A year ago, my family and I purchased a historic twin home not far from the East Falls train station. The home connected to ours had been empty for years and we knew someday it would likely be renovated. Over the holidays, the neighbor sold to one of those companies that buy homes for cash.
January 2015, rehab began. I work from home full-time so I can “enjoy” the full experience of sharing a wall while a complete home overhaul is going on next door: noise, dust, dumpsters & contractor trucks… We certainly want to be good neighbors, but we’re also wondering about our rights as next-door homeowners.
Clearly, more information was needed and we knew just where to turn: Jen Colahan McIllhenny, our realtor from over a year ago, whose blog Real Estate Around Philly continues to be our go-to resource for interesting real estate tidbits. Jen’s big on education & community, and gives good “insider insights” on tetchy property issues of all kinds, including neighbor relations.
Jen was happy to talk to us, and her advice has been so helpful I’d like to pass it along in the hopes of keeping the peace on East Falls streets as weather warms up & home projects get underway.
Jen’s 5 Top Tips for a Surviving Your Neighbor’s Home Renovation
- Set Your Expectations
Jen says neighboring a home rehab in Philly is sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have to live through a lot of noise, dirt and rubbish. On the other, if done correctly, a neighbors’ house flip should improve your whole block and increase property values — especially, if your homes are attached.
Jen told us to take a deep breath and look on the bright side of such a rehab project: neighbors have a great opportunity to cooperate and strengthen the community. With kindness & consideration, even the most challenging projects can help bring neighbors together. Keep a good attitude, but do your homework, too.
Get the scoop on what’s being done & how long it should take. Talk to your neighbor, if possible, or to the contractors. Politely gather names & contact info so you know who to call if work crews accidently block you in your driveway or drop a load of lumber on your prized rose bushes.
And take note of your area’s regulated construction hours. In the city of Philadelphia, for instance, these hours are Monday through Friday from 7 am to 8 pm, and from 8 am to 8 pm for holidays & weekends.
- Pick Your Battles
OK, so now you know the rules: the next step is figuring out when to be a stickler, and when to cut your neighbor some slack. Construction is often noisy, messy and frankly disruptive.
Jen advised us to pick our battles. Focus on addressing the biggest inconveniences — for us, trash & parking — and let the other stuff slide. We weren’t thrilled with the noise and tobacco smoke wafting over, but if we called about every little annoyance they might never finish the job.
- Document Any Damages
No matter how conscientious a contractor is, stuff happens. Jen told us to it’s a good idea to document everything that goes on during a neighbors’ renovation, especially when houses share a wall like our twin. While certainly not typical, it’s not unheard of for dubious next-door repairs to inflict structural damages to the neighboring home that surface later down the road. In that case, a log of all the work done might help you figure out what happened, and could be extremely valuable if you needed to pursue damages.
- When Something Happens, Try Your Best to be Polite
Jen recommended we make friends with the workers, show interest in what they are doing and the time they are putting in. Offer them a cup of coffee or a snack. There’s no secret to working well with others: just be nice, be respectful, and communicate positively.
Of course we all get stressed out, especially when our schedules are disrupted, and our very home feels invaded by noise & uninvited strangers. Jen told us to always remember the rehab process is temporary. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and often a prize too: better views, nicer neighbors.
So keep the Big Picture in mind, and strive to be polite & supportive — to a point. Noise and vibrations will be hard to change, but you shouldn’t have to deal with pieces of wood with rusty nails in the street. No matter what you’re dealing with, remain courteous and if that fails, infractions can be addressed thru L&I or even social media.
- Advice for Those Doing The Renovating
Jen had advice for rehabbers, too: stop over & visit your neighbors before construction starts. Give them the details and a time frame. Most importantly, apologize in advance for unavoidable disturbances, and make sure they have your contact info in case anything happens.
Thanks, Jen, we’ll take your advice. It’s a little easier to smile through our neighbor’s renovation, now that we’ve chatted. We’re looking forward cheersing beers together on the porch when this is all over.
Any day now, guys…
Have you ever had to deal with a neighbor’s renovation? Please vent in the comments below!