Your neighbors couldn’t care less about what you keep on the mantel above your fireplace. And they wouldn’t expect you to check with them before you pick out new paint for your bathroom.
Your yard, however, is a very different matter.
Yes, the exterior of your house is still your property. Technically—unless you live in a prohibitive homeowners association—you can do what you like. But everyone else can see it … which will mean they care.
“What upsets neighbors the most isn’t interpersonal,” explains Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping, a high-end, sustainable landscaping firm in Los Angeles. “It’s property decisions that affect the neighborhood.”
Here are some of the landscaping decisions that are sure to give your neighbors something to complain about—possibly for years to come.
In an attempt to save water, some people transform their front yard or garden into a rockscape. It’s a well-intentioned gesture, but if “Lots of rocks, hold the grass” doesn’t fit your natural climate, these dry landscapes can become a heated neighborhood topic—literally.
“Here in Los Angeles, gravelscaping can amplify heat throughout the city and increase run-off, making neighboring properties less comfortable,” Aoyagi says.
Since rocks don’t absorb water, a gravelscaped yard sheds extra water. That means that your rockscape could even put your neighborhood at risk of flooding in high-water years, Aoyagi notes. Do you really want to be that neighbor?
2. Taking down trees
Blame it on the Lorax. Or Shel Silverstein’s tear-jerking picture book “The Giving Tree.” If you try to chop down a mature tree on your property, your neighbors Will. Be. Aghast.
“Trees cool properties and neighborhoods. They increase property values, not just for homeowners, but for their neighbors and communities,” Aoyagi says. “People simply grow very attached to them.”
3. Playing fast and loose with water
If you live in an area that’s fighting drought, maybe you shouldn’t put in, say, a koi pond or some other elaborate water feature.
“You definitely don’t want to be seen watering the sidewalk,” Aoyagi adds.
Even if you aren’t reenacting “Waterworld,” beware of the vibes your yard is giving off. Neighbors will scrutinize that oh-so-green grass and could jump to conclusions.
“Even a lush lawn can have people rolling their eyes, if it isn’t a lawn alternative with smart irrigation,” she says.
4. Using leaf blowers
Leaf blowers are the quickest way you’ll get to know your neighbors—but not in the “Hey, let’s be friends” type of way.
No, every time you fire up a leaf blower, you’re launching a sensory assault on your neighbors. That’s no understatement: The most powerful models can create noise levels as high as an ear-piercing 112 decibels. Studies have even shown that the effects of that kind of noise can cause hypertension and heart disease.
And it isn’t just the aggressive, brain-rattling noise that’s bothersome.
“One blower pollutes (as much as) a freeway full of cars, and blows pollen and pollutants from the ground into the air, aggravating asthma and allergies,” Aoyagi points out.
5. Letting your landscape grow wild
Can’t tell a hydrangea from a hibiscus? (And don’t care?) Does spending a weekend pruning trees sound like your own personal hell?
If you live in a rural area with large properties, no one may notice if you give up on your yard. But if you’re in a residential development, your neighbors will seethe at record speed.
“One unkempt, overflowing trash bin can bring rats,” Aoyagi notes. “A neighbor’s rundown garden can also decrease the appraised value of a home.”
Bottom line: “Whatever you have, stay on top of it,” she says.
6. Going overboard with the holiday decorations
You know what we’re talking about: amazingly bright lights that shine into nearby homes. Music your neighbors can hear while they’re home—with the doors closed. And maybe that realistic reproduction of the creepy clown from “It” cracks you up, but isn’t such a hit with the young kids next door.
And don’t forget the nightly crawl of traffic that over-the-top displays bring.
“If your decorations attract a steady procession of admirers, make sure you have a plan to keep (them) from making your neighbors’ lawns look like someone pulled a ‘trick’ on them,” advises Jennifer Susanne Sommers, a luxury real estate specialist for Nestler Poletto Sotheby’s International Realty in Boca Raton, FL.
Plus, all that traffic can make it hard to get in and out of the neighborhood—and that certainly won’t endear you to your neighbors either, Sommers adds.
7. Planting the wrong shrubs
Forget the aesthetics for a sec. The landscaping you select can be not only an eyesore, but potentially hazardous—to neighborhood pets, at least.
Case in point: oleander, a plant that’s popular in the South and Southwest.
“It flowers beautifully, but it can be a danger to pets if they eat the leaves,” cautions David Meek, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Arizona Realty in Scottsdale, AZ.
Oleander contains a cardiac toxin, he explains, and fewer than 20 ingested leaves would be lethal to an animal the size of a horse.
Throw up a few hedges of oleander—especially in areas where HOAs urge residents not to—and you’ll have some unhappy neighbors to deal with.
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