1) Never Assume Anything
Your best bet is to go into the whole fence building operation understanding you'll end up paying the entire bill. Don't assume your neighbor will pay for anything or even allow you to build a fence. Don't assume that you're even allowed to build a fence.
2) Do Your Homework First
Check with your city building, planning or zoning commission before you think about building a fence. They may have city guidelines that you need to follow in order to stay within the law. On top of that your HOA may have restrictions and covenants regarding fences. They'll probably spell out what type of fence, materials and heights are required in your particular neighborhood. Doing your homework will show your neighbor that you're concerned with doing things correctly, and that'll go a long way.
3) Open the Lines of Communication
Don't just walk over your neighbor and ask them to pay for half the fence. Be friendly and understanding of their needs. Hopefully your neighbor is like minded and understands that the current fence needs replacing, or at least that it would be beneficial to have a more sturdy fence with better privacy. Go into the whole situation with a goal of collaboration - collaboration in design, effort and hopefully payment. By involving the other party in the whole process, you make them feel respected and appreciated.
4) Use a Professional
Building a fence might seem like a piece of cake, but if you've never done it before, chances are you shouldn't experiment while your neighbor's money is on the line. Use a professional and you'll get a professional fence. This is really where you'll get what you pay for. Check the better business bureau and ask for references.
5) Design to Accommodate All Parties
There will be several disagreements on design of the fence. There are two sides to every argument which parallels nicely with there being two sides to the fence: an attractive side and an ugly side. You'll need to gently approach the subject with your neighbor. Maybe you pay a little more for the attractive side, or maybe it doesn't matter to the other party. If you're splitting the cost, make sure both sides are happy with the design and materials before you begin. Maybe your neighbors are assuming you're using wood, where you'd like to use vinyl or steel. Make sure it's been agreed upon before you get building. There's even a design called the "Good Neighbor Fence" which makes each side the attractive side, a wonderful compromise.
6) Maintain Your Side
After the construction, keep up your end of the bargain by maintaining your fence. Stain, protect or refinish your side when necessary to safeguard its looks as well as extend its life. The worst possible thing that could happen is not maintaining a fence that took you so much effort to build and pay for. Worse yet, you'll need to approach your neighbor in a few years to build a new one if you don't maintain it!
Jared Reimer is a real estate broker with Prudential Rocky Mountain Realtors in Northern Colorado. Real estate is his passion and he always wants to connect with like-minded and savvy real estate fans. For more information or to get in touch with Jared, please visit his website at www.ReimerRE.com or email him at JaredReimer@ReimerRE.com