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My suburban neighborhood has about 80% dog ownership, but most dog owners don't have fences. I don't either.

My across-the-street neighbor "Abby" and I have been becoming friends. It started over a previous puppy that didn't work out. We talk several times a week, and usually spend an evening or two a week over wine and conversation.

Abby now is selling her house, and had a showing yesterday. I was mowing the lawn, and my dogs (I have 3, two adults and a pup I'm raising as a therapy dog) were all secured by leashes to something sturdy, even though I was taking a break to talk to another neighbor.

The prospective buyers exited the house, whereupon the child (a boy of about 8) screamed, "Daddy, dogs!" and hid behind his father. Please know that they were across the street, the three dogs were secured, they weren't barking, and there were three adults in my yard, easily able to protect the child (or the dogs). We thought it was a little bit odd that the child reacted that way.

Fast forward to this afternoon when I get a frantic call from Abby asking me to put up a fence as soon as possible. The realtor told her what had happened, and she kept saying I needed to put up a fence, that the sale of the house had to go quickly/smoothly, that she didn't have the money for a drawn out stay on the market, she'd already bought another place, etc. I explained that the dogs had been tied up, hadn't even barked at the prospective borrowers, and that the child had overreacted. She replied that she was coming over in an hour to talk about it.

As I did yard work with my dogs once again secured (trying to make my yard look good for Abby's perspective buyers), all I could think of was that I couldn't let Abby's panic become my responsibility. I can deal in facts, I can deal with feelings, I can try to reassure her, but her fears are not my responsibility to fix. She's a grown woman of 45 (and not without means by any means.)

What is a reasonable way to approach, tactfully and without damaging the friendship, the problem of a neighbor demanding that I put up a fence so that her house will be more attractive to potential buyers?

Edited to add: I have a large corner lot facing South. Abby has a regular lot facing West (towards the side of my house, with a good view of all of it, including what is my "back yard".) Abby, my neighbor, is the one doing the asking, but probably at her agent's suggestion. No, I'm not obliged to put up a fence (if dog owners were, 80% of the houses would have fenced yards.) and front yard fences aren't allowed in our neighborhood. Only backyard, and she does have one of those (as well as a dog.) The yards that are fenced in this neighborhood are most often those with pools.

I don't want the expense of a fence (the HOA has regulations about the kind of fence that can be put up), and, of course, they're expensive. Think $8K without landscaping. Also, it makes my yard less useful for exercise, as it cuts off both sides of the house, and there are setbacks.

Edit #2: I took @Catija's approach and there have been no further problems. She lets me know when there's a showing, and at that time, I keep my yard dog-free (although the tennis balls should give it away.) Things have been fine between us, as before.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Sep 29 '17 at 16:14
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    I would suggest that the obvious presence of your dogs (and presumably others') is an excellent and efficient filter. The neighborhood, having 80% dog ownership, is clearly not appropriate for these buyers and they should simply move on. Sucks for Abby this is true, but it's no different then if the required a 2-story and it was a single story house, or they required more land, or a different school district, or any other of countless things that are not up to any individual to change for them. shrug The faster they look somewhere else, the better for all except Abby, IMO. – Jonathan van Clute Sep 29 '17 at 18:57
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    I feel like the dog part isn't even relevant. If you hypothetically did whatever your friend wanted, would you even genuinely stay friends after she moved away? People often quickly forget about their friends, even ones who did everything to help them in any way they could. This is probably not something you can tell her, but you should probably consider whether a friendship is really at stake here in the first place. It might just be the difference between losing a friend in 1 month, versus paying money to delay that by 5 months. – Mehrdad Sep 30 '17 at 0:00
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    @Mehrdad - I appreciate the precarious nature of the friendship, but building a fence isn't in the plans, so I don't know why people are telling me not to build one. The question is how to tell her this. – anongoodnurse Sep 30 '17 at 12:17
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    Well, that's not clear from your question. "What is a reasonable way to approach, tactfully and without damaging the friendship, the problem". Not how to broach it to them, but how to approach the problem. So the answers being about approaching the problem seem relevant. – Mast Sep 30 '17 at 18:17

10 Answers 10

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Personally, I find that charts and graphs help a lot, so I've mocked up what I assume your corner looks like based on the description in your question:

I have a large corner lot facing South. Abby has a regular lot facing West (towards the side of my house, with a good view of all of it, including what is my "back yard".)

