Q: We listed our home for sale about a month ago, and our real estate agent has been conducting open houses. On more than one occasion, our next-door neighbor has made derogatory or rude remarks to the Realtor, potential buyers and other agents visiting on open house days.
One particular couple was very interested and even came back to see the house a second time — only to have our neighbor "snap" at the wife. The couple’s interest completely vanished following that incident.
My wife and I have spoken with the neighbor, asking her if there was a problem. The neighbor told us that our visitor had parked in her driveway and that she had merely asked the car be moved. The neighbor also admitted that she had been in a bad mood that day and that she may not have been very nice to the potential buyer.
Since then, our agent has told us that the neighbor has also snapped at visiting brokers and made derogatory comments directly to the Realtor about the price of my home.
Is there anything we can do to make the neighbor stop deterring potential buyers with her negative behavior and comments?
A: I am surprised that you are still calling her your "neighbor."
There are several things that you can do, starting slow and then, if need be, escalating your approach.
First, you and your wife should sit down and talk to your neighbor. If she is married or has a companion, insist that all owners of that house join you. Explain that you are concerned about the behavior, and that it may already have cost you a potential buyer. Find out if there is a problem. Your agent suggested that she may be concerned about the price you are looking for. Discuss this openly with her. I doubt that she is concerned that you have overpriced the house. However, she may be troubled that if you sell the house too low, that will impact on the value of her house.
It may be a good idea to get some market comparables from your agent in advance of your meeting. It may also be that you are, in fact, trying to sell the house too low and it would be worth your while to get a second opinion from another agent.
Do not threaten your neighbors in any way. Listen and be polite, but make it clear that you plan to sell and would appreciate no further interference from them.
If your neighbor really does have legitimate concerns, try to address them as soon as possible. Perhaps they would like you to move the times when you are holding your house open. Perhaps too many other visitors have been parking in their driveway. These issues can be resolved easily with the cooperation of your agent.
See if this laid-back approach works. You should also consider showing up at the next open house to see if there are any more incidents. You obviously don’t want to interfere with your agent’s activities when visitors show up to view your house, but you certainly can be around, making your presence known to your neighbors.
If this does not work, then I suggest you consider retaining an attorney who can write a strong letter to your neighbors, advising them that they are interfering with your right to peacefully sell your house and that they should "cease and desist." Often, a letter on a lawyer’s letterhead will do the trick.
But if all else fails, you may have no alternative but to take them to court. The cause of action would be private nuisance — by their conduct, they are creating a nuisance that is causing you economic hardship. The judge will be asked to issue a restraining order against your neighbor, especially during the times that you are holding those open houses. No one likes to be sued, and the mere filing of a lawsuit may resolve the problem.
If you have to file suit, you will need proof of the disturbances your neighbors are creating. Your agent will most likely be the principal witness on your behalf, so you will have to make sure that she has documented the times when there were problems. The ideal proof, of course, would be to get testimony from the couple who backed away from the house as a result of the neighbor’s conduct, but I doubt they will want to cooperate.
I assume there has been no violence involved. If so, then you have every right to ask your local police to investigate and possibly even monitor the house during subsequent open houses.
One additional suggestion: While you may consider this to be a complete capitulation to your neighbor (and it certainly will not be as effective as an open house), you might want to consider having prospective buyers come to your house "by appointment only." Many homeowners do not like the concept of an "open house," with people opening closets and desk drawers, so it is one way to try to market your home.
There is no legal or moral obligation to be friendly with your neighbors. Some people want their privacy and consider their home to be their castle.
But there is an obligation to be civil, and that’s the message you should be sending to your next-door neighbor.
Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to [email protected].
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