I Bought a House with a “Neighbor Gate” — Here’s What That Means

published Sep 7, 2022
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neighbor gate
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When my husband and I bought our house several years ago, the tall backyard fence had a gate that opened to the property behind it. The sellers happened to be related to the folks on the other side of the fence — who had a pool — so the gate provided easy, shared access to the other yard during the summer.

“That makes sense,” I remember saying to the real estate agent. “But do you think they’d close it up for us?” I wanted to make it clear that though my husband and I are quite friendly, there would be no more going back and forth between yards once we moved in.

The sellers were eager to comply, likely because the property had lingered on the market for quite some time. In today’s seller’s market where people are buying houses as-is, I am sure we would have been on the hook for fixing it ourselves — even if it just meant buying a really strong padlock and throwing away the key.

What is a neighbor gate, anyway?

The poet Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It’s a philosophy that I subscribe to as someone who enjoys living in a safe community.

It’s not that this “neighbor gate,” as I’ve since learned it’s called, creeped me out. It’s actually heartwarming to think of those neighbor-relatives being so tight that they gave each other carte blanche to their respective backyards. In fact, when pool season came around again and we heard the splashes and shouts coming from their yard, my husband asked me, “Why did we close up that fence again?”

To be fair, closing up the neighbor gate wasn’t a lopsided deal. I never expected that my neighbors, nice as they are, would ever extend an open invitation to their pool parties. In fact, we’ve never gone beyond some yelled greetings and the occasional toss back of a beach ball that flew over the fence. There’s where a neighbor gate might come in handy, but I knew there had to be something more to it. So I asked a couple of real estate professionals about it.

“A neighbor gate can convey trust,” says Lauren Byington, a licensed real estate agent in Texas who co-owns an eco-focused home building firm with her husband, Warren, that is aptly named Warren + Lauren. “It’s literally a physical way to say, ‘Hey, I trust these neighbors so much that they have easy access to my property.’” Byington mentioned that for some buyers, they might see a neighbor gate as “a beacon of trust, which imparts a positive impression.”

Well, apparently my husband and I were hard to impress as house hunters. I chalked it up to us being cautious New Yorkers who valued both security and privacy. But were we too cautious? 

“Most homebuyers don’t like neighbor gates, or at least they see them as suspicious,” says Jordan Woolf, CEO of We Buy Houses in Bama, a real estate investment company in Huntsville, Alabama. “For us, there hasn’t been a gate of this kind that has stayed after the new owners moved to the house. They don’t trust having neighbors with access to their property.” 

It was nice to have Woolf confirm my own suspicions — though I am well aware that if someone really wanted to get into our yard, they might not need a neighbor gate to do so. 

I also asked some friends with knowledge of neighbor gates and was surprised at what I learned. One friend told me about growing up in Long Island with a yard that had an opening in the hedge fence they shared with a neighbor, allowing her and the neighbor kids unfettered access to their backyard fun. 

Another friend who grew up in Rhode Island had a neighbor gate and a pool, just like in my situation. When new neighbors moved in next door, they kept the gate and used it frequently to visit each other and enjoy the pool.

Still another friend mentioned that when Hurricane Sandy struck down part of his fence in his New Jersey backyard, he and his neighbor removed the damaged part and left it open for the past decade — a testament to their relationship.

I don’t regret closing up our neighbor gate. But I do love hearing these stories about homeowners whose relationships with their neighbors transcend their property lines. It reminds me that close neighbor relationships aren’t just the stuff of TV sitcoms. There are people who are lucky enough to move in next door to their BFFs — or at least people you won’t mind seeing in your backyard from time to time.