The Value of Good Landscaping
From dollars to cents, good landscaping just makes sense
By George Weigel, Pennsylvania Certified Horticulturist (PCH)
Put yourself in the place of a house-hunter. Would you be more inclined to stop and look at a place that's lined with neatly trimmed flowering shrubs and patches of blooming flowers ... or the more typical home that's fronted by "green-meatball" yews and a shade tree in the middle of a half-dead lawn?
"First impressions are absolutely critical," says Cumberland County Realtor Dan Piscioneri. "We tell people not to judge a book by its cover, but a lot of people want to just drive by when they see a house with bad landscaping. They figure if it looks that way on the outside, it's going to look the same way on the inside."
Good landscaping matters. And it's not just a case of better curb appeal to help sell homes faster.
Good landscaping can increase a home's sale price by an average of 15 percent, according to one widely circulated study by the Weyerhauser Corp. A similar study by Clemson University and the University of Michigan found that consumers are willing to pay 11 percent more for a home with good landscaping.
Appraisers say it also works the other way. When buyers encounter a home they like that has lousy landscaping, they expect a discount off the home price to compensate for the cost and work involved in bringing the outside up to snuff.
Until recently, landscaping often has been the poor stepchild of the home-ownership budget. When the money ran out, it was frequently the planting projects that got pushed off onto the future to-do list.
There's evidence that's changing. One big reason is the new role of our landscapes.
Boring lawns become outdoor living spaces
"People are using the outside more,"says Wendy David, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Harrisburg. "They consider it 'outdoor living space' now. When I was growing up, it was the backyard. It's not just a backyard any more."
The changes are most obvious in mid- to high-end homes where basic wooden decks and gas grills are giving way to elaborate outside entertainment areas.
These areas often include stone-paver walkways and patios instead of concrete sidewalks and wooden decks; stone retaining walls; vine-covered arbors and pergolas; fountains; water gardens and waterfalls; landscaped gazebos; low-voltage landscape lighting, even full outdoor kitchens with outdoor speakers and plasma TVs. It's all enough to make the outside seem like a vacation resort or get-away without ever leaving home.
Those kinds of improvements aren't cheap, but at least some of it is now being funded by increased landscape allowances for new-home constructions.
"It used to be when you bought a new home, you'd get a lawn and three shrubs," says Piscioneri. "Builders have a bigger package and allowance now. They realize people are more interested in landscaping."
Something for everyone and every budget
Few allowances are big enough to cover entire entertaining areas, says York County landscaper Joseph Levendusky, but at least more landscaping dollars are being set aside than a few years ago. Levendusky says a typical $300,000 new home might have a lawn and landscape allowance of $10,000 these days, while a $200,000 home might have $4,000 set aside. "People tend to be much more willing to spend their money inside," says Levendusky. "But slowly, that's changing."
Not only do these kinds of improvements make a home more pleasant for the current owners, but a high percentage of the cost carries over into the home value — so long as you don't get too carried away.
Realtors say huge gardens, swimming pools and numerous water features may be a big selling point for some, but it may scare other less green-thumbed potential buyers away. That's especially true if the improvements haven't been well maintained.
Another factor in the trend toward better landscapes is Pennsylvania's aging and baby-boomer-heavy population. Once the nest is empty, homeowners find they finally have more time and money to sink into a landscape project.
Some are do-it-yourself projects, but the more elaborate improvements — especially the hardscaping jobs — are being turned over to pros. Together, the trend has added up to make the Pennsylvania green industry the fastest growing segment of the state's agriculture industry.
Not all landscape overhauls are being done for quick-sale or increased-value motives, though. Many are being done simply because the current homeowners enjoy the changes. In many cases, homeowners are tearing out overgrown, boring, 20- or 30-year-old landscapes and replacing them with new, more colorful plants, wider walks and no-maintenance stone patios.
In other cases, homeowners are catching up with that to-do list and finally planting their wide-open borders and bare foundations. Either way, it's adding up to a lot fewer green meatballs and half-dead lawns.
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This project by River Valley Landscapes brought impact to this home's view from the street and won a Bronze Award for Landscape Excellence in 2009.
Whether you're thinking about selling or just interested in sprucing up the your landscape for spring, here are 10 quick, high-impact and low-cost ways to make a big difference:
1. Pull, spray or cut down weeds.
2. Add a fresh coat of mulch to all planted areas.
3. Cut sharp new edges around all beds. If you don't have a power edger, a flat-edged shovel, half-moon edger or even an ice chopper will do the trick.
4. Trim grass away from sidewalks, driveways and fences.
5. Prune overgrown bushes and trees. For spring-blooming shrubs, wait until right after they bloom to prune.
6. Trim hedges.
7. Remove and replace any dead, diseased or bug-infested plants. Even bare spots are better than ugly or dead plants.
8. Scratch in grass seed on bare or thin spots in the yard. For immediate results, use sod to repair dead spots.
9.Plant annual flowers in mid-May for immediate color that will last non-stop until frost.
10. Fix drainage problems or soggy areas. You may need to reroute or extend drain pipes. Raised beds will get plant roots out of wet areas. For bigger jobs, hire a pro.