Neighbours are as likely to be entrusted with the intimate complications of family life as they are with the keys, and since it comes with the territory, it is not surprising that the thought of starting all over again in a new area is pretty daunting. But for those who do have to move, it's not always a matter of closing the book on the neighbourhood. More than a few are as anxious about who buys their house as they are about where they go next.
Extraordinary expressions of neighbourliness sometimes go well beyond the call of duty. Gold Walker, who lived in her London house for more than 40 years, felt an obligation to her neighbours that had her selling agents in despair and her chosen buyers pinching themselves. The couple were surprised to be shown out with the words: "You know what the agents want for the house, don't you? Ridiculous isn't it. See what you can do." They duly put in an offer of pounds 30,000 less which she accepted.
She even stuck with them through a collapsed sale of their house and a process which could have been completed within a month took six. "Eight lots of people wanted the house, some of them with cash. I turned them down because I didn't like them," says Miss Walker. "The house had been in the family since 1933. It would have been terrible to see it divided up . The spirit of the house would have been destroyed . A lot of that was to do with our friends next door and I wanted that to continue. I was going to keep in touch with them and if I had landed them with complete horrors I couldn't have shown my face again."
While it is not unusual for people to run prospective buyers through a checklist, it is rare that they will make a financial sacrifice. "A great many of their good intentions are forgotten in the end," says Martin Lamb of Knight Frank's Exeter office. "But we have just sold a house for someone who was very keen that the buyers should not object to hunting and one offer was turned down because the neighbours didn't like the person. If the vendors intend to live locally they know they'll never hear the end of it if the new owners turn out to be appalling."
Some sellers seem almost to regard themselves as their neighbours' guardian. One agent recalls getting a call from an agitated client the day after some keen buyers had been round to see the house and meet the neighbours. "He told us he couldn't possibly sell to them because they smoked and his neighbours were very upset about it as they were asthmatic. It didn't seem to matter so much two weeks later, though, when no other offers had been made."