Ask Amy: I’m uneasy about what they’re building in the basement

Dear Amy: My good friends want to downsize for retirement, but unless they make major repairs to their house they won’t get enough from the sale to pay for their next place.

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They asked me to brainstorm options, and one idea I had was to convert the basement level into a rentable apartment and use the rental income to pay for the house repairs.

We did some quick math, and their next step was to talk to their financial planner.

Well, they decided to go for it, but in my opinion they are making all the wrong decisions! They are using a handyman and doing a lot of work themselves in order to avoid filing for permits and to keep the cost lower.

I’m deeply concerned that they will end up struggling to rent the unit if it appears unsafe and then will still lose money on the ultimate sale – and it will all be because of my suggestion.

They haven’t asked for my opinion again, and they are very excited about the whole thing.

I believe they’re cutting too many corners. I really want them to succeed with this, and I also don’t want them to resent taking my advice. Should I butt in?

– Worried for Friends

Dear Worried: You were brainstorming with your friends and offered your advice. I assume that other ideas were bandied about during this brainstorming session.

They made a choice to adopt your idea, and now they are enacting it in their own way. It is no longer “your” idea, but theirs.

If they don’t follow safety guidelines, they might have a bigger problem on their hands than creating an unappealing rental unit. The rental unit needs to be safe for occupancy. Doing things “right” now will also avoid repair problems later, and will increase the overall value of their property.

When I feel compelled to offer advice (an occupational hazard), I start by asking, “Are you willing to hear some unsolicited advice?”

(Then you wait for the answer – because some people say no.)

If they welcome your feedback, you should offer it – one time – and then, no matter what, leave it completely alone, unless they ask for your opinion.

Dear Amy: A year ago, we invited four neighbor families over for a cookout.

Two of them (“Family A” and “Family B”) were fairly new to the neighborhood. They live across the street from me, next door to each other, and Family A is in the house where my good friends used to live.

Everything went well. It was a fun evening.

What I don’t understand is why neither of these new neighbors has ever invited me/my husband over to their houses. Not even for a cup of coffee.

When Family B had a baby, I stopped by and dropped off a card and a gift. That was the only time I was ever invited into their house. (They did send me a thank you card.)

I saw Family A and Family B getting together throughout the summer.

I just don’t get it. They are “smile and wave” neighbors but don’t seem interested in becoming friends with me.

My husband thinks it’s because they have younger kids. Our youngest children are 13-year-old twins, one of whom is autistic/special needs.

It just makes me feel sad. Why is it so difficult to make new friends as adults?

– Missing My Friends

Dear Missing: Making new friends as adults is indeed extremely challenging. But I believe that making new friends is challenging at any age.

Falling into friendship is like falling in love – it has to do with chemistry. Children tend to be thrown together and they make do, but true friendship is rare!

You got so lucky with your previous neighbors, and you are proving that you are a kind and generous neighbor on the block, but these younger families are bonded together by their younger kids, and they obviously share a rapport.

Please don’t take this personally. You are not doing anything wrong. They are also not doing anything wrong.

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Dear Amy: “Snapped At” described how his girlfriend is not particularly nice to her mother and grandmother, and how she exhibits some of this behavior toward him.

You should have advised him to “run, not walk.”

– Concerned

Dear Concerned: Witnessing someone you care about being mean to anyone is a definite red flag. Before running, I think he should call her on it.

You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.

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