Lessons From the Overlook: Know Your Neighbors

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

You've probably heard horror stories about bad neighbors. Perhaps you've even been unlucky enough to experience this issue yourself.

It's a particularly thorny issue for vacation rental owners. 

My hometown of San Diego is a popular tourist destination with quite a few vacation rental properties. Many residents have complained about loud parties, rude or even intoxicated guests, vehicles blocking driveways, and other nuisances from people renting a house next door.

The problem has gotten so bad that the San Diego city council recently created extreme regulations that will effectively put many vacation rental owners out of business.

Idyllwild isn't immune to complaints about renters, as you'll see in just a moment. 

While you may not be in the vacation rental business, your company almost certainly has neighbors if you have a physical location. Here's how we learned just how important a good relationship can be.

Guests have sometimes blocked our neighbors' driveways, even though there is room to park four vehicles on the gravel and asphalt areas at The Overlook.

Guests have sometimes blocked our neighbors' driveways, even though there is room to park four vehicles on the gravel and asphalt areas at The Overlook.

Why Good Neighbors Are Good For Business

There are many ways a neighbor can help or harm your business.

A friendly neighbor can keep an eye out on your property and alert you to anything suspicious. This can be very comforting for Sally and me since The Overlook is a two-hour drive away from where we live. We know our property management company is very diligent about watching the property, but it's nice to have an extra set of eyes on things.

During the recent Cranston fire, we relied on updates from people in our neighborhood who stayed behind to keep tabs on the fire. Fortunately, The Overlook was unharmed, but we were very worried as the flames grew closer. The "on-the-ground" intel was extremely helpful.

A unhappy neighbor can also harm your business.

They'll be less likely to look out for your property or help you in an emergency. Complaints from neighbors can draw scrutiny from local authorities and even lead to fines if your business is not compliant with local regulations. 


How We Created Relationships

The Overlook has full-time residents living on both sides of us.

When Sally and I first bought the property, we visited both neighbors to introduce ourselves. The Overlook had been a vacation rental before we bought it, but we still wanted to create a good first impression. So we brought over some homemade fudge and a card with our contact information on it.

Our visit turned into a short history lesson when we learned one of our neighbors had helped build an addition to The Overlook many years ago when his sister owned the property! He and his wife's grandson runs a painting business in Idyllwild, and we've used his services for a couple of small projects. 

We told our neighbors we wanted them to feel comfortable calling us if they ever experienced an issue with a guest. It would be much better to hear about something quickly so we could handle it proactively, rather than letting an annoyance fester and create long-term damage to the relationship.

I hadn't heard any complaints at all, so I recently contacted our neighbors just to check in. It was a good thing I did.

Both of our neighbors told me they have had a few issues with guests blocking their driveways. There's plenty of room for four vehicles at The Overlook, so we worked with our property manager to provide clearer parking instructions and even a photo of the parking area.

One of our neighbors also told us about a loud group that clearly had more than the maximum of eight guests that we allow. They had left a lot of trash on both our property and hers (which she graciously cleaned up) and were really annoying.

This same group caused damage and stole some items last December. Had we heard about these issues sooner, we may have been able to proactively address the situation and possibly avoid annoyance for our neighbor and theft and damage for us.

The feedback made me realize that I needed to be more proactive about maintaining relationships with our neighbors. People can be naturally reluctant to complain or raise an issue if they don't feel comfortable. So I'll now be checking in with them more often so they won't hesitate to call us or our property manager when a guest is causing a problem.


Take Action

You can apply this lesson in your own business.

Start by identifying the value of having good relationships with your neighbors. Some businesses share a common area or a parking lot. One business I know of shares tools with other neighboring businesses and even allows one company to borrow its forklift!

Here are some action steps you can take once you identify the value of great neighborly relations:

  1. Identify your neighbors.
  2. Proactively make contact to start developing a relationship.
  3. Discuss areas of mutual interest or concern.

And of course, don't forget to maintain the relationship. That valuable lesson could have saved us some theft and damage at The Overlook!