This past month, I saw a member of one of the local Facebook groups ask how they can be a good neighbor. They were moving to the Wilmington area, and the home they were under contract on was located in a newish neighborhood with smaller lots. Coming from a rural area, they were trying to be proactive and learn the general etiquette for living close to other people. I too am from a rural area, a small town where you can’t see your neighbor from your house, and faced similar quandaries when I moved to Wilmington. I’ve lived here for about 15 years now, most of them working in real estate, and this is what I’ve learned.
1. Follow Your Neighborhood’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
Many home buyers wrongfully assume that if the neighborhood doesn’t have a homeowners association (HOA), then there are no covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) – documents that tell you how a property can be used. However, many developers include CC&Rs when they submit the neighborhood plans to the county.
When I moved into my first neighborhood, I had no idea what CC&Rs were. It was an older neighborhood with no HOA, and my Realtor never pulled them from the county records. So, make sure you ask about CC&Rs, even if your Realtor doesn’t bring them up. They may have limits to what type of pets you can own, where you can build on your lot, what type of fence you can build, when/if you are able to park on the street, and if you’re able to use it as a rental – to name a few important items.
If you’re moving into a neighborhood with an HOA, you may have even more documents you need to read, like architectural guidelines and amenity rules. CC&Rs and all related documents should be presented to you prior to the end of the due diligence period, preferably before you make an offer, so you know exactly what you are buying into, because, once you sign your closing documents, you are officially agreeing to these terms.
2. Don’t Be Loud Outdoors Past 9:00 P.M.
Technically, the noise ordinance in the residential areas of New Hanover County limits sounds below 50 decibels from 10:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. and has some stipulations about the operation of construction machinery and chainsaws (9:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M.) and lawnmowers/domestic tools (9:30 P.M. and 6:30 A.M.). The City of Wilmington has its own ordinance that runs from 11:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. from Sunday thru Thursday and 12:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. on Friday and Saturday, mainly to accommodate the downtown area. However, general consensus is that 9:00 P.M. is a respectable time to turn down the music and stop shouting.
Some people may find that 9:00 P.M. is early, but it’s important to consider that your neighbors may have to work, even on the weekends, and may have children with earlier bedtimes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take the fun inside.
3. Don’t Mow Your Lawn Too Early
First off, we live in the South. That means, during the Summer, you have a small window of cooler temperatures in the morning and evening to mow your lawn without suffering from the heat. So, there has to be some level of understanding when it comes to yard maintenance. Keeping that in mind, as well as the aforementioned noise ordinances, it may not be the best idea to mow the lawn at 6:00 A.M.
4. Be Mindful of Your Lighting
Lighting is one of the main elements of a security system. You may feel more comfortable with some floodlights around your home. However, be mindful of where they are pointing. You don’t want to flood a neighbor’s bedroom with light every time it turns on. It could disturb their sleep, which would create some pretty cranky neighbors. If you’re unable to point a light downwards toward your yard, consider installing another style of light or invest in a security camera for that section of the property.
5. Don’t Block Parking or Make It Hard to Drive Down the Road
Some developments in Wilmington were not designed for on-street parking. In these neighborhoods, visitors end up parking on the sidewalk to allow cars to safely drive down the street. This is unfortunate for anyone who wants to use the sidewalks and a good reason for really thinking through your needs when you purchase a home.
If you are hosting a gathering or parking work vehicles/trailers at your home, it’s important to not block driveways, use other resident’s parking spots, or encumber traffic, especially if you are parking on a curve. Also, it’s important to note that you should, per USPS, give 15 feet clearance to a postal box, because postal workers are given full authority to skip boxes that are blocked. If they must back up or get out of the vehicle to deliver regular mail to the box, that is considered “blocked”. They should be able to cleanly pull away from the box and continue moving forward.
6. Keep Your Pets in Your Yard
Sometimes, it can be hard for a pet lover to understand that not everyone loves animals. But as a homeowner and pet owner, it’s very important to keep your pets in your yard. Yes, accidents do happen, like yard crews leaving gates open or finding out the hard way that your dog can dig under your new fence. However, preventative steps should be taken so it doesn’t happen frequently. Don’t be that person who everybody knows because they’re constantly returning your animal(s).
There’s a good chance you have a neighbor who has had a bad experience with a dog and is scared to walk down the street near one. So, if you like to walk your dog, make sure they are on a leash. Not only do other residents not know if your pet will be aggressive towards them, but you also don’t know if other animals will be aggressive towards your pet.
Additionally, make sure your dog isn’t barking for hours on end. You may not realize it’s happening, because separation anxiety can cause strange behavior in animals. But if your neighbors notice, try not to be defensive. Instead, look for a solution that will help calm your animal while you’re gone. Otherwise, someone in the neighborhood may call animal services to check on the welfare of your pet.
7. Communicate with Your Neighbors
Privacy is important to many people, but it’s also a good idea to get to know your neighbors. Most people want to feel heard and acknowledged, and when they aren’t, they start to feel resentful. That’s when disagreements can turn ugly.
If you’re planning on having a party or small get-together, let your neighbors know. That way they can make their own plans, like parking where they can easily get out or adjusting their sleep schedule so the loud music doesn’t bother them as much. When our neighbors forewarned us they were having a homecoming gathering for their kids, we offered up our extra parking spots so the teens wouldn’t be blocking driveways with their cars.
All around, it’s just nice to have a good relationship with your neighbors, especially when a storm rolls through, your dog gets out, or they notice suspicious activity when you aren’t home. They’re more likely to step up and help you out, you just need to be willing to do the same.