Many of us spend copious hours renovating and decorating our houses, planning our landscaping and gardens, and, before we move in, looking into the schools and restaurants in our towns. We cover every base we can, but most often we hold our noses and hope for the best when it comes to neighborhood relations.
There was a time not too long ago when I believed in a reality akin to that of the gals on "Desperate Housewives." Somewhere there must be a delightful gaggle of cheery neighbors who pal around, sharing life’s traumas and joys. But I’ve lived in a lot of places – I’m thinking this is an urban legend.
Most of us dwell in world where we spend our afternoons hoping that the kid next door’s un-mufflered dirt bike that’s ridden around and around and around and around, vibrating windows and drowning out the TV, would throw a rod or a spark plug.
At my farm in Connecticut, I basically have one immediate neighbor. Many of you probably find the idea of this appealing.
I first met, uh, Jerry we’ll call him, when I came to see my property for the first time. I’d been flying back and forth from California to the East Coast looking for the perfect place for both my gardening proclivities and my barn full of horses.
I’ve always subscribed to the notion that neighbors really affect quality of life, so I made a point of feeling out the local personalities at each house I considered seriously.
Sure we didn’t get off to the best start – Jerry and me. I’ll bet I didn’t impart a fantastic first impression as I slogged through the February snow in my heels and pantsuit to accost him in his driveway. But I’d just gotten off a plane from California and had a brief window of time to gather as much information as possible.
At first he seemed quite friendly, smiling widely. He offered repeated assurances that he and his family were fun loving, quiet, and had loads in common with me.
Not too long after I’d moved in, the fun-lovin’ part began. As it turned out, Jerry and his wife, Mary, like to party.
Police have been called on more than a few occasions, which, rather than quelling problems, served to pour gasoline on an already burning bonfire. Hostile notes were exchanged via mailboxes, threats shouted across property lines, dirty looks became rampant. This went on for three years.
Finally, exhausted, we relaxed into a mutual existence of non-recognition. As the arguing subsided, over time, the late-night noisiness gradually receded as well – and calls to the police ceased. This took four years.
My point in all this is that how can you tell what kind of neighbors you’re moving near? In reality, short of asking around and having brief chats, who knows how things will go?
Ironically, rather than face-to-face discussions, it may be that the Internet is the best source of info about potentially exasperating neighbors. You can go to sites like RudeNeighbor.com, where people post items about loud parties and bad behavior.
Although researching online kvetching about your potential neighborhood is one option, I really like the notion of the Front Porch Forum.
Started by Michael Woods-Lewis and his wife, Valerie, about 10 years ago, Front Porch Forum is comprised of groupings of neighborhoods in Vermont, each of about 400 homes. People sign up and must clearly identify themselves (no anonymous ravings), and then post items of concern or interest to local neighbors.
To date, 17,000 households across 25 towns in that state interact and discuss what’s going on in their neck of the woods.
What’s key about FrontPorchForum is that it is a micro-community, not a giant group of users such as on Facebook or Twitter. And while the geography of the organization to date has been limited to the Vermont area, FPF will set up a forum in any area for a fee. Or you could start one of your own!
From a real estate perspective, this is a great option for giving insight to prospective buyers about the nature and zeitgeist of a neighborhood. Had there been a forum for my community in Connecticut, I most likely would have seen the many qualms others in the area have had with the infamous Mary and Jerry over the years (no, their ire has not just been focused on me).
Usually, Alexandra Marks blogs twice a week in this spot about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. She will resume blogging on March 23. Click here to find all her blog posts and articles.