- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

While homeowners appreciate the shade and color splash of the flowers, trees and shrubs adorning their outdoor living space, they may overlook the fact that landscaping is a valuable asset to be maintained and marketed when selling their home.

Sprucing up the outside can help entice potential buyers with “wow” factor curb appeal and help them shine among the competition.

Area real estate agents point out that, in the current atmosphere, buyers can afford to be discriminating, and they are selectively searching for homes that are appealing from all angles, including the outside.

Jan Allen, a Realtor with Keller Williams in Vienna, says sellers need to realize the market has changed and that they are playing in a different league now. For many buyers, the grounds of the home will determine whether they consider the property or move on to the next.

“If you are buying a house now for $700,000, you want more bang for your buck,” Ms. Allen says. “Buyers don’t want to see weeds and broken fences. These are things that could easily be dressed up.”

Amy Sadacca, a Realtor with RE/MAX 100 in Columbia says that, while it always was an essential element, now landscaping is more important than ever.

“With housing demand down, it’s taking longer for homes to sell, so the first impression when the buyer drives up to the home is critical,” she says.

A well-manicured lawn can help sellers achieve their goal of selling their house quickly for top dollar.

While sellers can spend thousands of dollars upgrading their outside environment, Ms. Allen says their smartest move is to maximize their current landscaping without spending too much money.

“They don’t have a lot of time to play with, so this is not the time to, for example, install new brickwork. That doesn’t make sense,” she says.

She says her experience confirms statistics she found in 2003 in Money magazine (www.smartmoney.com/mag/index.cfm? story=march03-cover), which reports that sellers can boost the resale value of the home up to 15 percent by spending 5 percent of the value of their home to make reasonable landscaping upgrades.

With some basic planning, a little mulch, a few flowers, and a shrub or two, sellers can have a dramatic impact on the way potential buyers first view their home.

“Sometimes, I feel even the bare minimum is OK,” Ms. Sadacca says.

She says her sellers have been eager to take action to improve their homes’ surroundings. “Most of my sellers are doing simple upgrades themselves, although some in the high-end neighborhoods are hiring professionals,” she says.

At the least, Ms. Sadacca says she advises her sellers to spread new mulch, rake and weed the flower beds, replace any dead plants, cut back all shrubs, and trim trees that are hiding the home or the front door.

“It’s that overall presentation that is so important,” she says.

She also recommends placing a large flowerpot or two by the front door and keeping the lawn mowed on a weekly basis during growing season. Utilizing bright colors can also enhance a dark, shady yard and make it look brighter.

While general cleanup and gardening is recommended, some warn sellers not to get excessive with new landscaping projects.

Tom Spier, a Realtor with Long & Foster in the District, says many potential buyers don’t want to deal with the headache of maintaining a spacious yard and garden.

Buyers may be turned off by extravagant landscaping that stands out in the neighborhood.

“It could get out of hand,” Mr. Spier says. “It’s one thing to mow your grass, but it’s another thing to have curving arches and acres of land.”

Many buyers might be scared off at the prospect of tending to major yardwork. He believes sellers will get a better return on keeping the landscaping neutral and tidying up what’s there than on paying for spectacular landscaping.

“You can hire a yard service, and $500 will get you a lot of cleanup,” Mr. Spier says.

Although many sellers are choosing to do some basic yardwork themselves, area professionals say their business is still thriving as homeowners realize that landscaping is an investment that grows, as the trees and shrubs do, over time.

Peter Murray, owner of Hidden Landscaping in Herndon, says many of his best clients now are Realtors who want to enjoy the outside setting of their home now and realize that, when it comes time to sell, their property will stand out among all of the available inventory.

Mr. Murray suggests homeowners consider planning their outdoor space when they first move in, not at the last minute when they are rushing to sell it. He says sellers often mistakenly wait until it is too late to address issues, such as wanting to screen out a neighbor’s unsightly yard.

“When you invest in it up front, you will enjoy it, and it won’t be painful when you are trying to do a major fix-up,” he says.

Ed Delaha, senior sales associate and certified professional horticulturist with R.A.R. Outdoor Services in Baltimore, says business in his area is prospering, especially with high-end condominiums.

He says properly designed and installed projects can return at least two times the cost of the initial investment.

“If you put in $4,000-$5,000, you can get an $8,000-$10,000 return,” he says. He says rejuvenatory pruning and cutting back on overgrown greenery can make a significant difference, especially for older homes that need a face lift.

Security concerns should also be considered when planning your home’s surroundings, Mr. Delaha says. For example, homeowners should ensure that foliage doesn’t offer a hiding place for possible intruders.

“You don’t want a dark corner,” with tall bushes growing up around the windows that offers a haven for trespassers, Mr. Delaha says.

Sellers who have already created an attractive outdoor setting for their home will soon be able to provide their prospective buyers with a detailed inventory of the trees and shrubs that create the lush environment.

Several area real estate firms are partnering with Horticultural Asset Management Inc., based in Cary, N.C., to offer sellers a professional report that includes detailed descriptions and locations, care information, a health rating, and the replacement cost value for each unique plant and shrub on the property. The survey also will assess growth algorithms for the landscaping.

Douglas Cowles, CEO of Horticultural Asset Management Inc., says the company works with local arborists to assess a property’s plants and trees and provide consumers with an inventory of these horticultural assets for about $500. He says that most homeowners are shocked when they read the results of the report and see how much the plants are worth.

“When they see that the average replacement cost for a tree is $15,000 to $20,000, we see a change in their attitude,” he says.

The report is like an owner’s manual for the landscaping, he says.

“It’s not dissimilar from inspections or a home warranty,” Mr. Cowles says. He believes it’s important information for buyers to review so that they are aware of what they have and how to properly take care of it.

The reports also can provide critical insurance details if plants or trees are damaged or destroyed.

Landscapers and real estate agents are beginning to combine their areas of expertise to help homeowners maximize their outdoor space.

“This is a topic that is coming up more and more,” Ms. Allen says. “It’s a natural partnership.”

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