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Trying to sell a Boston condo with a nuisance neighbor

Nuisance neighbors aren’t just annoying. They can cost you real money when it’s time to sell your downtown Boston condo.

Even when the Boston real-estate market was in better shape, messy neighbors caused problems. 

Noise from neighbors, bad cooking odors can all add to problems in selling your downtown Boston condominium.

What can a Boston Real Estate owner do?

You may not be willing to risk arrest, but there are other tactics you can try if a neighbor’s property is hurting your home’s value.

If your neighbor is elderly or disabled and simply not able to maintain her property, for example, you may be able to help her find free or low-cost services that can help. Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush with Kindness program offers exterior painting, landscaping, weatherstripping and minor repairs to low-income homeowners who can’t care for their homes because of age, disability or family circumstances.

You can check with the Eldercare Locator to find other resources for home maintenance in your area.

If your neighbor is simply messy or indifferent, you might want to try these strategies:

Start with a conversation with your condo neighbor.

 If your neighbor is a drug dealer, owns dangerous dogs or is otherwise belligerent, you won’t want to risk knocking on the door. Otherwise, approaching your neighbor in a friendly, low-key manner can be a good start.

The script could go something like this: “We’re going to be putting our house on the market soon, and we really want it to show well. But we’re afraid that people who don’t know what nice neighbors you are might be a little put off by the condition of your yard right now. It’s so hard to keep up with everything, isn’t it? We’d be more than happy to help you tidy up a bit if you’d like.”

Find the Boston real estate owner.

If your sloppy neighbors are tenants and the direct approach doesn’t work, or if the home is vacant, you’ll want to track down the owner. A real-estate agent can help you, or you can visit your county property-tax assessor’s office.

Then send a letter to the landlord or lender, complete with photos of the problem, and request action in getting the property cleaned up, says Ilyce Glink, the author of several books on real estate.  If you get no response, consider giving the contact information to other fed-up neighbors and ask that they send letters as well.

“If a property has been foreclosed on, you can complain — loudly — to the lender to take care of the property. Go all the way to the top of the food chain, to the chief executive officer, and ask for assistance,” Glink said. “You should also complain to your state mortgage regulator as well to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, if it is a big national bank.”

Enlist condo associations help.

If you have a homeowners association, make a formal request that it take action. If it’s reluctant and you run out of other options, you can sue the homeowners association in small-claims court, Glink said.

Before you do that, however, try to enlist local government officials. Your city or county public-health department may be able to step in, particularly if trash or other unsanitary conditions are attracting vermin. The city or county building department should be notified of other obvious hazards, such as holes in a roof or a collapsing porch.

If you can’t get local agencies to help, appeal to your elected representatives at the city or county level. Sometimes these folks can kick the bureaucracy into gear. A real-estate attorney can tell you if you can pursue a lawsuit against the neighbor, but typically these are expensive and can drag on for months if not years, making them impractical for most people trying to sell a home.

Practice real estate mitigation.

 If your best efforts don’t work, a privacy fence or tall hedge, if allowed, could help screen the problem. Otherwise, do what you can to make your own property shine and divert attention from the neighbor’s mess.

Peter Anderson of Shakopee, Minn., who runs the Bible Money Matters blog, said he had a “fun time” selling a townhouse a few years ago because of neighbors across the street who had garbage in their driveway, a truck up on blocks “and a hundred wind chimes hanging from their garage.”

“Despite that, it was a nice enough neighborhood,” Anderson said, “and we finally were able to sell because we priced our home realistically, we staged our house to make it look like a model, painted, fixed up any problems and just made the home a very nice place to be.”

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