Community living can push the boundaries of neighbourliness

Choosing to live in an estate is a lifestyle choice often driven by personal events which can range from security concerns to down-scaling when the kids leave home, but, while estate living is usually synonymous with a more peaceful lifestyle, few factor in the neighbours when buying these homes.

So says Steve Thomas, Secure Estate Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty cautions that once you have made the move you are stuck with your neighbours so it’s worth taking the time to do a little homework.

“Take some time to see for yourself how life is conducted and who lives there.  If possible, check the estate at different times of the day, different times of the week and even different times of the month. Keep your ears peeled for loud music and incessant dog barking.

“It’s also a good idea to talk to the Home Owners Association and the managing agents and to check if you know anyone who knows someone who already lives in the destination estate. See if you can join the HOA or Security Whatsapp groups.”

Thomas adds:  “Also check if there are any obvious challenges to your lifestyle and privacy needs, such as little or no property boundaries, insufficient off-street and visitor parking, roaming dogs or incessant barking, poorly administered rules or restrictions on freedoms you don’t think you can do without.

Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty advises that once you have moved into your new home, it’s usually helpful to avert possible problems in the future and the best way to do so is through communication.

“Remember that neighbourliness works both ways and the best place to start is by being a good neighbour yourself.

“Make an effort to meet them so that you are on friendly speaking terms at least. You don’t have to become best friends, just to know them well enough to be able to pop over and borrow a cup of sugar or for them to let you know if they notice you left your garage door open.

“This way you are usually easily able to head off problems before they have a chance to become problems. For instance, let them know if you are throwing a party and, if appropriate, invite them too and chances are they will return the favour.

“Remember that neighbourliness works both ways and the best place to start is by being a good neighbour yourself.”

“If the noise escalates or there is another problem, your neighbour will almost certainly call you instead of the police.”

However, sometimes despite one’s best efforts, neighbours may still turn out to be problematic and lacking in consideration and you will have to try and resolve the issue before it boils over into a costly court battle – or criminal record.

“Your course of action should always depend on the level of annoyance your neighbour causes,” says Geffen, “so try and act as soon as possible and always start with a friendly approach, only resorting to more drastic measures if nothing else seems to be working.”

There are several productive steps once should take in an effort to resolve a problem before it escalates to the point of becoming a costly legal battle:

Make sure there really is a problem – There’s a considerable difference between a neighbour who causes an occasional annoyance with his monthly family braai and one who consistently interferes with your quality of life.

Document the problem – You don’t want to cause WW3 over what could be a once-off occurrence, so when an issue comes up, start keeping a note of times and dates and take photos if necessary. This way you can evaluate the problem objectively and will have back-up when you confront your neighbour and, if it comes to it, when you take legal advice.

Take time to cool off – Don’t storm over in a rage to confront your neighbour in the heat of the moment as we are definitely not our best selves when angry and are unlikely to reach any type of resolution through a screaming match.

Talk it out – Tell the neighbour what’s bothering you in an open and honest way. They may not even realise there is a problem and you don’t want to unnecessarily make an enemy of your neighbour by being rude or passive-aggressive. Stay calm and positive, even if they get a bit hot under the collar.

Check with other neighbours – Determine if they are experiencing any issues with the same neighbour. If it’s a problem for them too, they may be willing to side with you and help resolve the issue.

Go over their heads – Bring the problem to the attention of the Home Owner’s Association and see if they can resolve it more easily than you can. If it’s a rented property, you could also contact the landlord for assistance.

“There’s no reason to suffer in silence if you have an issue with one of your neighbours, but remember that many neighbour disputes that end up in court, do so through poor communication,” says Geffen.

“Keep your eye on the end goal and bear in mind that if you approach the matter from a place of politeness and respect, you can usually find a solution without things get messy.”

Thomas concludes: “As environmental issues and lifestyle patterns dictate changes in our residential homes, more and more people will find themselves looking at estate options with shared communal services rather than independent, stand-alone facilities.

“These inevitabilities will lead us to be more exposed to ‘tolerances’ we may not be used to so it will become increasingly important to cultivate a sense of neighbourliness and hoe out conflict resolution skills.”

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