How to Avoid Neighbor Conflicts When It’s Time for a New Fence (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two-part series. Click here for part one.

As I noted in part one, over the years I have personally talked to several friends of mine who told me they would rather spend a couple hours in the dentist chair having their wisdom teeth removed than deal with multiple neighbors again on another fence project.

For that reason I was a bit apprehensive when I finally came to the conclusion that after 12 years of wind, rain, and incessant sun-exposure, my wood fence was nearing the end of its useful life.

To recap, the Honeybee and I ultimately decided that a sturdier block wall was the logical replacement for our dilapidated wood fence, but because our fence straddled property boundary lines we were going to have to work with my two affected neighbors.

Neighbors often have their own conflicting ideas with respect to the type of fence, how much to spend, and when to spend it, and sometimes neighbors will even disagree on whether the fence needs to be built or replaced at all.

The secret to keeping harmony with all of my neighbors, of course, was to find a way to get some kind of mutual agreement that was satisfactory to everyone involved.

With that in mind, I crafted a seven-step plan to minimize the potential neighbor conflicts that might arise during the implementation of the fence project. In the end, this plan went a long way towards minimizing conflicts with my neighbors and overcoming the hurdles that we encountered along the way.

Part one covered the first three steps: anticipate, communicate, and cooperate. Here is a summary of steps four through seven:

4. Delegate

A home owner that is putting up a perimeter wall may need to deal with as many as four neighbors. For this reason, good coordination between all of the involved parties becomes of paramount importance in order to minimize general confusion and misunderstandings.

Once you and your neighbors have reached some preliminary agreement on the new fence that you will be sharing, try to get everybody to agree on a single individual to “play the point man.” The point man is responsible for coordinating the contractor estimates and goes a long way toward avoiding confusion. If you don’t have a point man, then make sure you maintain constant contact and good communication with your neighbors at all times to avoid potential misunderstandings and the schedule delays that would invariably ensue.

My Experience: Since I was getting fence line replaced on both sides of my property, I had the biggest stake in the game and so I volunteered to do all of the leg work. Thankfully, I had no arguments from either neighbor when I proposed that I coordinate the project. Just be careful, as acquiescence can also be a troubling sign of indifference or non-interest, as I was to find out later.

5. Investigate

After receiving the blessing of your neighbors, it is time to begin the discovery phase of your project. Compile the requirements you and your neighbors agreed upon and get estimates from at least three contractors. Try and find three contractors whose work you are familiar with, or have been referred to by your friends who have had similar work done for them.

If you are replacing an existing fence, make sure you get a commitment in writing regarding how long it will take to complete the job. This can be especially important if you and/or your neighbors have pets or other animals.

My Experience: As the point man for my wall project I was responsible for calling the contractors and getting the estimates. The three contractors I selected were all familiar to me; one had done numerous construction jobs for me over the past ten years, another had put up the block wall at my neighbor’s house across the street a year earlier, and the third was a well-known local firm that had done some work for several of our friends. The biggest hurdle for this task is simply in the scheduling. This process ended up taking two solid weeks before I finally had my three initial estimates in hand and ready to present to my neighbors for their thoughts.

6. Negotiate

Your first step during this phase of the process, naturally, is to try and secure the contractor who is willing to provide you with the best quality fence or wall at a price you and your neighbors can reasonably afford. You will also need to coordinate on a start date and get a commitment in writing regarding how long it will take to complete the job. Include a discount penalty if the contractor fails to complete the job within a specified time that meets your neighbors’ timelines.

Ironically, the most tedious and tricky portion of the entire fence project odyssey comes into play not when you are negotiating with contractors, but when you have uncooperative or suddenly-disinterested neighbors who signal that they aren’t inclined to pay for their share of the project.

If you find yourself in this situation your first task is to try, as diplomatically as possible, to get to the root of your neighbor’s reluctance to pay.

If you are lucky, maybe he wasn’t being very up-front with you earlier on in the process and he has a real issue with the aesthetics, type of wall, or project start date that you thought you all agreed upon earlier.

If it is a money issue, you’re going to have a tougher row to hoe. Your options include delaying the project start date to give your neighbor more time to get a loan or save the money. You can also choose to work out a payment arrangement.

If your neighbor balks at those options then he probably has no intention of paying his fair share. In that case you may want to consider cutting your impending losses by making an offer to pay for some portion more than 50% of the wall if your neighbor provides the money when the wall is finished, realizing that the alternative would be getting nothing.

