DEAR ABBY: When our real estate agent was showing us our house three years ago, the woman who lives next door walked into the back yard where we were standing to introduce herself. After we moved in, she knocked on our door one night carrying dinner for the two of us. It seemed like a neighborly gesture. We responded with a thank-you note.
Over the next few days, food would be laid at our door, always with a Post-It note saying, "From Bea." Soon she asked us to take care of her cats and plants while she went out of town for a week. We asked if she would reciprocate when we were away -- she agreed.
After we returned from our trip, a woman I hardly knew came up to me at the market and said, "I LOVE your home! I can't believe you even have contrasting piping on the lining of your drawers!" Apparently, Bea had taken her on a tour of our house in our absence. When I told Bea I didn't appreciate it, she got angry with the woman for telling me!
Over the summer, I noticed Bea going quickly from place to place in the neighborhood with a smirk on her face. Without asking, she would take her lawn mower and mow people's yards when she felt the grass was too high. Once she tried to encourage me to help her cut back the branches of another neighbor's tree that she felt was overgrown. Her husband says she never feels guilty, only sad at getting caught.
Her most recent escapade involves a shrub in our yard. In winter it loses its leaves. I came home one day to find it "replaced." I have also discovered that she "befriends" elderly single ladies down the street, convinces them to sell at below-market prices, and turns their homes into rental properties.
What kind of person am I dealing with, and how can we handle this? Is she crazy? -- DAVID IN PHOENIX
DEAR DAVID: The person you have described is highly manipulative, does not respect boundaries and appears to have no conscience. She has no right to enter someone else's property without permission and cut their grass or trim their trees, and doing so could be considered trespassing. As for replacing your shrub, if you could prove she took it, you could take her to court and she would have to replace the one she took with one like it.
I hope you realize that by convincing the neighbors to sell their homes at below-market rates, she is adversely affecting the price of your property because a buyer would compare your asking price with that of other homes that have sold in your neighborhood.
This woman is crazy like a fox. If she's manipulating elderly people who don't know any better, then in my opinion, she's guilty of elder abuse -- and that's against the law.