Wanted: Pride in Our Neighborhood

Spring is in the air. The birds are chirping, the flowers are springing to life, and the paint on my front porch is really starting to peel. As the cold recedes, my wife will spend countless hours spreading grass seed that the birds will eat, planting bulbs that the squirrels will dig up, and generally touching up the “curb appeal” of our old Victorian home.

But, there is a much bigger issue to confront than just the effect of weather, time, or the occasional rodent. No matter what my wife does to our property, the individual value of our house will never rise above that of the neighborhood.

I’m not bringing this up to be critical. The forced unity of any given housing market is neither good nor bad, it just “is.” Rather, my pet peeve is with the people that either fail to recognize the union or hold it up for unfair criticism.

I make no apologies for the state of the neighborhood. When my wife and I moved to Lakewood, it was because of the neighborhood, not despite it. Yet, I’ve always been amazed at how much our choice was, and still is, scrutinized. I often hear things such as: “I like Lakewood, but the property taxes are way too high.” My response to this is: “Find me a hundred-year-old Victorian house in Rocky River and we’ll compare costs.”

Yes, the tax rate in Lakewood (2.48% as a percentage of the market) is numerically greater than that of Rocky River (2.05%). But, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. If you’re looking for a big house, what might cost you $150,000 in Lakewood could easily cost you over $175,000 one more suburb west. The difference in price more than nullifies the difference in tax rate when you realize that the same monthly payment essentially buys you either a $150,000 house in Lakewood or a $157,000 house in Rocky River. For that price range, the difference in purchasing power is only $7,000. Think about what you get for that money and, to me, the difference in the house definitely trumps the difference in price.

Furthermore, when people evaluate property in Lakewood, they rarely talk about the property itself. They talk resale value, schools, and shopping - everything but the houses themselves and the neighborhoods in which they are located. In my mind, this is where Lakewood really excels.

I’ve often been asked, “You could afford a nice house in Westlake, why did you buy in Lakewood?” What they don’t understand is this: I don’t live in Lakewood because I “have to.” I live in Lakewood because I “want to.” I wanted that big old Victorian. I wanted a lawn that doesn’t take me all weekend to mow (okay, okay, I admit it, my wife does the lawn, too). I wanted to live in a house with a front porch AND a front door. And I wanted to use them both!

Lakewood, to me, is one of the last true “neighborhoods” of Cleveland.

I’m not suggesting that we’re perfect. Do I wish more people would take better care of their homes? Sure. But, to criticize anyone for not taking action would assume that we all have the same financial means and a similar list of priorities.

And, this brings me to the second part of my pet peeve. In opposition to the people who unfairly criticize Lakewood for what it isn’t, there are far too many people out there who don’t fully understand their own role in making Lakewood what it is.

Property values are tied together. It’s hard to have a million-dollar house without having a million-dollar neighborhood. The first thing any realtor will do to estimate the value of your home is compare it to other similar homes in your neighborhood. And, the only real information they have to use is the most recent sale price. Therefore, every time one of your neighbors sells their house, the value of your house is directly affected.

Home ownership is the biggest investment many of us will ever make, yet most of us do very little to help insure a good rate of return. Every time a house goes on sale in your neighborhood, you have the opportunity to make money or lose money in the long run.

Fixing up your own house is only the tip of the iceberg. If you want your property value to really go up, it’ll take a team effort. In this sense, being a good neighbor will pay off literally. If your block looks messy, clean it up. If you’ve got junk in the street, have it removed. If you know of a neighbor who needs help with the garden, or can’t prune their bushes, make an effort to lend a hand. Looks count. Appearance matters. And, finding ways to help is infinitely more rewarding than finding fault and doing nothing.

Likewise, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. There are far too many caring and generous people out there. Take advantage of the resources around you and trade skills if you can. I can’t grow flowers to save my life, but I can fix a broken railing. Building value is easier when it’s done as a team. And, it’s a game where just agreeing to play means that everybody wins.

When neighbors help neighbors, the value of all Lakewood homes goes up. But, even better, when neighbors help neighbors, the value of Lakewood as a community becomes truly priceless.
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Volume 3, Issue 7, Posted 3:33 PM, 03.22.2007