Here are some solutions to neighborhood and municipal problems that could lower home values. Take control of your curb appeal!
1. Sidewalk Cracks
City codes vary. Sidewalks may be part of your property and your responsibility, or they may be under the city's purview. Contact your public works department for local rules. The city probably has a limited budget to perform a certain number of major sidewalk repairs, usually for widely cracked, unsafe or unstable sidewalks.
Smaller cracks are easier to fix, and worth the effort to boost curb appeal. Hose out the crack and sweep away any debris. Then fill the crack with premixed crack filler, which comes in tubes that are inserted into a caulking gun. Particularly in dry climates, the filler may shrink or settle and require one or two more rounds with the caulking gun.
2. Smelly Sewers
Sewer smells are usually solved inside your house. Check for dry traps, particularly in rarely used fixtures. Water in unused traps eventually evaporates and causes foul odors. If you can't find any problems in the house, call the city sanitation department immediately. Sewer gas can be noxious and may even cause explosions. Not to mention, it will probably turn off potential buyers.
3. Poor Water Quality
A similar problem is foul-smelling or foul-tasting water. Potential buyers may wash their hands or fill a cup of water. Don't drown the sale with bad water. Again, call city hall to help remediate the problem. Also consider installing under-sink water filters and leaving them in place when you sell the house.
4. Broken Streetlights
Call the utility company if a light is out on the street. If nothing happens, think about installing some yard lights. There are attractive solar lights that won't increase electric bills and don't require any new wiring. You can also take them with you. The lights will make the property look brighter and make the broken street light less obvious.
5. Speeders in the Neighborhood
Some streets attract thrill-seeking teens or rushing commuters looking for a shortcut. They can cause a safety hazard and could turn away buyers. Call the city police department. They probably won't camp out in your street to catch the wayward drivers, but they can set up a radar-controlled speed trailer. It will show drivers their speed and hopefully shame them into driving the speed limit.
6. Trashy Yards or Abandoned Vehicles
You can't control your neighbors, but they can control your curb appeal. Most cities have strict codes barring unregistered and unused cars on the property, or a lawn full of trash. If a polite request doesn't work, call city officials. You may need to call months before you expect to show the house. Cities have a detailed and sometimes long process of dealing with problem properties before issuing citations, imposing fines, or threatening a lien against the house.
7. Foreclosed House Next Door
An empty neighboring house may be even more of a problem. Foreclosed homes have been shown to lower property values around the block. Ask a local real estate agent to find the bank that owns the house. Start calling the bank, find a contact in the foreclosure department, and start having neighbors regularly call the bank employee. The next step may be calling the code enforcement folks at city hall. They also want to maintain property values and reduce blight.
Another option for simple issues is to quietly visit the property with your lawn mower or a trash bag. You don't want to paint or make any repairs. You could be liable for any problems, and you may be trespassing. However, the bank probably won't complain if you trim the lawn.
These ideas won't cost you much, but will definitely improve your curb appeal. Remember that patience and persistence are the keys to successfully negotiating with your municipality.