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My neighbour wants me to split the cost of an outdoor repair between our homes. What do I do?

The question

My neighbours have a leaky basement and have spoken to a couple of contractors about repairing it by tearing up the walkway between our two houses and redoing the concrete. I have no problem with leaking in my basement, but my neighbour indicated that he thinks I am responsible for half of the job, which turns out to be $3,500. I wonder, why am I being asked to chip in when my basement wall doesn't need to be dug out and reparged. I like my neighbours and would like to continue to get along with them. I'm getting the benefit of a smoother paved walkway with no holes, I'd probably feel okay contributing something, maybe $1,500. I'm going to talk more to the contractor and see what I can work out, but I'm afraid I'll end up feeling compelled to keep the peace by paying $3,500-$4,000 this month for something I don't really need.

The answer

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Yeah, and you know if the quote is $3,500, it'll probably wind up being much more when you get dinged – ka-ching! – with the actual bill.

I had a similar issue with a former neighbour. It had to do with a tree that straddled both our backyards, bordering the alley. This was a majestic, almost symbolic tree, a tree I loved. We nicknamed it "The Tree of Whizz-dom," because no dog that passed it could resist lifting a leg in canine "salute." It had to be at least 100 feet tall and 100 years old.

But its roots had begun lifting up the corner of my neighbour's garage. And that was a problem. Also, it'd started dropping branches from a great height, narrowly missing some kids' noggins. My neighbour's guy, his "arborist" or whatever, said it should come down before someone got hurt.

And I liked my neighbour, too. So I agreed. But of course, my neighbour wanted to do it using the priciest means possible, hiring a boutique firm of tree surgeons to do a top-notch, top-dollar job, complete with a specialized, highly expensive, flown-from-Switzerland machinery to eradicate the roots (okay, I made that last part up).

My guy, more of a "handyman/gardener," said he would do it for a small fraction of my neighbour's quote, cut down the tree and cut a cross in the top of the stump and pour some form of poison into it and the roots would die on their own. Not pretty but effective – and cheap. Me likey!

But my neighbour's brow wrinkled at the mention of poison, when we sat down to negotiate – and, well, to make a long story short, I coughed up half. And I guess I'm glad I did. Peace and neighbourly equilibrium were maintained and, as you say, that's key.

But I'm thinking yours might be a case of "do as I say, not as I did." Sounds like your neighbour might be trying to shake you down for work you not only don't need but that may be unnecessary altogether. "Parging," for example. I confess I had to look that one up, and talk to my (main) handy guy about it. It's a layer of mortar applied around the bottom of a house, but in practice our Canadian winters tend to cause it to crack and fall off in chunks and my handy guy says you're often better off just painting.

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In any case, why should you pay for your neighbour's reparging? Basically (again, do as I say), since your neighbour is asking for you to push forward a fairly sizable stack of chips, you are well within your rights to become involved in the planning and execution of the project.

Get several quotes. Talk to the contractors. Try as best you can to understand what they're doing and why. Obviously many of them will want to sell you the premium, "Platinum Package," but if you're nice, and interested, often an honest contractor will spell out what he/she thinks really needs doing.

(If you already have someone you trust, all the better – and once you find someone like that, cling to them like a barnacle: They're rare.)

Then sit down with your neighbour over a friendly cup of coffee or, even better, a glass of wine and go over the details. Try to find common ground on a) what you think needs done, b) what is fair for you to pay. Negotiate. Haggle. Bargain. And it might sound like a joke, but the best way to know you've got a deal is when neither of you is 100 per cent happy. Announce this in advance. Your neighbour might even laugh.

But I'm serious. When you reach that point ("You happy?" "No. You?" "No"), shake on it and move on.

What am I supposed to do now?

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