If that doesn’t sway your neighbor, then I’m sorry to say you’re most likely living next to a deadbeat who has no intention of paying anything. Ever. For what it’s worth you can take solace in knowing that you’re not alone, as thousands of others in your position can sadly attest.

Just keep in mind that if you are stuck with a truly hostile or uncooperative neighbor you may want to get a letter from them permitting you to put your wall down the center of the property line, otherwise, you’ll want to ensure the entire fence resides inside your property line to avoid future problems.

My Experience: Once I had all three estimates in hand I gathered my neighbors together and presented offers that ranged between $100 and $133 per linear foot. Although two of us agreed that we were happy with the lowest estimate, my other neighbor balked at the price and insisted that he had a contractor friend who could give us a lower price. I asked him to get an estimate from his contractor and, in the meantime, I also called back each of the three original contractors and asked them to “sharpen their pencils” and see if they couldn’t come down any lower in price. One week later I had a new low estimate of $89 per linear foot. Unfortunately, my neighbor failed to get an estimate from his friend. At this point I began to suspect that this neighbor was basically, shall we say, unenthusiastic about paying any price. After two more weeks of stalls and delays my neighbor indicated his contractor friend could not beat my lowest estimate and he was not sure if he was going to be able to pay for his share of the wall. We eventually negotiated a deal where I would in essence give him an interest-free loan where he would pay me $100 per month until the loan was retired.

7. Celebrate!

Successfully coordinating and managing a project to build a fence that is shared between multiple neighbors is one of the toughest jobs a homeowner will ever encounter. In order to minimize the associated pain that comes with taking on a fence project, it is therefore essential to plan, prepare, and implement a deliberate, well-thought plan as early as possible. I guarantee you that those that do are more likely to find themselves sharing a glass of champagne with their neighbors rather than nasty glances.

Comments

  1. 2

    says

    Len,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Building a shared fence is a delicate matter, one that can reinforce neighborly relationships or, unfortunately, break them apart. In my opinion, you did exactly the right thing in collaborating with your neighbors rather than taking the hard line “my way or the highway” approach. Congratulations on getting your fence/wall project finished.

    Ryan

  2. 4

    Suzette says

    I appreciate your your wisdom. My neighbor, however, didn’t share your vision. He told us on Monday “he” was going to have some work done and had the crew start Thursday. The job was done by Friday. Yesterday, he brought my husband a bill. We were completely blindsided! We are not deadbeats but had no input in this whatsoever. I believe there are honestly people that don’t want their neighbors involved only money after the fact.

  3. 5

    says

    Wow. Are you kidding? What chutzpah! Personally, I would have a real hard time with that, Suzette. In fact, if that was my neighbor and I was happy with the finished product I would pay him – on my time line, not his – but definitely voice my displeasure with the way he went about his business. Then again, if I didn’t like the finished product, I wouldn’t pay the guy a red cent. DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind I am not a lawyer and so I don’t know how that would turn out if he tried to sue you in small claims court.

  4. 6

    xpatinasia says

    I faced a similar situation and, due to the laws in CA, the affected neighbors were forced by law to pay 50% of the fence. I found a contractor, and he did a great job. One neighbor was in the process of selling his home, and I agreed that he could pay me after his home sold. The other neighbor paid me immediately after the fence was complete. The entire scenario was painless.

    • 7

      Len Penzo says

      Yep; I’m not surprised. I’ve found that the neighbors are usually willing to work with you as long as you can be as flexible as possible. I’m sure that is because most rational people understand that it’s in every neighbor’s interest to cooperate with each other.

  5. 8

    Fencedin says

    Where I live, it is rare for neighbors to collaborate on a fence. He who wants one, pays for it. It’s also customary for fences to be built about 6-8 inches inside your property line, to avoid a neighbor’s complaint that you are encroaching and then demanding you move your fence. I should mention that a recent article in our local newspaper cited fence disputes between neighbors as a leading reason police are called.

    We suffered a neighbor’s installation of a very inferior fence, with workers uprooting valuable shrubs and trespassing on our property. It has ended our neighborly affiliation.

  6. 9

    says

    One of your preliminary steps is also to check the local laws and ordinance. Some areas require you to get a permit (it may include getting written agreements from your neighbors) before construction.

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