- - 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.”

Ms. Widder agreed that a reduced price is a smart move.

“You’re not going to command top dollar with a problem nearby,” she said. “If the price is right, it will overcome the negative.”

If the price is lowered, expectations are managed, Ms. Muffler said.

“I tell my sellers: ‘You got it for a better deal when you bought it; you have to sell it for a little less — you can’t have it both ways,” she said.

In some cases, a distraction can help overcome a detraction, Ms. Muffler said.

“There was a house that was literally underneath a giant utility tower and power lines, but the master bathroom looked like something out of the Ritz-Carlton,” she said. “No one wants to walk outside and look at power lines, but someone took one look at that master bath and said: ‘This is the house for me.’”

For nearby noise issues — particularly near-constant noise from highways — Ms. Kott suggested installing noise-deadening windows or even putting up two sets of storm windows to help block the traffic sounds.

“An outdoor water fountain or waterfall provides a white noise and helps offset the other noise,” she suggested.

Ms. Muffler pointed out that highway noise can be an asset in that it means the house is close to a major thoroughfare.

“It’s a plus and a minus,” she said, adding that many hindrances can be spun positively. “The big parking lot next door is great for parking on the weekends so you can have parties.”

Ms. Kott said the cemetery next door is certainly quiet.

Ms. Lee agreed that it’s smart to play up the positives of what could be seen as a home’s negative aspects.

“If a house is behind the high school football field, that means the school is within walking distance and you can sit on the deck and listen to the games; the house next to the community pool is wonderful because it’s so close,” she said.

Homes that back onto train tracks often attract train enthusiasts.

“I had a client tell me that she grew up near railroad tracks and it brought back great memories,” Ms. Muffler said. “What I might consider an albatross may not be for someone else.”

Ms. Widder agreed this often is the case.

“If a house is right next door to a big grocery store, most people would be put off by all the hustle and bustle, but someone else may enjoy being able to walk to the store,” she said. “If someone needs a house that’s right next to the bus stop, he’s not going to mind a messy yard next door. There’s a lid for every pot.”

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