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Neighbors Already Hate Us and We Haven’t Moved In!

It’s great to be back! Don’t forget to email me your questions at robin@robindescamp.com.

Dear Robin:

I have lived in the same neighborhood for over 15 years and we are a very tight-knit community.

Recently a couple bought a historic and beautiful home two doors down from me and razed it to the ground. They are now building an ugly, giant, hulking modern home and the neighborhood is up in arms.

Several of us read your blog and were wondering what your perspective is on this.  The city isn’t doing anything to protect the neighborhood but maybe we can shame these people into doing the right thing and building something appropriate.  

How about a script? Some of us have already left angry notes on the temporary fencing around the property but so far it’s having no effect.

Raleigh

Dear Raleigh:

I looked into your case and I’ve decided to do something completely different today.  

Rather than answer your question directly, I’ve decided to put myself in the position of your new neighbor and ask a similar question from their perspective. I hope you enjoy my new style of advice-giving to people who don’t ask for advice!

I suggest you email this blog to your new neighbors.

Dear Robin:

My husband and I bought a house in a tight-knit neighborhood and are doing major renovations to it. 

We have already been made to feel very unwelcome by the neighborhood and I am apprehensive about moving in.

We have erected a fence around the property and almost daily someone leaves a rude sign. Whenever I am there and run into a neighbor they are always very unfriendly.

I was thinking about writing a letter to all of them and would love a script from you.  How about it?

New Neighbor

Dear New Neighbor:

I really sympathize with your situation.  Here you are, trying to improve a home in a nice neighborhood, and you are being met with hostility before you even really start the job.

Because I put the “do” in “due diligence,” I looked up some information on your project. It turns out things aren’t quite as you described them.

Here are some things to ponder:

Things to Ponder

  • The neighborhood in which you bought your home is almost exclusively filled with historic houses and buildings.
  • The “remodel” you spoke of is actually the demolition of a beautiful, well-maintained home. The new structure is very modern.
  • “Modern” is not a bad thing, except when it stands out like a bloodied and sore architectural thumb in a historic neighborhood.  Yours does.
  • Worse still: your drawings indicate that not only is your remodel “modern,” it is also, “ugly.” More specifically, it is an abominable and boorish design that is depressing, synthetic, impersonal, and foreboding.
  • Your neighbors were clued into your “remodel,” also known as a “tear down everything,” when you submitted plans to the city for the various and sundry building code variations needed to accommodate your home design that looks far more like a suburban dental office than a home in a historic neighborhood.
  • Your new home will block the natural light currently enjoyed by your neighbors, both inside and outside their homes.
  • When the neighbors complained, your architect (a smarmy little prick who holds himself in the highest repute possible despite conflicting reputational reality) threatened that he could build an even worse design if he felt like it. Essentially, he told all the neighbors to “suck it.” 

Because you have been forced to spend so much time fighting with the city and the neighborhood association over what you call “designs” but what I would label “middle fingers extended to everyone in your ‘hood,” you have yet to begin building this monstrosity.

Vila-Schroder

(not the house in question, but close)

Therefore, my advice is simple:

S.T.O.P.

S: Start a friendly conversation (as opposed to angry petulant letters from your architect) with your neighbors about your mutual needs and areas of compromise.  

T: Take into consideration not only their feelings, but how it will play out living in a tight-knit neighborhood in which everyone thinks you and your husband are dicks.

O: Open your mind to alternatives that honor your neighborhood’s history and your neighbors, rather than maintaining a position of intransigence when it comes to your current design, which by the way, looks like a toaster oven.

P: Prepare yourselves.

If you do not compromise and you insist on building this light-and-soul sucking albatross of a kitchen appliance/home, you will be as unpopular in your neighborhood as I am at a convention of divorce attorneys or a ladies’ luncheon of West Hills/Lake Oswego Do-Nothings.

In closing, consider this:

Tearing down a home and building a new one from scratch, or as you like to call it, “remodeling,” is a stressful proposition.  So is moving. 

You are taking a course of action that will invariably lead to your unhappiness. You are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to foster a terrible relationship with people whom you need to live side-by-side with for years.

I only know one person who actually enjoys being a pariah, and that’s because upon her birth she promptly ripped out her own heart and soul and ate them.

If personal relationships and respect for your neighbors doesn’t move you, you are probably someone who cares more about money, possessions, and status than people.  

In that case, consider this:

The resale value of your home.

If you want to build something deeply unpopular with the neighborhood and live in it forever amongst people whom intensely dislike you, have at it. But someday, your repeated shunning and lack of invitations to neighborhood barbecues may start to get to you.

You may decide then to pick up stakes (or steaks, and have your own god-damned barbecue) and go somewhere you are more welcome.

In that case, you will be selling the most hated home in the neighborhood. From what I’ve read in the papers you have put well over one million dollars in this project and it could reach up to two million.

Most houses don’t come anywhere close to those numbers in your neighborhood, to say nothing of this property’s status as a much-reviled address.

Good luck getting anywhere near your money back.

In sum:

  1. Don’t be assholes. Either work with your neighbors or sell the lot to someone who will.
  2. While you’re at it, find an architect who isn’t a one-trick pony. Your house proposals look like everything else that guy has ever managed to complete (a small number, interestingly). This guy is to architecture what Herve Leger is to fashion. How much did he charge you, anyway?

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Readers, don’t forget to catch up on my series, “Anatomy of a Disaster.”  I will be updating later this week but in case you haven’t checked it out, here are some links!

1. Cast of Characters

2. Sarah’s Story

3. Let’s Get Something Straight

4. The Box, the Lies, and the Unraveling

Don’t forget to share, my friends!

 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Isaac Laquedem

    One other thought for the new residents: would you be flattered and appreciative if the owners of the houses to the south and east of you tore down their houses and built new ones of the same height and the same design as yours?

  2. Kathy Busse

    So, I am not a neighbor, but travel the street street, every day. When I heard what the new owners were contemplating, I thought, “What were you thinking?” Truly, why choose to build a structure so drastically different from all the surrounding structures? What did you expect?

  3. PDXARCH

    Speaking of property values, how’s that similar project by the same guy doing these days? I heard it’s on the market for 1.1 million in a neighborhood that tops out around $500,000. With the desperate amount of press generated on that one house alone, I would have thought the owner would be buried in it. Why selling, and why does he think he can inflate the value by about double what he paid to build it in that particular neighborhood?

    1. Robin DesCamp

      I’m not going to comment on that one, except to say that North Portland may be charming and it may be very popular, but 1.1 million? That’s laughable. Funny story (wait, I thought I wasn’t going to comment?):

      The owner was seriously offended when I did not follow his dress code at a party. Famous for demanding people wear certain things in order to attend a soiree in his house, he just didn’t get that the repeated emails about the dress code were being recirculated amongst the guests and discussed in derogatory terms. I had finally had enough, dressed as I wanted to (and looked fabulous) and that was the end of the “friendship,” which really wasn’t a friendship at all.

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