In the spirit of Christmas, it’s prime time to talk about the one thing that probably matters most to finding an ideal neighborhood. It can be the most unpredictable aspect of the process, but it can also be the difference maker between finding a house vs. finding a home.
Over the past couple of years, this column has taken the occasional detour from highlighting specific North Idaho neighborhoods for something called, “Tales from the Trenches.” It began as a series of columns about my own recent home search and purchase, but it has gone on to offer (hopefully) helpful advice about moving necessities, working with Realtors, managing renovations, etc.
We’ve touched on most everything — minus the biggest. So, for (probably) the final “Tales from the Trenches,” I want to share the single most important thing I’ve learned about being a homeowner.
Be a good neighbor. And surround yourself with good neighbors.
If you spend too much time on the internet or watch cable news, the world can look like a terrible place. At the end of the day, you don’t have much control over what happens in Washington, D.C., or North Korea, but you do have control over how you live on your street and how you treat others.
In searching for our current home, we wanted to find a neighborhood that was neighborly — a place where the people were friendly, courteous and respectful of each other. While it seems like something that can’t be easily determined when researching neighborhoods, there is actually a pretty simple way of making this happen — Ask.
Introduce yourself to potential neighbors and the people that surround your home. Open the line of communication. Sure, some people won’t be interested in talking to you ever again, but by opening the door and sharing just a little bit of kindness, you are establishing the relationship on a positive note, which can help if you ever need to talk to them about loud music.
If you talk to potential neighbors, and for some reason, nearly all of them seem nasty or shifty, then, well, it might be a sign you look for a home elsewhere.
This isn’t an easy process. As one of the world’s most terrified introverts, it’s difficult for me to be outgoing, especially to strangers. I’ll let my wife establish the relationships sometimes when I’m feeling especially hermetic.
Though it was difficult, I introduced myself to a few neighbors before we bought our home. All were nice, helpful and offered what seemed like genuine assessments of the community and the other neighbors. You can learn a lot about people and how they perceive their surroundings just by being genuine and asking for their opinions (just don’t ask them about politics).
Ultimately, I’m glad we reached out before we bought, if only because five days after moving into the house, we had a kitchen fire, and one of these new neighbors opened their home to our family and helped us through an extremely difficult evening. This neighbor even gave me shoes to wear after I ran out of our burning house barefooted.
Last winter, a few neighbors and I helped the mailman dig his truck out of the snow. On another occasion, a few of us pushed a dead car up the street and into a garage.
A neighbor has jump-started my car, given me a lift to a mechanic, and gifted me pumpkin spice bread (this is the way into my heart, by the way). We’ve shared kids clothes, backyard play dates, and on Halloween, a couple of the neighborhood teenagers even came to our door to deliver giant chocolate bars to my kids. One neighbor spent an entire weekend helping build a giant backyard swing set (I helped by providing company, and keeping my inept fingers away from the tools).
When one of us leaves town, we tell each other, knowing we’ll all be watching out for troublemakers.
No neighborhood can be perfect. We still roll our eyes at the occasional nonsense of nearby teenagers (we’ve all been there), but it feels good knowing there is support around for the occasional problem.
I didn’t have this in my last neighborhood, and I don’t think it was because the people around us were less friendly or unwilling to be good neighbors. We just didn’t know them, and we never made much effort to know them better.
Maybe it’s a schmaltzy message, and maybe I just lucked out by living next to good people. But at this time of year, there’s nothing wrong with indulging the sentiment and assuming most people are good. So much of our culture wants to divide us (we can’t even agree on “Star Wars” anymore!), but being a good neighbor doesn’t mean you have to share ideologies or opinions. It just means be kind to one another.
Live in a great neighborhood? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know about it.