Graswich Unleashed: Love Thy Neighbor

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Real estate markets rise and fall, but some things stay the same. Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes. Pools typically don’t. I enjoy updated kitchens and bathrooms as much as the next person. As for pools, I think they are nice when owned by a neighbor.

When it comes to real estate, I’m a neighbor guy. I wouldn’t buy a house based on location, curb appeal, new kitchen and bathrooms. Those factors are important, but only so much, because I can maneuver around those things. I want to check out the neighbors, whom I can’t fix. For me, bad neighbors equal a bad life.

There was a time when neighbors were judged by their reliability for stocking kitchen essentials such as sugar, milk and eggs. As a kid, I was sent next door to borrow ingredients important for our family’s dinner. The neighbor lady always had what we needed. She happily provided. We used the word borrowed loosely in our house, since we never gave the stuff back. People in our neighborhood had an understanding about what borrowing meant.

Maybe people still borrow sugar, milk and eggs from neighbors, but I doubt it. People I know hardly know their neighbors. Even people in gated communities&emdash;people presumably drawn together by common goals of safety and prestige&emdash;don’t seem to enjoy the freedom to raid a neighbor’s refrigerator.

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky when it comes to neighbors. When I moved into my present home, a guy down the street was expert in painting, carpentry, concrete and roofing. He liked people and enjoyed helping his neighbors. Some took advantage of him, borrowing tools and never returning them, or dropping by only when they needed something. But he was the most popular guy on the street, and made the neighborhood fun and communal. Over the years, he applied each of his skill sets to my house, with excellent results. He asked nothing in return.

My good neighbor moved to the hills. But I got lucky again. A guy I’ll call Gary Brown moved into the neighborhood. He was starting fresh after his marriage broke down. Right away, I noticed he liked to hang around in front of his house and keep his garage door open for long periods. This is a good thing, a true harbinger of warmth and brotherhood. I wouldn’t move into a house on a street where everyone kept their garage doors down all the time, no matter how nice the kitchen and bathrooms and pool.

I’ve lost count of all the things Gary has let me borrow. But there’s been plenty of assistance, across a wide spectrum. Some years ago, he even let me borrow his living room and couch for a couple of nights.

Most of Gary’s neighborliness has been undramatic. The other weekend, my garden sprinkler valve broke. Gary showed me how to change the solenoid. Then I realized my car’s taillight was out. Gary unscrewed the light, discovered a broken connection and welded it back with some sort of magic glue. It worked.

Real estate agents are struggling to match buyers with sellers around Sacramento these days, thanks to an inventory that overwhelmed the market. I suggest agents start focusing on those open garage doors and sell the quality of the neighbors, if not the neighborhood. A good neighbor is priceless and can’t be bought. It’s a grand feeling to know you can go next door and borrow something.

R.E. Graswich co-hosts the afternoon news with Kitty O’Neal weekdays on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK AM radio and reports nightly for CBS 13.