Make formal introductions
Getting to know your neighbors is the first step in making any home safer. "Neighbors are an invaluable resource that can be used in times of trouble," says Sarah Brown, a community safety expert in Utah for SafeWise.com, an online safety resource. "From keeping a spare key at a neighbor's to finding refuge in the event of a burglary or home fire, befriending the people around you could end up saving your life." The stereotypical movie scene of neighbors bringing cookies over to the new family in the area isn't necessarily the norm, says Brown. "When you first move into a new neighborhood, take the initiative to meet your new neighbors. You don't need to take a plate of cookies with you, but bringing a nice treat goes a long way toward showing that you're invested in creating a new friendship." You can also ask your real estate agent to send a postcard to the neighbors telling them a bit about you as incoming residents and welcoming them to make connections with you. (Here's what one family learned about their neighbors when they left their keys in the ignition of their truck.) It's also important that you trust the brands you use. These are the most trusted brands in America.
Get out there
Take part in activities in your neighborhood so you can meet the people who live there. "Participate in neighborhood block parties, yard sales, trick or treating, holiday cookie exchanges, or other community events and activities," suggests Charilyn Cowan, associated broker with McEnearney Associates in McLean, Virginia. "If they don't exist, canvass neighbors to gauge interest in starting new traditions or reviving old ones." Here are signs you're a good neighbor to others.
Build a community network
Consider creating a community within your community. Cowan suggests sending notes to neighbors with your contact information (email addresses and home, work, and cell phone numbers) and inviting them to pass along theirs for a directory to use in emergencies or to share news that affects the block. "Consider forming an online private group to inform neighbors or ask for recommendations for a babysitter, a service, a trade, or a professional," Cowan says. According to State Farm Good Neighbor Research, people tend to feel close to their neighbors, with 63 percent saying they have at least one neighbor whom they would trust to watch their kids; 56 percent saying would leave a key with a neighbor in case of emergencies; and 67 percent saying they would ask a neighbor to house-sit. (Read the story of a six-year-old who inspired her parents to be better neighbors.)
Assist those who need extra care
If there are elderly or disabled people on the street, Cowan recommends giving them a hand to clear ice and snow from their driveway and walkways or offer to rake leaves and bag them for compost or yard waste pickup. "Likewise, on a daily basis, get your kids to pick up a newspaper they see left in a driveway and take it to the neighbors' door or retain it for their return if they are out of town."
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Try your best to keep your word with your neighbors. "If you borrowed the leaf blower make sure to return it," says Julienne B. Derichs LCPC, a professional counselor in the Chicago area. "If you said you would take in the mail, make sure you get there every day to take in the mail. Broken promises, however small, will break down trust." (This true story about a broken fence will change how you see your neighbors.)
If a problem should arise—your neighbor chops down a tree that was half in your yard without discussing it with you first, for example, or sprays pesticides on the grass abutting your lawn and you prefer to avoid pesticides—try your best to handle it tactfully. "When you have a problem with a neighbor, be gentle, be polite, don't throw around blame," says Derichs. "Blame tends to get people on the defensive and can quickly escalate into an argument you cannot win or get out of gracefully. Let little irritations or grievances go when you can." Here's what to do if situations turn prickly with neighbors. When trust has been broken and there has been a complete communication breakdown, it can be helpful to bring in someone else (a neutral third party) to intervene. "Some communities have mediators that will facilitate a conversation between neighbors who are feuding," Derichs says. "Communication, which can build empathy, is one of the most important factors when rebuilding trust among neighbors who have lost trust in one another."
Sharing resources can save money and build a sense of community. "Instead of each homeowner investing in his own circular saw, extension ladder, or fertilizer spreader, chat with neighbors about creating a co-op," according to advice in Family Circle. "Everyone contributes the equipment they have and can borrow whatever they need."
Be a neighbors' eyes and ears
Even if there's a neighborhood watch, just keeping an eye out for your neighbors can be a help. "When neighbors are away, do you notice a repair vehicle in their driveway? Email or call your neighbor if you sense something suspicious," says Rachel C. Kincaid, who serves as president of her historic neighborhood association in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Even if it's a legitimate visit, they will understand that you're looking out for their best interest." Prevent break-ins by learning these burglars' secrets.
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Organize a community project
A recent Washington Post article cites how neighbors worked together for the community's greater good by cleaning up a local park and weeding open spaces. This collaborative effort creates neighborhood bonds that go beyond property lines.
When neighbors have good boundaries, are respectful and considerate, and offer assistance to one another, it creates a lot of good will and trust and long-term, close relationships can grow, says Toni Coleman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in Mclean, Virginia. Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. "Don't leave your trash cans, recycling containers, and other things in their space or in their way. Always bring them in when empty," Coleman says. Other courtesies include making sure your dog doesn't go on their lawn, especially for bathroom time, and keeping your yard cleaned up, lawn cut, and weeds to a minimum. "Don't park your car in a space they use or block their access when parking," Coleman adds.