An Intervention With a Messy Neighbor

An eyesore next door scared buyers away from a listing until sales associate Andy Hood took the initiative and offered a neighbor a helping hand.

September 1, 2009

Location: Ridgeland, Miss.
Square footage: 1,411
Bed: 2
Bath: 1 ½
Year built: 1976
Extras: Large, multi-tiered patio with landscaping and a great waterfront view.

THE CHALLENGE: The owner of a two-bedroom condominium in Ridgeland, Miss., needed to sell his property quickly in November 2007. He had a pending job transfer to Memphis and the purchase of his new home hinged on the sale of his current one.

For Andy Hood, a sales associate with WEICHERT, REALTORS® - Covington Group in Madison, Miss., the off-peak timing wasn't the only thing providing a seasonal chill. With no ground-floor master, the condo's design limited its mass appeal to mostly younger buyers. Still, with a large two-tiered patio overlooking the Ross Barnett Reservoir just north of Jackson, Miss., "the view was awesome," Hood says.

The view of the neighboring patio, on the other hand, was so shocking that the homeowner's association was about to fine the owner.

"The patio was full of junk, rotting patio furniture, and dead plants," Hood says. "The owner's cats had shredded a sofa on the second-floor master's balcony, and the concrete surface was covered with black and green mold that had grown onto the exterior walls of the unit."

After seven open houses and more than a dozen viewings, a buyer's agent told Hood that her clients wanted to write an offer but were concerned about the neighboring unit. "I didn't want to go tattling to the HOA, but something had to be done," Hood says.

What steps did you take to overcome the challenge?

HOOD: I asked the buyer's agent if the client would make an offer if the neighboring property was properly cleaned. She said, "I can't guarantee anything, but it sure would help."

I knew what I had to do, but I really didn't know how to approach strangers and tell them they needed to clean up their place so that the neighbor could sell his. My seller had told me the neighbor, once a big executive with a local firm, had fallen on hard times after losing her job during a corporate bankruptcy.

I didn't want to act like I knew this woman's business. So I called and politely explained that I had an interested buyer for the property next door and asked if I could clean up her patio. (She knew me, because I sold the property out with the developer from 2002 to 2006.)

As we spoke, she opened up about her situation. She said she hadn't been feeling well after the job loss and the recent death of her father and that she couldn't find anyone to help her. She said the HOA was about to fine her for the unsightly exterior. She was embarrassed, lonely, depressed, and overwhelmed. So when I offered to help, she gladly accepted.

Over the course of the next weekend, I hauled away a truckload of junk and the shredded sofa. I pressure-washed the exterior so it looked freshly painted and washed the owner's salvageable patio furniture. In addition, I weeded and pruned her flower beds and shrubs.

When the agent took her buyers back for a final look, they were amazed at the transformation. They couldn't believe it was the same condo.

They made an offer. The buyer accepted, and we sold it.

Soon after the makeover, the neighbor got a great job as an editor with a local newspaper. She needed a helping hand. She was kind of lost there for a while. But the simple act of kindness seemed to have a positive impact on a variety of levels.

How long did the sale take?

HOOD: I listed the property in November 2007 for $169,900. It closed in July 2008 for $162,500.

How much did you spend marketing the property?

HOOD: Most of our advertising is paid with the broker. But I spent about $300 with advertising in local newspapers and online as well as the open houses.

How many times did you show the property?

HOOD: I showed it about 15 times. I held seven open houses. A few people were concerned about the bedrooms being upstairs. Some people wanted larger square footage; this was a former apartment complex that had been converted to condos. Only one person was honest enough to mention the state of the patio next door, and that turned out to be the buyer. I can't help but think of how many other people were afraid to say something.

Can you tell me about the buyer?

HOOD: I sold the condo to a couple who are parents of a recent Louisiana State University graduate. Their daughter was going to be attending Mississippi College School of Law. Rather than paying rent for four years, they wanted to buy and hopefully break even or make a little money when their daughter graduated from law school.

What do you attribute to closing the deal?

HOOD: Understanding what it was going to take to get the deal done. I felt a lot of compassion for this woman next door. While someone else might want to get the HOA involved or force the issue with letters, I evaluated the situation, established what it was going to take to get the deal done, and did the footwork. I didn't overthink it. I just took action.

What lesson did you learn from this?

HOOD: You can't discount the value of customer service and being proactive. When I was growing up, my family ran a retail business repairing automotive farm equipment. My mother said business was about customer service. "Just because you open the door for business doesn't mean a customer is going to walk in," she would often remind me.

I grew up watching my dad put that concept into action. We raise farm ranch catfish in this part of the country, and the farmers run paddlewheels at night to aerate with water and keep the oxygen levels up. Particularly in the summer months, the paddlewheels would often break down. If the oxygen levels drop, the fish can die. My dad would think nothing of getting up at 3 a.m. to help out a catfish farmer to get the machinery working. We had three competitors, but everyone always came to our business first because of the service.

My dad always put the customer first. That was the way I was raised. And that's the way I run my business. Focus on the customer. Focus on service. And you'll do well.

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