“While family, friends, and co-workers may be likely to call us out on annoying behaviors, neighbors tend to retreat unless a huge problem arises,” explains Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, CA, and author of the upcoming book “Joy Over Fear.” And if you wait until a neighbor confronts you, it might be too late to salvage your good standing in the neighborhood.
So how do you know if you’ve become the subject of whispered conversations at the HOA meetings? We’ve ID’d six ways to clue yourself in to potential problems—and mend fences with your neighbors before it’s too late.
1. Your neighbors avoid eye contact with you
Eye contact, smiles, and waves are obvious signs of friendly connection (or at least an attempt to make one). Coming up dry when driving up the street?
“That lack of friendly actions can speak louder than words,” Manly says. “A simple look in the opposite direction can say, ‘I don’t want to make any contact with you.’”
2. You don’t take care of your house or yard
You’re too busy to repaint your house. Or you have no burning desire to power-wash your driveway. Or maybe you just don’t care that dandelions have taken over your front yard. These seemingly small things could be big issues for everyone else on your block.
“Homeownership often implicitly involves a sense of great pride for the homeowner,” Manly explains. “When one neighbor doesn’t take good care of their property, it can feel like a personal affront.”
3. Your let your dog do its business everywhere
We’ll make it simple: This one is just blatantly disrespectful. And awful.
If you don’t want neighbors to despise you, bring waste bags whenever you walk your dog.
4. You keep to yourself
Let’s say you don’t do anything rude or “wrong.” You just keep to yourself, and choose not to put up holiday lights, or break bread at your neighborhood’s Soup Night. Can you still be labeled “annoying”?
“Absolutely,” Manly says. “Certain neighbors are very community-oriented. When one member doesn’t make an attempt to be part of the tribe, others can feel rebuffed and even threatened.”
The underlying thought process, Manly says, goes like this: “It makes us feel safe and connected when we’re joined together. Could you please at least make an attempt to be part of the team?”
5. You’re not invited to the block party
You see the balloons and the bouncy house. So why didn’t your neighbors ask you to bring the potato salad and a six-pack of IPA?
6. You are sent unsigned nasty notes
The notes say something like “Your Hummer is an eyesore to the neighborhood!”
Yikes! When you’ve reached this point, there’s really no question: You’ve pissed someone off. Still, you might not know exactly who.
“Many people are afraid of confrontation and prefer to avoid face-to-face discussion on problematic issues,” explains Manly.
Uh-oh, I am annoying!
If any of these items hit uncomfortably close to home, you don’t necessarily have to start looking for a new one.
“Any habit can be changed—all it takes is a bit of introspection and goodhearted effort,” Manly says.
To change your ways and make nice with your neighbors, follow these simple maxims:
- Show off your best side. When you first move in, keep a professional yet friendly tone and reveal your flaws only to the neighbors who become your friends, says Jordan Barkin, an agent with Harry Norman Realtors, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, in Atlanta. If you live in a condo or area with a homeowners association, ask for a clear list of rules—and follow them. “It may take extra effort to brush your hair before you go to the lobby,” Barkin adds, “but it’s worth it.”
- Make everyone’s life easier. If not easier, aim for “not harder.” “I hear from clients, especially in condominiums and townhome communities, that hindrances to everyday activities are the most frustrating,” Barkin says. For example, someone needs to get to work but your car’s blocking the street. “All homeowners need to remember the lifestyle feeling that drew them to their community initially and strive to maintain that atmosphere,” Barkin says.
- Call for a truce. If your neighbors are already giving you the cold shoulder, a few genuinely nice gestures can help bring about a thaw. A plate of freshly baked cookies goes a long way. So does a handwritten note, apologizing for, say, your 130-pound dog using their yard as a restroom. Once you’ve made amends, put in the work to keep those connections friendly. “It’s easier to spend an extra five or 10 minutes a day being thorough in your actions than alienating your neighbors,” Barkin says.
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