Diagram of anongoodnurse's corner

I have a corner lot, too and we have a fence pretty much just like this. We don't have a dog and this question really made me wonder how much more I'd like our backyard if it wasn't fenced... but that's another story.

I think that Abby is scared. She really needs her house to sell, and soon. She's not really thinking through what she's asking, because she's trying very hard to sell her house. The important thing for you is to be the opposite. Be logical and show her how this would affect you. She may not be willing to accept it initially but I think she will come around after a while. I'm going to call this a "knee-jerk reaction" because that's what it is.

So, what do you tell her:

  1. Show her how much of your lot would be cut off by a fence and how that would make you less able to use your yard.
  2. Show her the cost of such a fence and that you can not afford to put one in but be sure to emphasize that, even if you were able to afford it or she offered to pay for it, point one still applies.
  3. Offer to meet her part way - if she (or her realtor) will let you know when the house is being shown, you will keep your dogs inside or take them somewhere else.

Right now she's concerned for herself and probably doesn't realize the burden a fence would put on you, so explaining the physical and financial burden will hopefully clue her in to the enormity of the "ask" she's put on you. Being willing to hide the dogs shows that you're considering her concerns and offering another solution that doesn't have these costs.

Be respectful of her concerns but stand firm. Commiserate but explain to her in detail why a fence isn't an option for you. Assure her that you're willing to help her sell her house as best you can but this isn't a request you're able to comply with. Be a friend (note that being a friend doesn't mean you let the friend walk all over you).

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    For being the voice of reason, if any other houses nearby have sold recently you could point that out, that those houses sold regardless of the presence of dogs in the neighborhood. (But I disagree with making a large change of hiding your dogs...you really don't want to find out that the new neighbors are severely dog phobic after they move in.) – user3067860 Sep 28 '17 at 18:43
  • @anongoodnurse is this diagram correct? the question states "across-the-street neighbor" but in this diagram the neighbor is next door. – Michael Sep 28 '17 at 19:27
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    @Catija I think the lines between the OP's house and Abby's house are a road that forms a T-junction with another road. Abby's house faces the road going vertically on the screen, the OP's house faces the road going horizontally on the screen. The OP's back yard is adjacent to the vertical road. – user3067860 Sep 28 '17 at 21:45
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    @Catija - Unfortunately, developments cause water runoff problems. We have swales at the back of every back yard. The easement rights (?) specifies no fences within 10 feet of a swale! – anongoodnurse Sep 28 '17 at 23:57
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    I do not think it is fair enough for prospective new others hiding the dogs. I would prefer to buy other house than knowing I would have dogs barking near my house. – Rui F Ribeiro Dec 15 '17 at 4:55
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  1. How long has her home been on the market? If it's been less than three months, Abby is overreacting. Reassure her that her home will find a buyer, someone who probably owns a dog themselves.
  2. When prospective buyers come and visit, are the presence of dogs (not just yours) visible/audible? I'm guessing if 80% of the families own dogs then that is not a negligible feature of your neighbourhood. Are dogs generally (always?) kept in the backyard?
  3. If you promise to keep your dogs in the backyard out of sight when prospective buyers visit Abby's house might that solve the problem from her point of view?
  4. Would the building of a fence increase the market value of your home? AKA seeing the glass half-full.
  5. If putting up a fence is out of the question (see recent edit) then the OP could suggest that Abby tell the agency that prospective buyers should ideally be animal lovers. The two friends both know that four out of five families have at least one dog, putting up a fence around one lot will not help Abby sell her house faster.
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    Her home has been on the market for less that a week. :) – anongoodnurse Sep 28 '17 at 13:50
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    To be honest, promising to hide the dogs during house viewings probably risks setting yourself up for more problems - if there's that many dogs in the neighbourhood, prospective buyers should really know that up front. – anaximander Sep 29 '17 at 7:21
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Unless you really don't want a fence for some reason, say you're willing to do so if she pays for it. Sounds like a win-win situation to me (you can have your dogs out in your yard without having to chain them up). I can't see how this would be offensive - she's asking you to do something to improve her selling prospects so paying for it should be the least she can do.

