The fence’s higher left side is along the alley; the lower right side faces the neighbor’s backyard.

Step #1: What Are the Local Setback Requirements?

Robert Frost’s line is often quoted, but seldom defined: what is it exactly that makes a “good” fence good?

Here are my four criteria:

One. Aesthetic. Acceptable fence materials include wood, vinyl, aluminum, chain link, wrought iron, and wire.

Any of the above can be attractive — or ugly!

In general, the quality of the fence should be consistent with the fair market value of the home.

Warning to would-be corner cutters: just like cheap replacement windows will devalue a classic, century-old home filled with character and fine details, so, too, will an off-putting fence.

Two. Condition. No, fences generally don’t require lots of maintenance. But, a good fence can’t be listing, rusting, or obviously deteriorating, either.

Boilers, roofs, and water heaters all have expected life spans — so do fences.

Three. Height. A good fence is private¬†— just not too private.

The optimal height seems to be about 6′.

That’s high enough to create the desired privacy, while simultaneously keeping in pets, kids, etc.

Meanwhile, 6′ is not so high that it looks like the fence is surrounding a high security prison (minus the barbed wire).**

Interestingly, there’s no rule against variable heights — for example, making the side along the alley higher (and more private), and lower on the side(s) facing the (hopefully) friendly neighbors’ backyards. See, photo above.

Four. Location.

There’s no such thing as a good fence that encroaches on a neighbor’s yard.

It’s not enough that a fence be located wholly on the owner’s land; it must also conform to local setback requirements.

That’s why it’s smart to have a surveyor identify the boundary line(s) beforehand (Note: the owner should also have the utilities marked before any fence posts are set).

**As suburban gardeners know, to a deer, hurdling a 6′ fence is like a person stepping over a small puddle.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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