Landscaping is a large part of curb appeal. And sellers should keep in mind that curb appeal is important to most buyers, a 2013 National Association of Realtors survey found.
“That first impression is important,” says Frank J. Lucco, managing director of IRR-Residential Appraisers & Consultants in Houston. “If they (buyers) don’t like the looks of the front of the house, which is mostly landscaping,” often they won’t even go inside.
A landscaping investment could potentially pay a 215 percent return in home value, says Margaret Woda, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in Crofton, Md. But sellers still should be careful about their spending decisions.
With landscaping, consider:
• Maintenance: Start by cleaning up the yard, removing dead branches, dog droppings, weeds and anything broken. Planning ahead is important. “You can’t just decide to sell your house tomorrow and expect the landscaping to be ready,” says Woda. “If you’re thinking of moving next fall, (then) this spring, you should be working on your landscaping.”
Eric King, of King Landscaping in Atlanta, recommends ensuring that downspouts are clean and functional, and drain pipes are properly buried and operational, so water doesn’t pool. Make sure that patios, walkways and fences are level and that roots haven’t pushed up sidewalks or patio stones. If your deck has wobbly railings or loose steps, fix them, says King. “People don’t want a mystery.”
Remove overgrown shrubs encroaching on the sidewalk or any that are too big, don’t flower or are out of style. “They look terrible to anyone except the owner,” says Woda.
• Plants: In the front yard, the landscaping should pull your eyes to the front door. While the Realtor is opening the lockbox, buyers will be looking around at the landscaping, so have pots of blooming flowers nearby.
Trees, bamboo and other screening plants can be used to hide anything unsightly, such as your neighbor’s garage door or the trash cans, says King.
• Landscaping features: In the backyard, people like a comfortable spot to hang out, says King. Think decks or patios.
Other personalized options, such as fire pits, outdoor kitchens, fountains and lighting, make a backyard more of a paradise, says Lucco. “You don’t just walk out and look at a fence.”
Install a fire pit, outdoor kitchen or water feature -- really, anything costing over $5,000 -- only if you want it, because you likely won’t recoup your money, says King.
These features, however, can help an appraisal if well-made and maintained, says Woda. Some materials are better than others. A cobblestone patio is better than poured concrete. A stacked-stone retaining wall is more appealing than railroad ties.
It’s easy to get carried away fixing up a yard to look good for buyers. Woda discourages installing anything too personal that lacks universal appeal. For example, she doesn’t recommend keeping play equipment in the yard. “If you purchased a $5,000 play structure and now you’re moving, take it apart and take it with you,” she says. “What are the odds that the next buyer will have children your kids’ ages who like to do the same things?”
Don’t buy too many mature plants, either. “Spend money where you need it,” Woda says. “If you have a few spots ... where you want privacy, buy one or two big specimen trees. For the rest, put in a 3-gallon flowering shrub.”
Fencing is another asset to buyers, whether they have kids or just want privacy, says Woda. Pick the right fence, though. Alternate board fencing is popular, but you’ll waste money if you put in stockade and chain-link fences.