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    There's no indication that she's offered to pay for the fence. Seems like a big hole in this answer. – Catija Sep 28 '17 at 12:43
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    I don't see this answer as relying on her offering. It is suggesting that you ask her to pay for the fence. If she refuses, then she must not want the fence that badly after all. It puts the metaphorical ball into her court. – Onyz Sep 28 '17 at 13:19
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    @anongoodnurse What kind of friendship is that, if she makes such one-sided and costly demands? – Anne Daunted Sep 28 '17 at 13:43
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    @anongoodnurse I don't see anything untactful or particularly damaging (within your reasonable control) about this answer. If the (intangible) cost of the potential damage to the relationship is worth more than $8K to you, then buy the fence. Otherwise, talking about the cost can help make it clear to her how unreasonable the request is, and, if you like, asking her to (perhaps partially) cover the cost shows your willingness comply within reason. – Derek Elkins Sep 28 '17 at 15:11
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    @anongoodnurse It sounds like your friendship is based on being in close proximity. Are you likely to still be friends after she moves? In which case, if she is expecting you to pay based on friendship, is that really so important given you might not see her again after a few months? So, I wouldn't worry about offending her when asking if she would pay for it. As others said, if she isn't willing to pay then she can't need it too badly. Just don't sound like you're demanding anything - put all the emphasis on the positive, that you're acceding to her request for a fence. – Erin Sep 29 '17 at 0:31
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At best this is a one off...

Yes, absolutely, good fences make good neighbors. I first heard the phrase when my brother's dogs were actively visiting the neighbors and he paid for a fence, but that isn't what's happening here.

You're a good dog owner and you seem to be keeping your dogs responsibly.

Some people are, understandably, terrified of dogs. My other brother has scars on his head that demonstrate why... When a kid has been bit by a dog they'll be legitimately afraid. But, a fence won't assuage that fear.

It's a fairly rare thing though. Don't let someone pressure you into putting out money for something that may or may not be a real problem. After all, most kids love dogs.

As far as a tactful approach is concerned...

I would sit her down and try to explain that this has clearly been an overreaction on the part of the perspective buyers, the realtor and herself. Most kids love dogs and the overreaction of one child is not at all likely to impact the sale of her home. Almost nobody sells their home to the first person who takes a look at it and it's very normal for these things to take a little time.

If you really feel the need to be extra accommodating, you could ask her when her next showing will be, and offer to keep the dogs indoors during the specified time. But be clear that her problem is not your problem, this is a favor that you're offering as a friend.

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    This neighborhood is definitely the wrong place for someone who is afraid of dogs. They are everywhere! – anongoodnurse Sep 28 '17 at 13:51
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Reflect that this neighbor is moving, and afterwards you are likely to never interact with them over this matter again. You may stay friends, or you may not, but it will no longer be a relationship of necessity.

On the other hand, whoever moves in you will have to deal with for an indeterminate length of time.

Given that, a family with a child who has a pathological fear of dogs (probably either due to lack of exposure, or some previous incident), is not a family that is liable to do well in your neighborhood. That could end up causing problems for everyone. You aren't going to be doing your new neighbors or yourself any favors by hiding the nature of the neighborhood from them until they move in.

On the other hand, it might be a good gesture to a friend to avoid doing anything unsightly (eg: hanging underwear, taking the dog out for a poo, car maintenance) on your lawn when they have prospective buyers over. I know I'd appreciate that when my house goes up for sale one day.

As far as the friendship goes, if there is really something there, then it will still be there after the enforced relationship of "neighbor" is gone. In the meantime, if you can be a sympathetic ear throughout this stressful process for her, a friend should come to appreciate that. I've found a lot of times when people chew my ear off about something, a sympathetic hearing is all they really want.

Great Robert Frost callout, btw. That poem is even about unnecessarily building a fence to appease a neighbor. But notice that in that poem both neighbors are sharing the effort of building the fence together.

