Bad neighbors: Image torn down middle of two houses. House on left is run down and house on right is pristine.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

How one bad neighbor can sabotage a sale 

You can fix up a house — but you can't fix the neighbors. Despite the horror stories, there are a few ways to prevent neighbor woes from ruining a sale.

February 19, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Less-than-desirable neighbors come in all forms — messy neighbors, party-all-night neighbors, and downright mean neighbors.
  • A bad neighbor can negatively impact a home's value or cause it to sit on the market longer.
  • While agents can't change the neighborhood makeup, they can go in prepared by doing a little research, or even offer to help neighbors improve their property.

The house was perfect. Big rooms, soaring views, good inspection, clear sewer scope, good trees.  A century-old gem in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Seattle. And all within their budget.

On the day before the couple was about to put its "entire life savings" into an offer, the husband went back to the house to take one last look. He spotted the neighbor, and walked over to ask a few questions.

"What are you doing here?" the neighbor said sharply.

"We're about to make an offer on this house," the husband started, "and …"

The man cut him off, pointed at the ground and told him to step back from his property line. The husband thought he might have startled the neighbor, so he stepped back, took a beat, and tried again.

"We're thinking of putting an offer in on this house. Is there anything I should know about the area?"

"Why don't you ask your realtor?" the neighbor snapped. "I'm not your realtor." Then he turned and walked into his house, and slammed the door.

"It felt like he went out of his way to be rude," the husband said. "It was stunningly dismissive. It had to be a factor in why the homeowners were leaving."

The husband got into his car and called his agent. "Stop the paperwork now," he said. The agent seemed to know the problem, and understood.

You can pay to repair a crack in the foundation or a new roof. But you can't do much about a bad neighbor. "I found the red flag that wasn't on the inspection," the husband said.

Indeed, sometimes the problems selling a home have nothing to do with the home itself. It's the things — or, in some cases, the people — around it.

Neither the buyer agent nor the listing agent would speak for this story — they both were spooked by the neighbor.

But Theresa Truex, a broker and premier director at Windermere Real Estate in Seattle, said a bad neighbor could lower the price of a house by scaring away potential buyers and keeping a house on the market longer.

"Everybody is going to ask the listing broker, 'Why hasn't the house sold?' And what is the listing broker going to say?" Truex said. "A bad neighbor is hard on a house."

Truex recalled a neighbor who appeared with a gun, telling potential buyers he was keeping the neighborhood safe. Another revved his motorcycle every time someone came to look at a house.

Then there was the house that sold every three years, because the neighbors — nice enough during the day — started drinking at 5 p.m. and partied late into the night. Buyers could only take so much before becoming sellers themselves.

Bill Aboumrad, an agent with Legacy Real Estate and Associates ERA Powered in the Bay Area, knows the problem well.

He has offered — and paid for — neighbors to paint their homes in order to make the property he was selling look better and sell faster. He has paid to clean up neighbors' yards.

"You've got cars on the grass, the paint is peeling off the house," he said. "Or the guy is just hanging out front."

He remembered a neighbor who had inherited a home from his parents, had let it fall into disrepair, and spent his days sitting out front.

"He was a weird dude," Aboumrad remembered. "I thought, 'I have got to get rid of this guy before my open house.'"

Aboumrad walked over and offered the man $30: "Why don't you go to the movies on me? Just come back after 4 p.m."

"He took the money," Aboumrad said. "And the house sold."

So what else can agents do?

Sellers can speak to the neighbor and ask them not to interact with potential buyers. Truex recommended buyers go through a lawyer.

Savvy buyers can go back to a neighborhood at different times of the day and talk to neighbors.

"They can find the chatty neighbor who talks about all the crappy neighbors," Truex said. "That can help, or scare people off. None of us want to have crazy neighbors or noisy neighbors or neighbors who are drunk day and night."

Erin Morrison, an agent at 12 Rivers Realty in Austin, said agents and buyers can also do some research ahead of time by looking at local neighborhood Facebook groups, Nextdoor, or a neighborhood association website, if possible.

"Or just try to reach out to other neighbors," Morrison said. "Instead of that one curmudgeon. And once you move in, avoid him like the plague."

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