Phase one of any major construction project? Get the neighbors on your side. Here’s how.
If you’re considering buying a fixer, or a gorgeous one-story home that would be even better with two stories, have fun with the dreaming and designing, but don’t forget the bigger picture in the neighborhood. After all, there’s no point in perfecting your dream house if you have to live surrounded by people who can’t stand you after putting up with months of noisy construction. In the end, the neighborhood vibe may be the most important feature of your new home.
Good news there: A few small gestures of goodwill and cooperation can be very effective in smoothing things over during construction and beyond. Local zoning laws will vary, but these diplomatic gestures are universal.
1. Hire a considerate crew.
Hiring a construction team that’s neat and respectful is the first step in maintaining friendly relationships with the neighbors. Make sure your crew understands that you expect them to do what’s reasonable to minimize chaos on the street and keep noise to a minimum.
“Talk to the contractors about cleaning up each day and keeping the site neat—this should be part of the vetting process,” advises Nancy Benson-Smith, who recently added a master suite onto the back of her 1920s bungalow in El Cerrito, Calif. “We probably paid a bit more for our builders, but it was a relatively easy process and our neighbors were impressed with our contractors’ cleanliness and minimal impact on the street.”
2. Make yourself available.
There’s only so much you can do about the noise and disruption of a renovation, but simply acknowledging that the project affects your neighbors and being sensitive to their requests can go a long way.
“We gave our cell numbers to all our neighbors in case they needed to get in touch about any issues with our renovation,” says Courtney Flynn, who embarked on a full renovation of her Cambridge, Mass., condo before moving in. “And when they called, we made it clear it was our first priority to get the issue fixed. Luckily our contractor was responsive when anything came up.”
If you’re not around the house much, ask your contractor if he’s okay sharing his number with the neighbors too, and let them know they should feel free to call with any concerns.
3. Keep your neighbors in the loop.
Depending on the zoning laws where you live, you may want to make sure that none of your neighbors oppose your plans before you begin work. If you decide to share your plans ahead of time, try to do it in person so you can talk out any concerns on the spot. Of course, you don’t want to give the impression that you’ll change your plans over any minor objection, but just hearing people out and explaining the logic of your choices can help to iron out any differences.
If you can, go a step farther and give neighbors an outline of how long you expect each part of the project to take. As the project moves along, update them with any significant news, like when several street-parking places will be needed for a delivery, or how long that big Dumpster will be out front. Letting neighbors know what to expect will lessen the irritation of disruptions.
4. Take any opportunity to do a favor.
Is your contractor doing a dump run? Let your neighbors know they’re welcome to throw a few things into the load. Offer up bricks left over from a patio project. Let neighbors know that the Port-a-Potty is open to anyone who’s out for a run or working in the yard.
When Kevin Ryan of San Francisco was building a bathroom for his daughter, he discovered that he’d bought way too much tile. “It turned out our neighbors were redoing their bathroom and wanted the leftover tile,” he says. “We gave it to them as a gift, and we’ve had a very friendly relationship ever since. It worked out great.”
5. Stick to working hours.
This can be a tricky one, but try to minimize the racket. A Trulia report found that 29 percent of Americans cite noise as the biggest pain point with neighbors. Be sure that your crew keeps to normal work hours—nothing beyond 9-to-5 and nothing on the weekends—especially for any ear-splitting work.
If weekend work can’t be avoided, send a note around in advance apologizing and explaining the urgency. If there’s someone you’re particularly worried about offending, consider throwing in a couple of movie tickets or a bottle of wine. It’s a small investment that will pay off.
6. Invite the neighbors in.
People are often curious about a project. If your neighbors express interest, have them over to see how things are coming along. “We invited neighbors to come in regularly to check on the progress so they felt engaged,” says Benson-Smith about her El Cerrito renovation.
Once the work is finally done, plan to invite your neighbors in for a drink and a tour. They’ll likely to be dying to see inside and it’s a nice way to thank them for their patience throughout the process.