  • Please remember that answers need to not negate the question. You don't know what sort of relationship the OP and Abby have... they could be BFFs who just happen to have lived near each other and one is moving away. That doesn't mean that they won't ever interact again. If the question specifically says that this needs to be done tactfully and without harming the relationship, answers need to respect that. meta. – Catija Sep 28 '17 at 15:20
  • @Catija - I've been known to misread cues, but I think "have been becoming friends" would be a really odd way to describe a BFF. I did miss that one sentence about "not damaging the friendship" though. I'll tweak. – T.E.D. Sep 28 '17 at 15:59
  • I'm not saying that it's definitely the case but the point still stands. If the OP wants to keep a friendship up with Abby, it's not our place to tell them to not bother. – Catija Sep 28 '17 at 16:01
  • @Catija - Fair. – T.E.D. Sep 28 '17 at 16:04
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    +1 for pointing out that you have to deal with your new neighbors, and just keeping your dogs inside when the house is being shown is just hiding a very real potential for conflict... – wedstrom Sep 28 '17 at 17:52
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First of all, it's important to recognize that Abby is the one who has put your friendship at risk by making an unreasonable demand. Assuming that you are not required by law to put up a fence for your animals, she has no right to demand that you do. (Ask, maybe, but even that's a stretch--a fence is a pretty big expense and change to your property).

As another poster suggested, offering to make sure your dogs are inside provided she gives you a reasonable amount of notice would be generous of you. You may also consider offering introducing your dogs to the child if the kid's parents thought that would be helpful. (I say this with sympathy as I was a child also fearful of dogs).

If you are willing to have a fence (and there's no reason you have to be) then saying, "I'm afraid we don't have the budget for a fence right now. If you are able to fund it, we are willing to put one up."

And if you don't want a fence, "I'm very sorry, but we're not able to have a fence right now. Is there anything else we can do to help instead?" would show you are concerned but also maintaining your own boundaries. No further explanation is needed.

And honestly... casual friends who are brought together by circumstances of geography tend to fade away pretty quickly once you are moved apart. Be polite, be positive, but don't lose too much sleep if it doesn't go well.

  • I like your answer, but the last paragraph assumes some. This neighbor has been extraordinarily kind to me. – anongoodnurse Sep 28 '17 at 19:31
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    @anongoodnurse I didn't mean to imply otherwise... but as someone who's recently moved, many of my very good friends simply faded into the background. I don't think it's my or their fault or any reflection of the quality of people we are, but just a sad consequence of life. Some friendships end up surprising you and perhaps this will be one of them... but personally, I wouldn't bow to an $8K demand on the bet that it would. – user3306 Sep 28 '17 at 19:34
  • I understand. I'm hoping the friendship will survive the move, but I'm a fairly realistic person; at my age, I should be. ;) But she has gone above and beyond so far. – anongoodnurse Sep 28 '17 at 19:51
  • @anongoodnurse I hope it will too. But don't put up a fence. :) – user3306 Sep 28 '17 at 19:52
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    But don't get surprised if she accuses you of being de-fence-ive. – user3306 Sep 28 '17 at 19:52
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It looks like your friend was verbally assaulted by their realtor who has no business in your relationship and is eager to do whatever it takes to get the house sold ASAP. This conversation should have stressed your friend to the point she asked you to build a fence on your property just to help her sell theirs, which is completely unreasonable.

Appeals to reason don't work well on people who are stressed. Instead, you should give it some time to let your friend calm down. Suggest you talk about it the next day instead of today. Every hour your friend spends thinking her request over works to your advantage.

Then, meet with your friend to discuss about the situation, and let talk. Ask her what exactly she wants from you. Ask her who she thinks should pay for the fence you don't need. Ask her how many prospective buyers she's had, and how many of them were disturbed by your dogs.

Finally, suggest. If your friend agrees that only a single buyer had an issue with your dogs, tell that she can safely ignore that single incident without any significant impact on her chances to sell. If she insists it's a problem, suggest an alternative solution, like keeping your dogs inside during the visits. And, if your friend's realtor keeps bugging her about the fence, suggest that the realtor should call you instead. Since you'd have no friendship to keep in this case, you could simply say to this person that they have no right to make such a request and they can forget about it.

