- - Thursday, December 6, 2012

A house sits beside a cemetery; a dog barks; loud, ominous noises rumble past. No, this isn’t the setting for a horror movie, but this type of situation can be a nightmare for home sellers and Realtors.

The cemetery is just one example of a problem next door. For other properties, it might be utility towers and power lines, or it could be the next-door neighbor’s overgrown lawn and neglected maintenance.

A barking dog is just one type of noise pollution. Other sources common to the Washington area are Amtrak and Metro tracks and busy highways. Noisy neighbors also could include a community swimming pool, a bustling grocery store, a high school football field, an outdoor concert venue or a big parking lot.

Talk to local Realtors, and they’ll say they’ve seen and heard it all, but they point out there are ways to handle all of these issues.

If a seller’s house is in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, that should be the first line of defense if a neighbor’s yard or house is looking unkempt, said Kim Muffler, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Alexandria.

“Point out which homes are in violation of the association’s ordinances — tell them they are not doing their job if they allow this,” she said, adding that broken windows are one of the biggest eyesores. “You don’t want potential buyers seeing something like that because it brings on a flood of negative impressions, particularly those of crime and poverty.”

Other neighbor no-no’s are junk vehicles, trash or debris in the yard, torn screens, parked boats and messy landscaping.

“Curb appeal goes beyond just your own house — it goes for the whole street,” said Lauren Lee, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Fairfax, noting that it’s often easier to handle a problem that is next door versus across the street.

“Put up a tree line or plant some bushes — anything that blocks the view,” Ms. Lee recommended.

Bamboo and cypress trees are good choices in these situations because they’re fast-growing, said Elley Kott, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Bethesda.

The next course of action is to talk to the neighbors to try to enlist their help.

“Say to them: ‘Look, while my house is on the market, can you please move the trampoline out of the front yard? Can you please park your old truck down the street?’” Ms. Muffler said. “It’s important to make the neighbors understand that the condition of their house affects the value of your house, and your value becomes a comp for them when they go to sell.”

If the neighbors are unconvinced by that argument and are unwilling to take steps to rectify the issues, sellers might ask if they can send over a landscaper or handyman to spruce things up.

“Offer to split the bill,” suggested Rachel Widder, a Realtor with Evers & Co. Real Estate in the District. “Bear in mind that the neighbors may not be [amenable] to any of this.”

When there’s a problem next door, the seller’s house must look over-the-top fantastic and be in perfect condition, Ms. Lee said. “Everything has been repainted, the kitchen is sparkling, all of the bells and whistles are there — and still be at a discounted price,” she said. “In close-in areas — particularly those in good school districts like McLean and Arlington — it’s a 5 percent discount. Further out in areas like Ashburn and Sterling [in Loudoun County], the discount is 10 percent.”

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