When should you give up the good fight and move, and when should you stick it out?
When John and Carrie Aman moved into what they thought was their dream home one December, they hadn’t met many of their neighbors. “Being in Buffalo, NY, there’s a very short window of time to get to know neighbors before people start hibernating for the winter,” says Carrie. Fast-forward several months to summer, and the Amans were expecting their first child.
Soon, the couple noticed their next-door neighbor, a man in his 70s living with his wife, was no longer around. “It seemed strange, and John and I thought up all these reasons why he might not be living there anymore.” It turned out that the man had been arrested and charged by the FBI with soliciting a minor online. “And here I was, about to give birth to my daughter!” says Carrie. “There was no way I was going to live in that house, with my baby, with a child predator living next door.”
Not long after finding out the news, the Amans put their home on the market. Luckily, they sold it within a week and found another home across town. (The couple wouldn’t sell the home to a family or couple planning to have kids; a single woman in her 50s with no grandchildren purchased the home.) “We were able to get out of there before the man got out of prison,” says Carrie. “We totally dodged a bullet.”
Unfortunately, situations like this happen. Homeowners fall in love with their home until a four-lane highway goes in behind their house, or a home renovation gone wrong makes their neighborhood look more like a scene from The Money Pit than The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. So what do you do when the house you once loved is no longer what you had in mind? Ask yourself these questions before deciding whether to stay — or to pack up and move.
When it comes to incredibly loud nail gun pops, sawing of wood, constant work trucks on the street, and whatever else is part of a home renovation, you have to keep in mind that (most likely) it won’t last forever. “A renovation project next door might be finished in 60 days, or the problem could be permanent,” says Brian Davis, co-founder and the lead real estate blogger at SparkRental.com. “People can live with almost anything if it’s for a brief period, but forever is another story.”
You once used to sunbathe by your private pool with no issue. But now that an apartment complex went in behind your home and six stories of residents have a bird’s-eye view of you in your two-piece on your chaise lounge, catching some rays isn’t exactly appealing anymore. Such was the case for Sharon Ross. “In our previous house, the neighbor behind us built a two-story garage right on the back property line, so that the person in the apartment above the garage could look down into our backyard,” she says. “It creeped me out. I was not happy. So we moved to Waxhaw, NC, with no backyard neighbors.”
If you can’t function and live in a way you want in the privacy of your home, it might be time to pack up, Davis says. “A day care opening across the street might be noisy from 9 to 5 on weekdays, but what actual impact does that have on your life?” he asks. “Probably not much. A strip club opening across the street, that is noisy from 8 to 2 in the morning and attracts a low-end clientele, probably has a bigger impact on your day-to-day life.”
Sure, it might feel as though your neighbor’s barking dog will wake you up at 5 a.m. every day for the rest of time. But the truth is, you can take action. First, talk to your neighbor. If that fails, contact your homeowners’ association, if you have one.
Unfortunately for one of Alison Wisnom’s clients, not much could be done to help the “noise” that was keeping the homeowners up at night. “I have a client from California who purchased a second home on Oahu,” says Wisnom, a broker with Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers in Honolulu, HI. “His requirement was to be able to hear the waves crashing. The home he decided on was oceanfront in Kailua, purchased for $2.345 million. When he moved in, he complained of hearing feral cats in the middle of the night. When we spoke to the neighbors, they said the noise was a protected species of seabird: the wedge-tailed shearwater, which, for a few months each year, teaches its young to feed near the shoreline in the middle of the night. The client is currently preparing to sell the property.”
With temporary neighborhood issues like this, Davis recommends being creative instead of selling. “Maybe it’s time to do that three-month trip to Europe you’ve always dreamed about,” he says. “Homeowners have more options than they realize and shouldn’t be afraid to rent out their home during the disruptive period.”
You’d like to believe that someone can see beyond the subtle hum of tractor trailers from the interstate just a quarter-mile from your home, but when it comes time to sell, those seemingly innocuous things can end up costing you serious money. For Elizabeth Hoeg, she knew the value of her home would drop significantly if she didn’t move. “We built a house in a neighborhood in an up-and-coming part of our city,” she says of her home in Raleigh, NC. “Turns out that many residents were behind on HOA fees and several homes were Section 8 [low-income housing]. We had been frustrated with several things in the neighborhood in terms of respecting property, so that was the last straw. We sold and moved a couple of months later.”
In cases like this, sometimes you can wait it out — after all, the area may improve. “If you decide to move, consider leasing the home rather than selling it,” suggests Davis. “It takes seven years, on average, to recover the upfront costs of buying a home in the form of equity. But some homeowners can earn passive income from their property while letting the tenants pay down the mortgage and allowing the property to appreciate. What started as a nightmare could end up becoming a dream.”