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    I like the idea of dealing with the realtor if it remains stressful. Thanks! – anongoodnurse Sep 28 '17 at 21:22
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Point out how you fencing your yard will not solve Abby's dog problem.

Most of your neighbours have dogs. I would be very surprised if your yard was the only one without fences in the neighbourhood.

"Abby, I could go ahead and fence my yard. But I'm afraid it won't help you. That family know there are dogs in the neighborhood. They clearly have an irrational fear. They won't be happy unless you can convince all our neighbours to build fences too." Then point out the easier solution:

Abby builds a fence around her own yard.

Of course the oneness is on Abby (and not you) to make her property attractive to buyers. But you should avoid pointing this out. Instead focus on how her building a fence will keep any prospective buyers 'safe' from the local dogs, and you doing the same won't.

Now the conversation is not a case of "me versus you". It's a case of "me and you versus all the dog owners in the neighborhood". And that's a fight Abby cannot win so will not even try.

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    The question states that front yard fences aren't allowed in the neighborhood and that Abby already has a backyard fence. – Catija Sep 28 '17 at 16:03
  • Build a front yard fence anyway – Daron Sep 28 '17 at 16:16
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    That's not how Home Owner's Associations work. If you "build it anyway" they force you to take it down. – Catija Sep 28 '17 at 16:16
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When we keep doing something out of the courtesy, it becomes our habit to please others. You need not put up the fence. You can have her over a dinner and explain her how the dogs are not to be blamed because of one crazy family. Most families wouldn't mind the dogs. (In fact they'll love the friendly dogs around.) Try to explain it to Abby. If she understands well and good. If she does not, then as you said its her fear that is the problem and you need not worry. Let her deal with it.

  • The question is asking how to have the discussion, not whether she should build the fence. – Catija Sep 29 '17 at 4:33
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    What's crazy about being afraid of dogs? We don't own a dog, and my son is also afraid when bigger dogs are nearby. And I can understand him pretty well, I'd also be afraid if I saw a carnivore 2-3 times my size with no fence between us. – Dmitry Grigoryev Sep 29 '17 at 10:00
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    PInvesting in an 8k fence is far beyond a courtesy for most people. – Pieter B Sep 30 '17 at 9:33
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You have two choices. Either you build a fence, or you don't build a fence. You say that building a fence would cost you $8,000, which is a lot of money. Are you willing to pay $8,000 to keep a neighbour happy? I have real friends where I would be willing to pay $8,000 if they were in real need for the money. But not for a relationship with a neighbour who is moving away. So we are down to one choice. You are not going to build the fence. The reasonable way to handle this therefore must include saying "NO" to the neighbours request.

Actually, you have said that you don't want a fence. Not only that you don't want to pay $8,000, but you don't want a fence at all. So I assume you wouldn't be happy if your neighbour built the fence herself and paid for it, or if the buyer did the same thing. So now you have to decide what is more important to you, relationship with your soon-to-be-ex neighbour, or a home without the fence. Think that your neighbour will move away soon, but the fence will stay there forever.

Consider that the realtor doesn't have the best interest of their client in mind, neither buyer nor seller, and definitely not your best interest. The only thing the realtor cares about is the commission in their pocket. So the fact that the realtor puts pressure on your neighbour should mean absolutely nothing to you. In the end, there isn't even a guarantee of sale if the fence were built. Does the realtor care? Of course not. It's not their money. Then consider that as a dog owner, a neighbour with a child that freaks out at the sight of a dog means inevitable trouble.

So your goals should be clear now. What to say to the neighbour? First, that you are not willing to pay $8,000 to build a fence. That is very understandable, and things will likely end with that. In the highly unlikely event that your neighbour offers to pay (highly unlikely because it is money out of their pocket which hurts a lot more than money out of your pocket), you advise them that they need to get some guarantee that the sale will go through. That will likely end the matter. If the buyer is willing to give that guarantee, then you are in a bit of trouble, because now you have to say that actually, you don't want a fence. At that point your friendship will likely suffer, but you will keep a house without a fence. Which is worth something.

protected by NVZ Sep 29 '17 at 21:59

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