Inconsiderate, slovenly neighbours can knock thousands of pounds off the value of your property when you try to sell it. You might have spruced up the exterior with a fresh lick of paint, cleared out the clutter from your front yard and given the garden a makeover - only to find that all your best efforts have been undermined by an old banger left standing on bricks in next door's drive or a mouldy mattress in your neighbour's overgrown garden.
First impressions always count and such factors can force you to lower your asking price. In some cases, the appearance of clutter - perhaps a skip, or even a caravan or boat, situated close to your property - can persuade potential buyers not to put in an offer at all.
Peter Everett, marketing manager at estate agents Your Move in York, says: "You really have to look out for 'kerb appeal' - that first 10 seconds when people pull up outside the house. If there is a rusty old car on a drive, it could make it very hard to sell the house. Or if there is a big caravan parked outside a three-bedroom semi, it will make [the house] look small."
If you own a caravan or boat yourself and keep it on a drive outside your house, it's worth asking a friend to look after it while the house is up for sale.
Mr Everett says: "In the past, I have suggested politely to sellers that they move their caravan. Some people may see it as a status symbol, but if others see a street of them, they could draw the wrong conclusions." In other words, some potential buyers may look down their noses at a caravan. "Unless you have a carport or a large front driveway," adds Mr Everett, "it's worth considering parking it somewhere else."
One example of mobile home rage came to light recently in Grafham, a small Cambridgeshire town, when local residents alleged that a £20,000 caravan parked outside a house was forcing down neighbours' property prices.
However, Alan Gottschalk, regional director for Connell estate agents, believes a smart caravan won't put people off your home. What might well do, though, is an unkempt property next door. To this end, he suggests, try to get your neighbours to help you sell your house.
"If you know them well, it's easy enough to ask if, since the house is up for sale, they wouldn't mind getting their old car removed from the front or tidying the garden," says Mr Gottschalk.
It's important that you try to do this because there is a risk that the value of your home could be seriously affected if you live close to an eyesore. Simon Barker, sales manager at Bradford & Bingley estate agents in south-west London, says: "If you put a house on the market in a street where, for example, there is a burnt-out car on a drive, it could affect [the value] by 5, 15 or even 20 per cent."
To test the water before you take action, Mr Barker recommends that you put your house up for sale at a price similar to those of others in the area. This way, you can gauge the extent to which the value of your home has been affected by a messy neighbour. The easiest way to get a rough idea of the going rate where you live is to ask people living near you if they have had their house valued recently. Alternatively, estate agents acting for other homes or flats on your street should be able to offer a quick guide to an appropriate price.
There are, fortunately, steps you can take to sort out unwelcome influences. Abandoned cars can be towed away if you contact your local authority. And as for battered, unsightly vehicles kept on the road, it's worth checking that their tax discs are up to date; if they don't have a valid road permit, the council can force owners to move them.
However, the best policy is not to confront your neighbours but, if possible, to discuss problems without ruining your relationship. The people next door can exert a dramatic influence on your home life, and any disputes or simmering rows do count as part of the buying and selling process. This is because vendors are now legally obliged to disclose any history of nuisance neighbours during the sale transaction.
If you are buying a house, make sure you ask the sellers personally if they have had any difficulties with their neighbours. Your own solicitor will try to establish this in due course, but it might be worth finding out early on in case you are wasting your time.
Kane Kirkside, a partner at Bevan Ashford solicitors in Bristol, explains: "It's sensible to ask the sellers direct about the neighbours, what they are like and how they get along with them.
"But if you move in and your neighbours prove to be a nuisance, you can have recourse to some recompense for the price you paid for the property under terms of sales misrepresentation, and make a claim for damages."