Home buyers, sellers, and the real estate professionals who help them can get so fixated on the specific property to be bought or sold that they overlook a valuable information resource for both selling or buying - the neighbors.
Who knows as much, or perhaps more, about a listed property and the location than seasoned owners of abutting properties, especially those who pre-date the current owner?
The owner, keen on selling for the best price, as fast as possible, and with the minimum amount of hassle may still be shy about pitching their home to friends, relatives, and contacts. The two, three, or four abutting property owners and the rest of the close neighbors, all of whom continue to be committed to living in the area they love, represent an even bigger pool of friends and contacts that could be potential buyers or sales supporters. Sellers who ensure that the Marketing Strategy for the listing includes the professional canvassing neighbors with notice of the new listing, and any subsequent price changes, are tapping into a neighborhood force of those who know why they love living where they do and usually love to talk about it.
Real estate professionals assisting buyers and sellers want to know everything about the property and location they are listing or selling, but unless they live nearby they may overlook subtle micro variations on local trends. For instance, the new mega build next door to my house is being promoted for its proximity to a popular public school. Lots of viewings, but after months in a hot market, no sale. In this high-traffic block, the majority of neighbors do not have small children. This particular property also has a bricked-over small lot with nowhere for kids to play, and nowhere to conveniently leave strollers and other kid-transporting vehicles. Parents may also see the huge backyard hot tub and full-size outside kitchen as tempting hazzards to small children. The tight-space rear parking makes kid-hauling SUVs too large for the site. This particular house suits singles or couples with older or no children and no big vehicles, which describes the majority of residents on this block. It's the walkability of the area and proximity to village-like shopping that are the draw for these property owners.
Neighbors know how the municipality deals with front-yard parking-pad applications, and can share examples of successful and failed parking requests. (The developer who bought the property originally should have checked with neighbors or city hall to find out if the planned front parking pad—an essential to a high sale price—would ever be a reality.) Availability of street parking permits can also a hot topic with neighbors, especially in areas where they are hard to get.
Local minor crime and break-in rates are issues neighbors keep on top of. Checking out local newspapers, websites and insurance brokers can provide details about these patterns, but talking to neighbors gets the real story.
When a property has not changed owners for decades, neighbors may be invaluable in establishing grandfathered rights to parking, rental, or other uses. Affidavits from neighbors may enable new owners to obtain legal consent to continue parking and otherwise-not-allowed uses.
Ask neighbors if police are often called into the area to settle neighbor disputes. For example, recent buyers up the street resold their house a short time after they moved in because of irreconcilable differences with one long-time neighbor. A colleague of mine sold their beloved home on a cul de saca few miles from here and bought another one at the far side of this treasured enclave when a new ultra-noisy, intrusive large family moved in next door to them. Persistent loud-barking dogs, on-going fence issues, or excessively noisy equipment such as old air conditioners are a few issues that buyers may want to know about.
Items in the list above are part of the adventure of city living, but it can be helpful for buyers to get an inside view of the neighborhood they are considering as "home.".
Buyers' Offers Should Reflect Their Expectations
Builders, renovators, and developers expect buyers to request physical changes to the property even when work is substantially finished. For instance, in the property mentioned above, an offer could include the following considerations:
By seeing how other property owners use their homes and yards, buyers may want to customize the lot and building to their needs. A buyer desiring more precious yard space could ask for the over-sized outdoor hot tub and/or kitchen unit to be removed or for changes to landscaping, with a credit to the buyer.
Neighbors also know about quirks in the property that may cause problems down the road. For instance, the two basement windows that cantilever open to block the narrow mutual driveway could be replaced by fixed or sliding panes for safety and access reasons.
Seasonal issues like spring flooding and winter ice are also important to consider. For example, the steep front paved area becomes very slippery when snow and ice arrive. The rear below-grade basement entrance may have flooding issues when leaves (blocking the drain) and rain fall at the same time.
Home inspections are common practice, even when extensive warranties exist. Neighbors who have watched construction of the house may have valuable detail for structural engineers attempting to determine the standard of construction and future problems. Neighbors cannot speak to the quality of construction or give construction opinions—nor should they be encouraged or tricked into this—but they have lived through construction first-hand and may know more than they realize. Like, how many shortcuts or do-overs were undertaken to meet deadlines, cut costs, correct miscalculations, or incorporate redesigns. This insight can be particularly useful for in-fill builds without extensive warranties and when dealing with new builders without established track records.
Most neighbors will not volunteer their ideas or information to you although they'll probably exchange ideas with each other. Neighbors would like good neighbors to buy into their area, so demonstrate your respect for their time and knowledge and start the conversation.