- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

The green green grass of home can make a significant difference in asking price when selling your house, so hiring a professional to do the mowing or seeding, weeding and feeding might be considered an investment.

The experts say, though, that if you opt to do the job yourself, make sure you are familiar with the lawn care basics so that you know how to create and maintain a lush, green lawn.

Area Realtors say a vigorous, healthy lawn can contribute to your listing price by as much as $5,000. "It can make a big difference," says Ken Montville, Realtor with RE/MAX in College Park. It depends on the property, he says. The more expensive the lot, the more the lawn can contribute to the price.

"But you can ask for more money and get it," if your lawn looks well cared for, says Mr. Montville. A house that "looks nice just seems like it should be more expensive," he says. Buying a home is an emotional process, and buyers want a house that looks well-cared-for on the outside as well as the inside.

Mr. Montville says some clients instruct him to "keep on driving" when pulling up to a house with a lawn that is overgrown and filled with weeds. Mr. Montville says he just showed a property with a lawn that was so "ugly and overgrown," that the buyers looked at it for five minutes and then wanted to leave.

"If the lawn looks crappy, it won't even get to the offer stage," he says.

Buyers also turn away from homes with dried up, sparse or neglected lawns because they don't want to have to do the work required to revive the lawn. Karen Morgan, a Realtor with Avery-Hess Realtors in Vienna, Va., says that her clients have "turned their noses up," at houses with unappealing lawns. "I have had clients say that the yard needs too much work to bring it back," she says.

Although the yard didn't used to be a major consideration when selling a house, she says, people today are juggling busy schedules and don't want a house requiring much time and attention up front.

Ms. Morgan believes that homeowners can take basic steps on their own to spruce up their lawn, but they must be willing to put the time and energy into it. She says that basic weeding, raking, mowing and trimming can bring the lawn back to life, and suggests looking for any problem areas and putting in perennials or a bird bath over these patches.

"You don't have to spend a lot of money, if you're willing to put in the sweat equity" required to maintain the lawn, Ms. Morgan says.

But what if you don't want to spend hours in the blazing sun pushing a mower, or you find weeds and bugs that frustrate your efforts? You can hire lawn specialists to mow your lawn, or to fertilize, maintain and treat your yard for any diseases, weeds or insects.

Lawn care professionals advise investing in their services because they have the expertise and materials required to create a healthy lawn.

Local lawn services will mow your lawn for $30-$45 a visit. Ashley Davis, project manager with Quality Lawn and Tree Inc. in Alexandria, says his company will mow your lawn for $35 a visit, and this service includes cutting, trimming, edging, weedeating, pruning, and shaping any shrubbery. Mr. Davis says he saves customers time and money because his crews can mow a lawn in an hour for a small fee.

The average homeowner who doesn't have any of the necessary equipment would have to spend close to $1,000 to purchase the mower, weedeater, edger, blower, and pruning shears needed, Mr. Davis says.

More importantly, Mr. Davis says he ensures that his customer's lawns are properly cared for.

"A lot of people start off not knowing the proper ways of cutting grass," he says. "You want to keep it a certain length, and you need to maintain it." He points out that the lawnmower should always be set to 2-3 inches, because tall grass encourages deep root growth and shades out weeds.

Handy Men Lawn Maintenance, based in Damascus, Md., will mow your lawn, bag the clippings as needed and edge your flower beds for $30-$45. Silas Loy, owner and manager, says he also deals with many homeowners who want their lawn cut very short, because they don't know it promotes weed growth. "We just can't do it, because it's not good for the grass," Mr. Loy says.

Other local lawn care professionals offer fertilization services and individualized programs to protect your lawn, treat diseases and control weeds and insects that can cause severe damage. Chris Forth, region technical manager with TruGreen ChemLawn, explains that TruGreen charges $54 a visit, and this includes standard fertilization, control for crab grass and broadleaf weed control. Customers who sign up for four or more visits get free service calls if any problems arise.

Tru Green will conduct a lawn analysis to incorporate any findings into each lawn care program. This analysis covers facts such as what types of grasses are prevalent in the lawn, the turf density and color, the soil type, any problem grasses, and the lawn's exposure to sunlight and shade.

Mr. Forth says homeowners should take advantage of TruGreens' expertise in the agronomic and horticultural fields. He points out that homeowners can cause more damage to their lawn if they try to treat problems on their own.

Mr. Forth says that, for example, he has seen his own neighbors use the product Roundup incorrectly because they didn't read the label and don't realize that the product also kills grass as well as weeds. "People are generally ill-informed because they get most of what they know from commercials," Mr. Forth says.

The Lawn Doctor offers custom care services that meet the unique needs of each lawn.

Mike Lancaster, manager and owner of Lawn Doctor in Fairfax, says the company's patented equipment allows lawn care specialists to calibrate and to analyze, for example, exactly how much fertilizer a specific lawn needs.

The Lawn Doctor offers a basic program of five visits for $280 a year for an average-sized lawn. This will cover all fertilizing, weed control, and insect control for surface feeding insects. If customers sign up for the five visits, Lawn Doctor will respond to any problems between appointments, free of charge. Mr. Lancaster says 75 percent of his clients request the basic program, along with grub preventative and lime.

"The key is treating each lawn individually, and being able to service as well as we can," Mr. Lancaster says. "We do the right thing at the right time of the year."

Mr. Lancaster says he tries to educate his customers by providing them with the facts they need to water and mow their lawns, and the maintenance plan that needs to be followed once their lawn is in shape.

If you enjoy working on your lawn and decide you want to be responsible for the appearance of it, lawn care professionals say the steps you take in the next few months are critical to ensuring a luscious lawn in the spring.

Fall is the time for aerating and seeding.

Matt Williams, manager of the Garden Care Division of Garden Gate Landscaping in Silver Spring, says September is the prime time for seeding, core aeration, and in late summer the focus should be weed control. "Give your lawn two applications of fertilizer one in September, and one in October," he advises.

Mr. Williams says you should also ensure that your lawn is limed every three years with dolomitic limestone, because most soils in this region are deficient in magnesium.

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