It’s easy to see when a neighborhood has gone to the dogs. Rowdy thugs are hanging out on street corners, buildings are falling down and broken windows abound. But are there things to watch out for to know when a neighborhood is on the verge of decline? The answer just might be found by literally watching the dogs.
Does neighborhood decline really begin and end with the dogs? Well, in some cases the answer might be yes. One resident of an upper-income, high-end community told me that her homeowners’ association seemed to be able to control everything in the neighborhood except dogs. The association had a private security patrol to keep out the criminals, volunteer homeowners who patrolled the streets for the occasional litter and a committee to notify members who failed to maintain their property to anything except the highest standards.
“But it was those bleeping dogs that gave us the most problems,” she said. “Our owners let them roam in spite of leash laws. They get into trash bags, frightened the kids and pooped wherever they felt like it. It just shows a lack of respect for neighbors.”
That last sentence might just be a good indicator of the real beginning of decline in a neighborhood — a lack of respect for neighbors. There are six other things that I have found to be indicators of neighborhood decline. There are more, of course, but these provide a good forum for discussion.
One obvious item is deferred property maintenance. One way to gage the early stages of neighborhood decline is to take a ride around the streets and study the roofs. If roof shingles are curling up at the ends it is a sign that the roof is overdue for replacement. Many property owners replace roofs when the shingles are past their prime because it is so expensive. Some owners even wait as long as possible in the hope that a hail storm may come along and allow for their insurance companies to foot the bill. In any case, roofs that need replacement are a signal that maintenance is being deferred.
Litter is an obvious sign of the lack of pride of ownership. Litter scattered about is a sign that care for appearance may be declining.
One study on the effects of litter revealed that litter could result in more litter. The researchers chose two almost identical entrances to a county fair as their study site. They gave handbills with rather useless information to people who came to the fair. One entranceway had handbills scattered about on the ground, while the other entranceway was kept clean. Fairgoers tossed the handbills to the ground in the entranceway that already was littered with handbills, but held onto them in the clean entranceway.
Check the driveway
Like it or not, automobiles are symbols. Generally speaking, more expensive automobiles are a sign of more wealth in a community. When older, less valuable vehicles begin replacing newer, more expensive vehicles in a neighborhood it might be a sign that residents’ incomes are going down.
Be aware, however, that this might not be a good indicator in and of itself. Retirees and older citizens tend to keep their vehicles for a longer period of time. Indeed, more wealth in our country is concentrated in the 65 and older segment than any other.
While we’re on the subject of vehicles, this is a good spot to point out that streets are an indicator of where a neighborhood might be in its life cycle. When bad streets are present it is an indicator that the neighborhood is losing clout with city hall. Neighborhoods in decline often have less influence with their local governments.
Many city leaders know that the lower the home ownership rate in a community, the less likely the residents will be voters. Consequently, local elected officials may subconsciously pay less attention to declining neighborhoods.
Ask the pros
Now we come to the indicator that many real estate appraisers and planners will argue is the single, most reliable indicator that a neighborhood is going down. That indicator is the rate of home ownership.
New neighborhoods have ownership rates near 100%. When owners start renting their homes, it often means that the property owner cannot sell it for what he or she feels it is worth, and is thus is forced to rent the property.
That lived in look
Finally, the factor that seems to have the most negative effect on property values is a vacant house.
More specifically, the presence of more than one vacant house. As the number of vacant houses increases, the property values of other parcels are more negatively affected. Some property owners associations will even buy vacant houses and maintain them to give the appearance of a house that is lived in.
So if you live in a great neighborhood and want to keep it that way, watch out for the dogs.