Don't Let Abusive Neighbor Ruin More Open Houses

By Benny L. Kass
Saturday, March 8, 2008

Q: We listed our home for sale about a month ago, and our real estate agent has been conducting open houses. More than once, our next-door neighbor has made derogatory or rude remarks to the agent, potential buyers or other agents visiting.

One couple was quite interested and came back to see the house a second time, when the neighbor snapped at the wife. The couple's interest completely vanished.

My wife and I have spoken with the neighbor, asking her if there was a problem. She told us that our visitor had parked in her driveway and that she had merely asked that 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 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 to the agent about the price of my home.

Is there anything we can do to make the neighbor stop scaring off potential buyers?

A: There are several things that you can do, starting slowly and, if need be, escalating.

First, you and your wife should sit down and talk to the neighbor. If she is married or has a companion, insist that all owners of the house join you. Explain that you are concerned about the behavior and that it may already have cost you a buyer. Find out if there is a problem.

Your agent suggested that the neighbor may be concerned about the price you are asking. Discuss this openly with her. I doubt that she is concerned that you have overpriced the house. However, she may be worried that if you sell your house for too little, it will affect the value of her house.

It may be a good idea to get a market analysis of comparable sales from your agent before your meeting. You can use this to help explain why you chose the price you did. It's also possible that you are, in fact, asking too little. It may turn out to be worth your while to get a second opinion from another agent.

If your neighbor has legitimate concerns, try to address them as soon as possible. Perhaps she would like you to shift the times of your open houses. Perhaps too many visitors have been parking in her driveway. These issues can be resolved easily with the cooperation of your agent.

Do not threaten your neighbor in any way. Listen and be polite, but make it clear that you plan to sell and would appreciate it if there were no more interference.

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 don't want to interfere with your agent, but you certainly can be around -- and make your presence known to your neighbors.

If this does not work, I suggest that you consider retaining a lawyer who can write a strong letter to your neighbor, advising her that she is interfering with your right to peacefully sell your house and that she should "cease and desist." Often, a letter on a lawyer's stationery will do the trick.

If all else fails, you may have no alternative but to take her to court. The cause of action would be private nuisance -- by her conduct, she is creating a nuisance that is causing you economic hardship. You can ask the judge to issue a restraining order against your neighbor, especially during the times that you are holding open houses. No one likes to be sued, and the mere filing of a lawsuit may resolve the problem.

If you sue, you would need proof of the disturbances your neighbor created. Your agent would most likely be the principal witness on your behalf, so you would have to make sure that he or she has documented the problems. The ideal, 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 that they would want to cooperate.

I assume there has been no violence involved. If there has, you have the right to ask the police to investigate and even monitor the house during subsequent open houses.

Here's one other idea, though you may consider it to be complete capitulation to your neighbor: You might want to skip future open houses and instead market by appointment only. This is widely accepted as a marketing possibility because many homeowners don't like open houses.

There is no legal or moral obligation to be friendly with your neighbors, but there is an obligation to be civil. That's the message you should be sending to your difficult neighbor.

Benny L. Kass is a Washington lawyer. For a free copy of the booklet "A Guide to Settlement on Your New Home," send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Benny L. Kass, 1050 17th St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20036. Readers may also send questions to him at that address or contact him through his Web site, http://www.kmklawyers.com.


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