'Pretty houses sell first'

Landscaping: Experts agree it's a sure way to improve a property's value and aesthetic appeal.

April 20, 2003|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The world of home improvement has moved beyond the bailiwick of building contractors and interior designers, right out the front door and all the way to the curb.

Landscaping always has been an important piece of curb appeal when selling a home. And more homeowners are spending time and money on the art of gardening, whether it be planting perennials or carefully grooming their lawns.

According to Lawn & Garden magazine, spending for outdoor home improvements is at an all-time high of $17.4 billion. It could be money well spent when it comes to real estate: Experts said landscaping can improve the value of a home if for no other reason than making a good first impression.

For example, a recent survey of 1,000 adults conducted for lawn mower engine-maker Briggs & Stratton Corp. found that 82 percent of Americans believe that the lawn's appearance plays an important role in a home purchase decision.

Don Gabriel, president of the Appraisal Institute of Maryland, says trees offer shade, absorb noise and provide safety near a busy road while beautifying a house. And the value of landscaping tends to grow as the plantings mature, says Jeff Reid, a Maryland appraiser.

Most appraisal experts said the best chance for home value increases comes with landscaping that can be seen from the front of the house - everything else should be done for the homeowner's enjoyment.

Homes with nice landscaping are likely to see sale prices that are 4 percent to 5 percent higher compared to similar properties in the neighborhood, according to a study in the ninth edition of Guide for Plant Appraisal, which was published by the International Society of Arboriculture in Champaign, Ill. And homes with landscapes that are not as nice as others in the neighborhood could see sales prices that are 8 percent to 10 percent lower.

Eighty-four percent of the real estate agents interviewed for the study said a house with trees would be as much as 20 percent more salable than a house without trees. Sixty percent thought healthy shade trees strongly influenced a potential buyer's first impression of a property, and more than half thought the same trees were a strong factor in a home's salability.

"Curb appeal has always been extremely important," says Barb Novak Klar, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Severna Park. Like any element in a home, if the property shows better, it's going to sell faster and, she adds, sometimes for a little bit more money.

"While some buyers are looking for five acres to tend," Klar says, "others don't want to have to do anything in the yard, and if it's already landscaped, they're likely to be more interested," especially if they prefer relaxation to yard work.

Gabriel recalls a property that sold a few years ago, apparently in no small part because it had two trees perfectly placed for hanging a hammock. The sales literature went so far as to feature the hammock trees, and one customer heard the message.

"Pretty houses sell first," says Jacquelyn Hawkins-McGrail, a University of Maryland master gardener, lecturer and landscape design consultant. "And part of that is the landscaping."

It's key to that all-important first impression, she says.

Lorraine Diggs started gardening in the front of her Baltimore rowhouse 12 years ago to give her block on East Monument Street a better look. The houses along this street do not have front yards - most of them are just a few steps from the busy street. But Diggs added a few potted evergreens to the space in front of her home, filling in the area between her stoop and her neighbor's. The homeowners on each side of her followed Diggs' lead and added similar gardens.

"We basically decided to do this for the older people in the neighborhood," Diggs says. "We just cleaned up our neighborhood a little bit with flowerpots and other things to make the community look good."

Barbara and Heiner Popp have lived in their Severna Park home for 27 years. Since moving in, they've added a deck, a greenhouse and a swimming pool, and they've landscaped the property with trees, flowerbeds and a hedge for privacy.

"If we were to put the house on the market," Barbara Popp confides, "we would plan to do it in May or June" when the yard is at its most beautiful. But, she adds, in the middle of a hot summer, the tall shade trees would be a strong selling point, too.

One way to achieve a wonderful yard is by being your own gardener. Considered by Hawkins-McGrail to be the No. 1 hobby for homeowners, gardening is a chance to be outdoors and still be at home. It's a form of exercise for the mind, body and spirit, she says. And, in the end, there's something to show for your efforts.

But what if you're not a plant-it-yourselfer?

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