Nothing can turn the American dream of owning a home into a nightmare like bad neighbors. They might keep you up with raging late-night parties, or call the cops with a noise complaint when all you’re doing is having a nice (and totally tame) backyard barbecue. Who doesn’t have at least one agita-inducing story about a crazy neighbor, past or present?
Of course, you can’t necessarily expect that all people who happen to live near your dream home will be your new BFFs. But it sure would help if they didn’t make your life miserable. And sometimes, what seem like indications of a great neighborhood—like scrupulously clean sidewalks—might actually signal that this is not the place for you.
We asked real estate experts to share some of these more subtle red flags that your potential new neighbors could end up driving you insane—or to put your house back on the market.
1. They ask lots of questions
Not a good match for you if: You’re an introvert and proud of it. Watching “It” by yourself? No problem. Attending a block party? Noooo!
“I’ve seen neighbors come over to greet clients during an initial viewing of a house, ask about them, their kids’ ages, and so on,” says Christy Murdock Edgar, a Realtor® in northern Virginia and Washington, DC.
Of course it’s nice to have convivial neighbors, but not all home buyers are looking to make new best friends. Edgar notes: “It can create tension if people have different expectations about the amount of socializing that will go on after the house is sold.”
2. They wash the street frequently
Not a good match for you if: You don’t always get around to washing your car, much less power-washing the street.
“Some neighbors may be well-meaning, but can be very high maintenance,” says Allison Bethell, a real estate investor analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com. “If their curb appeal looks too perfect, that may be the case.”
This scrupulous attention to maintenance may also mean this neighbor is going to expect the same 24/7 grooming from you, Bethell says. Don’t want a lecture about the oil stain in the street in front of your house? You’d better be prepared to buy your own power washer—or else politely hold your ground.
3. They have high-powered floodlights
Not a good match for you if: You care about privacy—especially your own.
Unless your potential new home is in a crime-ridden area with a neighborhood patrol, floodlights indicate someone who could be all up in your business.
“Doing ‘surveillance’ on you and other neighbors often means that your privacy isn’t valued,” Bethell says. “These kinds of neighbors don’t worry about how their actions affect those around them. They want to know what’s going on in their neighborhood even if they’re being intrusive and the floodlights disturb your sleep.”
4. There are zero cars in sight, 24/7
Not a good match for you if: You use your garage as an extra storage area, wood shop, dance studio…
Edgar remembers a buyer who was taken to task for parking in the driveway of her own home.
“Apparently ‘everyone’ in the neighborhood had spotless garages where they parked, and all their garage doors were kept closed,” she says. “This wasn’t an HOA rule—just the norm on that particular street.”
If you don’t view your garage as a docking area, neighbors who do might make you feel trapped.
5. Their perfect lawn is to die for
Not a good match for you if: You keep forgetting to mow your grass and have no idea where your weed wacker is.
“Moving next to a lawn enthusiast could impact your quality of life,” says Cedric Stewart, a real estate professional with Entourage Residential Group of Keller Williams Capital Properties, which serves the Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland areas. “This individual may be seen trimming their lawn more than once in a seven- to 10-day period, manually watering their lawn nightly instead of using a sprinkler system, or even measuring blades of grass.”
Stewart predicts “this particular neighbor won’t take kindly to kids, dogs, or guests hovering too close to their pristine patch of paradise.”
6. Your neighbor is the HOA president
Not a good match for you if: Your credo is “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!”
If your homeowner association’s sovereign ruler approaches his or her duties with a certain level of intensity, says Stewart, “you could find it hard to live in peace without hearing about all the violations you’re committing—loud music/noise/guest after 11 o’clock, three paint chips on your front door, leaving your trash can out past 7 p.m. on pick-up day.”
An HOA board member with a low tolerance for breaking rules could see fit to remind—and fine—you for these offenses with unreasonable frequency, Stewart warns.
7. There are custom cars in their driveway
Not a good match for you if: You’re not really sure what custom cars are.
A car aficionado to this degree might have a veritable auto shop in his garage (or driveway) on a weekly or daily basis, “which could also involve various and frequent loud sounds of music and revving engines,” says Stewart.
“I’d love to live next to this,” he confesses, “but not everyone shares my passion.”