Renovation gifts for neighbors, above and beyond the warning letter

By Lucy Cohen Blatter  | February 8, 2012 - 10:26AM

Many if not most NYC co-op and condo buildings require residents to send a letter to the neighbors alerting them to the fact that they’re planning to renovate, along with contact information if any problems arise mid-construction.

But what about bestowing a material gift too, in order to soothe potentially savaged nerves?  This seems to us like a classy, smart thing to do, both in the interest of longterm neighbor relations and short-term greasing of potentially squeaky wheels.  Not everyone agrees though.

Here are a few approaches....

1. Send a gift if a problem arises.
One BrickUndergrounder complained to a new neighbor about the polyurethane odor engulfing her apartment during a neighbor's renovation when the contractor neglected to properly ventilate.

Steps to ventilate were promptly undertaken and she received a heartfelt apology and a beautiful flower arrangement from said neighbor.

“It totally worked,” she says.  "Whereas years later I still feel a lingering sense of resentment toward some other neighbors for the noise, dust and fumes from their projects, the personal apology and the flowers completely erased any of that and actually made a great impression on me. It made me feel like this newcomer to the building was going to be a great neighbor."

2. Forget the gifts... but be considerate.
Yoel Borgenicht, a contractor and contributor to BrickUnderground’s NYC Renovation Chronicles, advises against offering gifts to neighbors ahead of a project.

“It sets an assumption that that the renovation will be so disruptive that you are giving them a material item to compensate them for future inconvenience,” he says.

One Manhattan co-op owner reacts more bluntly: “I say ‘keep your lousy presents and get the job done cleanly, on time and with Chubb insurance!’” (To the uninitiated, the slightly pricier Chubb has a reputation for paying claims promptly and with a minimum of hassle.)

The co-op owner suggests the following “gifts” in lieu of any material present: “A promise of no work before 9 after 4, a promise of length of project, a promise of excellent insurance, a promise of a daytime phone number, and a promise of a daily cleaned common hallway.”

3. Offer a gift once the work is done.
Once a project has been completed, a bottle of wine or a batch of homemade cookies could be much appreciated.

But Borgenicht still advises against it:  “This may give the neighbors a sense that you are compensating them for a perceived ‘damage’.”

“If you want to maintain good relations with the neighbors after a renovation, I recommend inviting them over for drinks so they can see the finished product,” says Borgenicht. “Who doesn't like free drinks or food?”

4. Just do it, it could be a nice surprise.
If you do decide to offer a renovation gift to neighbors before or after starting construction, they may be pleasantly surprised with the gesture. Here are some ideas:

  • Flowers.  A one-time delivery or a monthly subscription from someplace like H. Bloom.
  • Wine. Who doesn’t appreciate a nice bottle of wine? If things are friendly between you and your neighbor, you can even drink it together.
  • Massage gift certificate.  Ditto, except the sharing part.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones. Ideal for someone who works from home.
  • Office space Flexible, temporary office space (if you live in Manhattan, there's a WeWork near you, and Loose Cubes lists tons more) is a nice idea for anyone who has a home office
  • White noise machine. If there's a baby who lives next door, this can do wonders for naptime.

Related posts:

Dear Neighbor: I'm renovating. Sorry.

Best of NYC Renovation Chronicles 2011: A cheat sheet

The Board Room:  6 reasons you need a lawyer to review that construction contract (Sponsored)

NYC Real(i)ty Speak: Renovation regrets

NYC Real(i)ty Speak: It's named a punch list for a reason

NYC Real(i)ty Speak: Renovation neighborspeak

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