Don’t Let Neighbors Downgrade Your Listing

When the house next door is an eyesore, take measures to upgrade your sellers’ curb appeal and keep the attention on the strengths of their property.

It’s a dilemma in which no real estate professional wants to be stuck: snagging the perfect listing in a desirable area—right next door to the neighborhood eyesore. Whether it’s an unkempt property neglected by messy owners or an abandoned home falling into disarray, the ugly house next door can have a real and negative effect on the curb appeal of your listing. Your first instinct might be to ignore it and focus on the home you’re selling. But potential buyers don’t have blinders on, and they’ll see the nearby nuisance right off the bat. So it’s best to address the problem head-on. With a little creative thinking, you can keep potential buyers’ attention on your listing and work through objections to any unsightliness next door. Here’s how.

Find the Silver Lining

Sometimes, you need to reframe the way potential buyers perceive a nearby eyesore. In May, Ryan Wilson, team leader of the Wilson Group at Keller Williams Realty in Newton Center, Mass., landed a listing for a two-bedroom, two-bath home in an established, in-demand neighborhood. “It was storybook suburbia: a mix of cute cottages, farmhouses, and colonials, with friendly neighbors and white picket fences,” Wilson says. But next door to Wilson’s listing, the neighbor’s yard was littered with lawn equipment, including multiple lawnmowers and snow blowers.

“It wasn’t something we shied away from [discussing with buyers],” Wilson says. “We didn’t try to say, ‘The yard’s not that bad.’ We took it head-on and said, ‘We understand it’s messy, but more importantly, the people who live there are nice people, and they’ve actually been very nice neighbors.’”

Wilson highlighted a benefit to having neighbors with such equipment, which may have been convincing to the buyers who ultimately bought his seller’s home. “What we ended up saying to potential buyers was that it was actually quite convenient to have neighbors with those things because there might be occasions when they may need to borrow the neighbor’s equipment,” he says. In fact, his sellers did confirm that they’d borrowed tools from the neighbor on many occasions. Wilson sold the listing for $321,000 within a week, after fielding multiple offers following a packed open house with visits from more than 40 interested buyers.

Create a Buffer

If the neighboring eyesore isn’t something that can be reframed, see if you can take measures to hide or downplay it, suggests Paula Monthofer, ABR, GRI, president of the Arizona Association of REALTORS® and owner of Focus School of Real Estate in Flagstaff, Ariz. She suggests performing a land survey to establish clear boundary lines between your seller’s property and the neighbors, and then erecting a fence or landscape buffer, which can draw attention away from neighboring properties and add to the attributes of your listing.

But don’t pretend that potentially intrusive problems with a neighbor’s property don’t exist. Be honest about them; address the issue in the best way you can and move on, she advises. Monthofer once showed a potential buyer a home with a neighbor whose lawn was littered with rusty vehicles, spoiling an otherwise lovely rural landscape. Rather than ignore the problem, she and the property’s listing agent brainstormed solutions. “My buyer ended up moving in and planted a row of cherry trees to obscure the view. He wound up becoming good friends with his neighbor,” she says.

Remember that the key to selling your listing is highlighting its strengths. If the neighboring property appears poorly maintained, take measures to show that your listing is in better condition. “A well-manicured lawn with an attractive entrance can be all that’s needed to get buyers through the front door,” says Allison Moore, a professional stager and sales associate with Warnock Real Estate in Fort Smith, Ark. If your listing’s front porch is shaded or dark, consider painting the door in a bright color to draw attention to the entrance, Moore suggests. “Little touches can go a long way in letting potential buyers feel that your property has been well-cared-for,” she says. A little staging may be all that’s needed to help your listing’s curb appeal shine through any nearby untidiness.

Investigate the Root Cause of the Mess

Sometimes, in order to develop an effective plan for dealing with the ugly house next door, you must first understand what’s behind the mess. Candice Oleson-Fredrick, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group in Des Moines, Iowa, once had a listing that overlooked what appeared to be a large pile of woodland debris in the neighboring yard. “It was a massive pile of sticks,” she says. “I knew I had to overcome it somehow because it looked bad.”

Rather than panic, Oleson-Fredrick turned to Google for answers. Her seller mentioned that the neighbors were from Nepal. So with a little online research, Oleson-Fredrick discovered that it was customary in Nepalese culture for homeowners to create large-scale, tiered backyard gardens known as “Ghar Bagaincha,” which literally translates to “home garden.” After seeing images of similar gardens online, Olson realized that the homeowners planned to use the sticks they’d gathered to outline the garden and create its layered tiers.

“Rather than make it a negative, I found out what it was about, and we were able to turn it into a positive,” Oleson-Fredrick says. “We told potential buyers, ‘You need to become friends with them because they are eventually going to have a garden with some great vegetables growing there.’” Her listing also sold within a week for $180,000.

Offer Help With Compassion

In other cases, rundown homes and overgrown yards may be a sign that the neighbors could use a little help. Perhaps it’s an older couple who are no longer able to maintain the property; maybe it’s a family who has fallen on hard financial times. Either way, you should be prepared to put on your “part-time investigator hat” to find out what’s going on, says Moore. Because it can be tricky to approach the owners of the eyesore without seeming nosy or accusatory, Moore suggests first asking surrounding neighbors on the street if they can share details about what may be really going on.

If the neighboring home truly needs improvement, extend a hand—but do it with kindness and consideration. “Obviously, this has to be entered into with a lot of heart. You’re not going to walk over and say, ‘Your house is ugly.’ You have to be very compassionate,” Monthofer says.

For unsightly yards, consider offering some lawn care work. It could be as simple as recruiting a few teenagers in the neighborhood for a few hours of cleanup. That’s what Monthofer did for the neighbors of one of her recent listings. Rather than accusing or insulting them, Monthofer and her sellers extended the offer of yard service in a positive light.

“We went over and said, ‘We’re preparing to sell our house and will be having some work done, and we’d like to do this for you, too, as a thank-you since you’ve been such great neighbors,’” Monthofer says. The end result was not only a nicer looking property but a true community-building experience involving other neighbors who pitched in and helped.