door neighbor, Sarah, had been listening
to Sam complain for over a year. She was concerned that violence would erupt, started
either by Sam or his neighbors. Sarah had read in the local newspaper about a new
arbitration board set up by the city to help neighbors resolve their differences. The
arbitration board had helped two nearby home owners solve a problem with a barking dog.
Sarah persuaded Sam and his neighbors to let the
arbitration board help the resolve their problem. Fortunately, the solution was very easy.
Sam paid for the annual tree trimming and his view wasnt blocked. His neighbors
didnt have to worry about an expensive tree trimming bill in four or five years when
the trees started to overhang their pool and drop leaves in the fall, clogging the drain
and staining the pool.
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How to work
with your neighbors
When I appraise a home, I always look at nearby homes and the
neighborhood, which significantly affect value. All neighborhoods have problems. Home
owners complain about neighborhood eyesores, trees, traffic, and many other problems, but
surprisingly few try to resolve them.
The days of doing whatever you want with your property are
long gone. Local, state, and federal rules restrict property owners, even in Alaska, where
there are no zoning laws. If there were no government regulations, we would still live in
neighborhoods, even if our closest neighbor is a mile away.
The keys to solving problems are communication and
cooperation. The best way to resolve them is to look for a "win-win" solution,
where both parties win. In all the examples above, both parties won. The sooner you start
to work together, the easier it will be to find a solution.
Unfortunately, sometimes adversarial relationships
develop. Neighbors dont speak to each other, property gets damaged, and lawsuits get
started. Everyone is looking for a "I win/You lose" outcome.
The first step is to speak with the property owner and see
if you can resolve the problem. Find out why the problem exists, and what the owner wants.
Explain what you want. If the problem property affects other neighbors, get everyone to
work together to resolve the problem.
If the situation has escalated, with letter writing and
name calling (or worse), see if you can get a neutral third party, such as a friend,
neighbor, or community arbitration board to help.
If the property owner is a large corporation or government
agency, getting the support of your neighbors can really help. Media attention on a
problem usually will encourage a response.
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