- - Thursday, March 22, 2012

“Spring hasn’t really arrived until you are awakened by the first lawn mower.”

This anonymous, but timely, quotation may spur area homeowners to think about their own lawns, particularly if they intend to put their house on the market. Resodding the entire front lawn is a standard final act of home improvement in numerous real estate “flipping” cable shows. But is this a smart investment - and if so, what is involved in terms of time, money and maintenance?

A resodding project typically is priced by the square foot, ranging anywhere from 65 cents to $2 per square foot, including prepping the lawn by grading it and loosening the top soil and then rolling the fresh sod.

Doug Del Gandio, president of Four Seasons Landscaping in Damascus, estimated that the average size of Washington suburban lawn is around 400 square feet, putting the cost of a resodding project somewhere between $260 and $800.

A Washington row-house lawn is typically only 100 to 200 square feet, so that would put the price range at $65 to $400. Further out from the city, residential lawns are commonly are up to 2,000 square feet, increasing the cost of the resodding project to up to $4,000.

“Sod can even run as little as 35 cents a square foot,” explained John Shorb, president of John Shorb Landscaping in Kensington, qualifying that that low cost is only for massive lawns. “The bigger the lawn, the lower the unit price because of efficiencies of scale.”

Both landscapers agreed that resodding is a sound investment when selling a house.

“Sod is an inexpensive way to dress up the front of the house,” Mr. Del Gandio said. “What’s $1,000 when you’re selling a half-million-dollar house? It’s a tiny percentage.”

Mr. Shorb agreed. “Instant green is always good,” he said.

His wife, Ellie Shorb, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chevy Chase, pointed out that fresh sod shows well in photos.

“Eighty to 90 percent of buyers are looking at houses online,” she said, citing a recent statistic put out by the National Association of Realtors, and adding that buyers will then drive by the houses they’ve seen on the Internet. “The lawn makes the first impression. If people don’t like what they see, they’ll drive by and won’t even come into the house.”

Mehmet Halici, an associate broker with Weichert, Realtors in Bethesda, agreed that the front lawn is important, especially at this time of year.

“Perception is reality - that’s why exterior landscaping is so crucial,” he said. “If the lawn is manicured and there’s mulch and flowers - all of this says that the current owners are taking care of their property. If the exterior is taken care of, the buyers will think the interior has also been taken care of.”

Lyric Turner, president of Red House Staging & Interiors in the District, said springtime is when buyers are most tuned in to landscaping.

“With the spring, everyone is looking for that fresh, green look; and it is appealing when a property has that aesthetically pleasing yard that demonstrates the best of spring,” she said. “Of course, the summertime is important as well since a brown lawn in the summer definitely stands out negatively amongst its peers versus in the winter where all lawns can get away with looking the same.”

Ms. Turner also noted that curb appeal is a key selling point.

“We work with a lot of developers, and the ones who focus on landscaping and the front of the house are the most successful in the business,” she said. “If your lawn is in really poor shape, it pays to resod, especially if it’s for a small lawn like one in front of a D.C. row house - that’s a definite return on investment.”

But resodding might not be worth the cost for a suburban house with a huge yard, Ms. Turner cautioned.

“If the lawn is OK, focus on fresh paint, new light fixtures, new mailbox, new house numbers - maybe a new door and some seasonal color in terms of flowers,” she said. “Power washing also does wonders.”

Patricia Kennedy, a Realtor with Evers & Co. Real Estate in the District, noted that the lawn should be mowed and look neat and tidy.

“The yard should not look trashy; it should not look like a dog patch,” she said. “Beyond that, it’s not really necessary to do too much to it. It probably doesn’t pay to go overboard with heavy-duty landscaping - that’s not going to pay back the investment.”

Ms. Kennedy recalled homeowners in her Crestwood neighborhood in Northwest who spent $15,000 on landscaping.

“They created a garden of paradise with plantings, fountains, arbors, fences,” she said. “It was very pretty, but it did not increase the value of their home or make it sell faster.”

Perhaps the worst return on investment is to resod and then not keep up with the necessary maintenance, Ms. Kennedy said.

“It won’t do any good to resod and then ignore it,” she said.

Mrs. Shorb agreed, pointing out that resodding may not be the best bet for absentee owners who are selling.

“If you do resod, you have to have a plan to water it - either an irrigation system or somebody is around to water it - otherwise it’ll soon just be little dead strips,” she said.

Both landscapers said early spring is an ideal time to resod and both suggested giving the sod a month to knit together before showing the house.

“You don’t want to see the seams - that looks tacky,” Mr. Del Gandio said.

But if a seller’s lawn is merely a little thin, a month is more than enough time to reseed and reap a thicker, lusher lawn, Mr. Shorb said, adding that it’s best to lay off the weed control in the spring.

“The same herbicide that kills crabgrass will kill the good grass seed,” he said.

Ms. Turner pointed out that Washington homeowners rarely have the luxury to plan a month in advance of putting a house on the market.

“It’s not a deal breaker if the buyers see the strips of sod,” she said, noting that landscapers usually lay the sod the same day that her firm is staging. “Sod looks best when it’s first laid down because it’s nice and green and hasn’t developed any brown spots.”

Mr. Del Gandio explained that brown spots indicate a lack of water.

“You’ll need to do heavy watering - ideally, in the early morning - for the first two weeks,” he said.

After that, fresh sod must be watered every other day for the next two weeks, Mr. Shorb said.

“From there, you can start weaning it back because by then the roots should’ve knitted into the soil,” he said.

Because watering is crucial to sod taking root, be cautious about resodding in the summer months because of water restrictions that can kick in during July and August, Mr. Del Gandio said.

“If there hasn’t been any rain in a month and the whole area is in a drought, there can be a city or county ordinance that restricts lawn watering,” he said.

Both landscapers also agreed that tall fescue grass is the best type of sod - and grass seed - for Washington-area homeowners to use, adding that this is what most of the local turf farms sell.

“It’s fine in the sun and it’s fine in the partial shade,” Mr. Shorb said, adding that nothing grows in full shade.

With no pun intended, Ms. Turner noted there are many shady landscapers in the area and suggested that homeowners find a reputable one through a referral service such as Urban Referrals or Angie’s List.

Mr. Del Gandio said landscapers should be licensed and carry liability insurance.

“By law, landscapers should take no more than a third of the cost of the job upfront,” he said. “If someone is asking for half or 75 percent or all of it before the job is done, be skeptical.”

Mr. Del Gandio said most landscapers will come out and give an estimate for the job. He said most resodding projects only take a day to complete.

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