The Housing Scene

What’s on the Other Side of the Fence?

In Overheated Market, Many Find they Hate Their Neighborhoods

Lew Sichelman

You can’t pick your neighbors. You can pick your neighborhood, though, and it is a good idea to give that as much thought as the house itself.  

Apparently, not enough homebuyers do that. While living in a neighborhood can be a positive experience marked by lasting friendships and a sense of community, nearly two-thirds of 2,200 homeowners responding to a HomeAdvisor poll admitted to actively avoiding their neighbors. 

Another, perhaps more telling, finding: Slightly more than half said they had moved or considered moving because of a neighbor. And nearly a quarter of respondents to a LendingTree survey said they’d called the cops on their neighbors.  

Turns out, folks don’t like being peered at from a neighbor’s window or watched by security cameras. They don’t particularly care for neighbors who gossip, either. Sometimes neighbors are just rude or noisy, their kids are unruly or their pets wreak havoc. Maybe they just “give off a weird vibe,” many told LendingTree. 

At the same time, more than 9 out of 10 respondents told HomeAdvisor they consider themselves to be good neighbors. And three-quarters of LendingTree respondents said they are buddies with the folks next door. 

A Few Steps to Take 

In a fast-moving market, homebuyers might just have to take the bad with the good.  

“The unfortunate reality is that some people might not have any other choice but to live near someone they don’t like,” if it means buying the home they want, says LendingTree analyst Jacob Channel.  

If you have the time, though, you can try to find harmony by taking a few precautions. 

For starters, give the entire neighborhood a test drive. Pay attention – not just to the places immediately adjacent to the one you’re considering, but also those up and down the street and on the next block. Neglected lawns, overgrown shrubs and vehicles parked on the grass are not good signs. Ditto for wheelbarrows and other yard equipment that is not put away.  

Other telltale signs include tall privacy fences, as opposed to the more friendly picket style; bars on grade-level windows; graffiti; broken or boarded-up windows; and “Beware of dog” signs. These should stand as warnings that the people inside don’t feel safe. 

While you’re motoring around, pay attention to the streets on which you are driving. Are they smooth, or full of broken pavement? Are they clean, or strewn with litter? Are there sidewalks – and if so, what shape are they in? Look for streetlights, and make sure they are working. 

Check out the traffic patterns. Are the streets wide enough for cars going both ways to pass with ease? If the streets are too narrow, you might have to pull over every time another vehicle comes near. Similarly, see if there is room for on-street parking without impeding traffic. 

You might even want to test-drive your potential new commute to work to see how long it takes during rush hour. If you plan to take public transportation, give that option a run-through. 

Look Beyond the Lot Lines 

Walking around your prospective neighborhood is also a good idea. On a nice day, people might be outside, so chat them up. Most folks are more than willing to discuss the good and bad points about where they live. 

If the community has a homeowners association, try to obtain a copy of its rules and regulations. Read them carefully; if you can’t abide by some, then it’s not the place for you. If possible, attend an HOA meeting and speak to other owners about how the board operates. 

Determine, too, if the community is in a flood zone. If so, you’re likely to be required by your lender to carry flood insurance in addition to homeowner’s coverage. Even if you’re not in a flood zone, it may be wise to obtain coverage. Water is extremely destructive, and floods are not always caused by a nearby body of water. 

Many real estate companies are no longer listing crime statistics, but you can check with the local police or sheriff’s office for that information. You also can look online. Every area is likely to see some crime from time to time, but a high level of dangerous activity may be a bad sign. 

When it comes to checking out the local schools, don’t just settle for statistics. Visit the facilities where your little darlings will be attending, and sit down with the principal. If you can, take in a PTA meeting and strike up a conversation with a teacher or two, as well as some other parents. Find out what they do and don’t like about the district in general and their school in particular. 

Last, take a good look around the area to determine how far you are from the amenities that are important to you. Some people like living far from shopping centers that draw heavy traffic, but others want to be near the action. Ditto for churches, sports venues and the like. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at