Overview: Peace breaks out in the neighbourhood

The note that came through our door in London the other weekend was the perfect example of good neighbourliness. It gave notice of a party planned for a special occasion and asked for our understanding. Needless to say, even though most of the party took place in the garden, we were barely aware of it, so warm did we feel towards our considerate (and unknown) neighbours.

The note that came through our door in London the other weekend was the perfect example of good neighbourliness. It gave notice of a party planned for a special occasion and asked for our understanding. Needless to say, even though most of the party took place in the garden, we were barely aware of it, so warm did we feel towards our considerate (and unknown) neighbours.

A colleague, who lives in a rather smarter part of south London, received not just advance warning, delivered in person, of a 16th birthday party in her street, but a thank-you note as well. The music would go off at 12.30am sharp, she was told, and by 12.31, silence reigned.

Much more of this and the warring-neighbour scenario will begin to look a bit thin and reality-TV producers will have to find other victims upon which to base their programmes.

But what cannot be exaggerated is the importance of neighbours to our sense of well-being. It is a key factor in determining whether we will love or hate the place where we live - and that rather depends on whether we are more likely to be stopped for a chat or for our wallets.

According to a survey by the National Housing Federation, a friendly community in a quiet area with a low crime rate is regarded as the most important thing nationally, and, using this criterion, London comes out worst.

Its residents have more problems with noisy neighbours and vandalism than the other eight UK regions in the survey, and, along with the rest of the South-east, are the least likely to talk to their neighbours on a daily basis. Anyone who values keeping up with the local gossip should move to the North-east, apparently.

As the survey points out, it doesn't help that London and the South-east have the fewest people who intend to stay long-term. But then that probably includes those of us who are still saying that after 20 years - and who have had plenty of time to build up a sense of community even if it isn't of the church, pub, Women's Institute or school variety. And when the decision to move out of town is finally made, it is not the theatres, restaurants and shops that most people regret leaving, but the thought of swapping civilised neighbours for persons unknown.

Bradford & Bingley, the estate agents, also carried out some research recently which showed that 85 per cent of those asked were on good terms with their immediate neighbours and 77 per cent felt they had a friendly relationship with everyone in the street. Only 5 per cent claimed to be on bad terms.

Nick Freeth, an area director, believes that we underestimate the importance of neighbours when buying a property, or rather the danger of acquiring bad ones. "A bit of sleuthing doesn't do any harm at all. The person who quietly parks up at different times of the day, walks around and visits the local pub to get a feeling for who his new neighbours might be will be able to buy a property with complete confidence. The worst thing can be to ask the seller."

Vendors are obliged to disclose any history of disputes, as the law made clear in a much-publicised case last year, but if they have decided that quiet escape is the best policy, it is hard to spot a likely source of trouble. Freeth finds that glowing testimonials are far more usual, however. Some vendors take their neighbourliness to extraordinary lengths, virtually giving next door the power of veto.

And if the vendors are over 65, that should be good news. An astonishing 94 per cent in that age bracket told researchers they were friends with their immediate neighbours. So much for Victor Meldrew.

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