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posted: 11/30/2012 5:51 AM

How to deal with a neighbor's messy yard

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Homeowners and sellers can pursue several strategies to get a neighbor to clean up a yard that has become an eyesore.

Q. We are planning to put our home up for sale next month, but we're concerned about the impact that our neighbor's messy yard across the street will have on our own selling price. His dead grass is about 2 feet high, there is some beat-up old furniture and a rusty pickup truck that is on the yard itself and he has a terrible-looking trailer with a broken window in the driveway that he uses for storage. We asked him to clean the mess up and even offered to help, but he just laughed and said that the way he maintains his property is none of our business. What can we do?

A. I certainly can understand your concern. The nasty condition of his property certainly will "turn off" many prospective buyers who come to tour your own home and easily might reduce the price that someone would be willing to pay.

Although the man refused your offer to help clean up the mess, perhaps he'll change his mind if you instead offer to pay half (or even all) of the cost to have the grass trimmed and all the junk removed by professionals. It would likely cost you several hundred dollars, but would probably add thousands of dollars to your eventual resale price.

You could also call city hall. Many cities and counties have ordinances that prohibit the parking of vehicles on a homeowner's lawn, especially if they are inoperable. A local official could order the truck and perhaps even the old trailer removed, and then have the city tow them away if he doesn't respond immediately.

Other local agencies also might be able to help. The fire department might be concerned that the tall, dead grass constitutes a fire hazard, while health officials could fret it's attracting rats or other vermin. The police or sheriff's department, meantime, could be worried that the old truck and trailer pose a threat to a child who wanders onto the property.

If your efforts prove fruitless, consider consulting a real estate attorney. Bring along lots of photos that show what a mess your neighbor has created. The lawyer might then be able to convince a judge that the yard is a "private nuisance," which would require the man to clean it up quickly or else pay a hefty bill if the city must do it for him.

Q. We have been looking at advertisements for small farms and other countryside homes. Some of the ads refer to "net acres." What does the term mean?

A. The term usually refers to the amount of land that can be developed on an individual parcel. For example, if you purchased a 7-acre parcel but two of those acres were on a steep slope that wasn't suitable for construction, you would own 5 net acres.

Q. My husband and I live in the Northeast, but we're planning to move to Florida when we retire in three or four years. Since home prices in most areas are still pretty low, we are thinking about buying our retirement home now and renting it to tenants until we are ready to move into it ourselves. Is this a good plan?

A. Not really, although I'm asked that type of question by older people quite often.

For starters, being a "long-distance landlord" is a difficult task regardless of your age. Managing a small rental that is hundreds or thousands of miles away from your primary residence makes it hard to solve maintenance issues or problems that routinely crop up with tenants. You could instead hire a professional management company to perform such tasks, but that's an expensive proposition that could cut deeply into your rental income.

Equally important, your letter states that the two of you plan to quit working "in three or four years." That's a fuzzy time frame, and a lot can happen between now and then. Your retirement-housing choices might change dramatically if, say, one of you gets seriously ill, suffers a debilitating injury, dies or simply decides to work an extra year or two.

Dealing with such issues could only be more difficult if the two of you had already purchased a retirement home that suddenly wasn't needed. There's no reason to buy a place now unless you plan on moving into it within six months to a year.

Real estate trivia: The 16-bedroom, 55,000-square-foot White House would fetch about $285 million if it was put on the sales market today, according to realty website Zillow. That's up 1.5 percent, or about $4 million, from the last time its value was estimated four years ago.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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