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Dust will fly, fur needn't

The noise and activity of just one owner's remodeling project can tax an entire neighborhood. But a little courtesy goes a long way toward keeping the peace.

June 05, 2005|Jennifer Lisle | Special to The Times

Long before the demolition crew showed up to raze most of Tracy and Kevin King's house in preparation for an extensive renovation, the Long Beach couple made an effort to ward off potential friction with their neighbors.

"We had lived here for five years and didn't want any bad blood between us when we moved back into the house," Tracy King said. So she hand-delivered letters to each neighbor on the street, providing the contractor's phone number as well as the couple's own temporary contact information.

"I wanted people to feel they could call us if they had a problem with anything," King said.

One can barely throw a stone without hitting a contractor's truck, dumpster or Andy Gump toilet in most Southern California neighborhoods. The Los Angeles-Long Beach area ranked second in remodeling expenditures, at about $4.3 billion a year, in the 2003 U.S. Census Bureau's American Housing Survey, surpassed only by New York at $6.2 billion.

Low interest rates and rapidly rising home values have encouraged many homeowners to stay put and renovate with funds from home-equity loans and lines of credit, said Paul Winans, president of the National Assn. of the Remodeling Industry. U.S. remodeling grew roughly 37% in the last two years, according to the trade group, from $163 billion in 2002 to $224 billion in 2004.

But the renovation work that can help improve property values and desirability for a neighborhood or street can stir ire among neighbors, Winans said. The top complaints, according to contractors, include noise from jackhammering and persistent banging, truck traffic and dust.

Worried about the effect the project might have on their dense Belmont Shore neighborhood, where many houses sit virtually on the property line, the Kings completed their $400,000 overhaul in eight months.

"We were very conscientious about making things go as quickly as possible," King said. Others in the neighborhood, however, have since allowed projects to lag and become eyesores, she said. "There are small projects here that have lasted 12 to 18 months."

Although there are no formal guides to renovation manners, etiquette specialists and contractors point out that there are formalities homeowners can adopt to stay on good terms with those living nearby.

"Even if you're not close friends with your neighbor," said Diana Olson, an etiquette and image consultant in Pasadena, "you will need to use proper etiquette if you want to have a lasting rapport."

As in any matter that can lead to conflict, she recommended that remodelers use the tenets of good business and social etiquette, which dictate that people act with consideration and respect toward others.

Before beginning a project, Olson said, it's wise to give the neighbors as much information as possible by sending out notices, as King did, or telling them in person.

"You want to make it a team effort. You want everyone on your side from the beginning," Olson said. "Then if complications arise, people will be more willing to cooperate."

For her part, Karen Zieba, co-owner of Zieba Remodeling in Long Beach, said she likes to meet the people in the neighborhood to establish good rapport. "The noise and dust can travel up to several blocks away," she said. "So I go house to house in a dog-walking radius and tell people there will be construction."

Whether the information is delivered by a personal visit or the Postal Service, neighboring homeowners will want to know whom they can contact with questions or problems, the approximate start and finish dates of the project and the hours that work will take place.

A neighbor failed to tell Burbank resident Diane Pawlek about removing a mutually shared fence, and when she let her dogs outside, they temporarily ran away.

With the dog incident fresh in their minds, Pawlek and her husband, Kenny, made sure to inform everyone when they started their large-scale $250,000 remodel in January. "We didn't want anything like that to happen to anyone else," Pawlek said.

Zieba encourages neighbors to contact her if issues arise to assure them that the homeowner and contractor are establishing open communications. Toward this end, some contractors and homeowners will also send update letters mid-project to keep neighbors in the loop. But Zieba cautions that these letters should not be an invitation for people to complain about every little thing.

"It's best to recommend they call you if there is excessive disruption," she said, "and say you would like an opportunity to work something out together."

With work that generates a lot of dust, such as sandblasting, homeowners can also send out notices at least 24 hours ahead of time, advising neighbors to close their windows, said Bill Simone, who owns Custom Design & Construction in West L.A. "Our next-door neighbors sandblasted their house on a windy day. It took ... three days to get all the dust out of our house."

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