Sex, Drugs & Rock'n'roll

Neighbours are like family: you can’t choose them, but you do have to live with them. And when you’re trying to sell your home you might wish they weren’t there at all.  So, how do you convince a potential buyer that they’re not a problem? Well, that depends how big or small your problem is.

Perhaps they practice the trombone each afternoon on the porch, have never ending renovations, or are compulsive hoarders with a junkyard encroaching on your garden. Maybe it’s far worse – websites like document some pretty extreme cases.

Here are our tips on how to work around some common neighbour problems when selling:

Talk it over

Your first port of call in resolving any neighbourhood problems should be to talk it over and try to reach a solution that suits you both.

While you might want to seek legal advice about your rights and how to go about fixing the situation, the Law Society says that going to court can be both expensive and leave the parties bitterly antagonistic towards each other. Always consider mediation and pursue legal action as a last resort.

If you’re trying to sell, pay the neighbours a visit or slip them a note explaining the issue and tactfully suggest how they could help. If they’re owners, remind them that getting a good price for your home will mean a better price for them down the track.

Remember: unless you’ve approached them before they might have no idea that their behaviour is impacting on you, and there might be a reason for it. Maybe their yard is messy because they’re suffering from a long term illness or caring for a relative? Try and see it from their perspective.

Is it legal?

Are your neighbour’s problem activities illegal? There are the really obvious ones: drugs, domestic violence or harassment. But did you know that burning off is illegal? Trespassing without authority on your land is also illegal. Check with your local police or individual council if you’re unsure.

Stop that noise!

One of the most common problems is noisy neighbours: loud music, parties, power tools and wooden floors in the unit above to name just a few. Check your local council’s guidelines on noise, the Environmental Protection Authority, or the strata bylaws if you’re in a unit.

Let your neighbours know in advance when your home will be open for inspection, and ask nicely if they’d mind keeping the noise down during that time.

If it’s an ongoing problem and you don’t think this would work (maybe you live next door to a piano teacher with regular Saturday classes) work around it with your agent by scheduling open homes at times that are quietest.

Give us some privacy

If privacy is an issue there are many cheap remedies. Install curtains or blinds on windows, plant a hedge, strategically place some pot plants, build a higher fence, install a privacy screen or ask the neighbour to stop standing on that milk crate and popping their head over the fence every five minutes…

Parking disputes

In inner city areas, parking is often contentious, with the street becoming a battleground. Maybe your neighbour has a boat, skip or trailer parked on a permanent basis. Can they store it elsewhere while your home is on the market? Make sure your own car is not in front of your house – or driveway – on open day. And the agent can let prospective buyers know its okay to park in your car space.

Call your strata manager

Living in a unit block can give you an edge: you can approach your strata manager if there is a specific problem – after all, it probably impacts on other unit owners and the value of their units will be determined in part by a good sale of yours.

Common strata problems are noise and smoke drift. Let your neighbours know when a home open is scheduled and ask if they’d mind removing their shoes, turning the stereo down and refraining from smoking on balconies while it’s on. A little box of chocolates might help sweeten the deal.

Set your boundaries

A top cause of neighbourhood disputes are boundary problems – specifically trees and fences. Trees can overhang fences, disrupt views and their roots can cause damage to paths and pipes on surrounding properties. If you have these problems check with your local council for their regulations in the first instance.

While there’s no legal obligation to have a fence, most people like a little something between them and their neighbour, and most buyers want it to be in good condition. The cost of installing or repairing a fence is typically shared by both parties. If a fence is not on the legal boundary disputes can arise, particularly when selling.

If you are aware of a dispute or any boundary irregularities as a home seller, then you need make full disclosure to your agent. If you have an ongoing dispute, then you are legally required to declare this to your agent and to the incoming buyer. Failure to do so may see you end up in court and your home sale put on hold.

Presentation incentives

While you can’t do anything about the colour or design of your neighbour’s home, you might be able to tidy it up a little. Sometimes it’s even worth having your agent offer incentives to adjoining properties to make them motivated to present their yards better. A good agent when listing a home will always say hello to the neighbours, as part of their due diligence.

Be a good neighbour yourself

What goes around comes around. If you’re looking for good karma from your neighbours you might want to give them some love too. Getting to know your neighbours can be one way to prevent troubles further down the track.

What do you need to let your buyer know?

Short answer: nothing, unless they ask.

The onus is on the prospective buyer to do their research, which, if you’re a buyer, is why a good conveyancer or lawyer is so important. Problem neighbours are very subjective. What might be considered annoying by one homeowner might be considered delightful by the next.

However, bear in mind, that any ongoing legal disputes need to be declared as do any illegal activities that you are aware of.

It’s always good to have 100% transparency and full disclosure to your agent. You’ll know instinctively (and you agent will confirm) whether you’ve got an issue on your hands. With their help, and the above game plan, you should get through unscathed, and move on to new neighbours.


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