Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Considering Curb Appeal Factors Improved by Landscaping

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Selling a house for the desired price, quickly is hard. How the home is presented can be a factor in helping your achieve your goal, so consider your curb appeal.

I am standing in front of a home that is a mess. This home has been on the market, and you are left wondering about the owner’s concern to sell. Weeds are growing to three feet high. The grass is not edged or cut. Bushes look overgrown. There are various stickers on the door, and fliers laying at the entrance. There are signs that there may be other problems with the house. How can anyone imagine this to be their dream home? Obviously, this house may be a bad example. It is not a foreclosure, but it does look like one. Did the owner give up on maintenance, since foreclosures have lowered market value?  I drive onto the next neighborhood, where I see a few houses with elaborate landscapes. The next house in the line is for sale, but here the owner pales in comparison to his neighbors, even though he has maintained his yard well. I am left to ponder the idea of curb appeal.
Recently when I was asked to speak at a community event, I stayed to listen to the other speakers. I enjoyed them all, but a landscape architect caught my attention when discussing planting strategies around our homes. What he said could be applied to the concept of curb appeal. He pointed out three spots in our landscape that should be handled in a certain way to increase property value.
First, large trees should be placed along the furthest property edge away from the home. This makes sense to me for other reasons, but his argument had to do with scale and effect. Large trees overwhelm the house, so keeping them further away sets the house in proper perspective. He also pointed out that tree lined streets in established neighborhoods are desired as a way to create a perceived value in the neighborhood. This was a factor for my wife and me when choosing our own home. After the hurricane, we began loosing trees along the street. He mentioned that we should plant a new tree, then let it grown for a few years, before removing the dying tree.
Second, everything in the mid-yard should be of a smaller scale. He suggested fruit trees in this area if you do want a tree. With a fruit tree, you can have beautiful flowers, but you also obtain a tree that is on a smaller scale as we approach the home. A good idea for this location may be a shrub that grows to six feet. Fruit trees typically grow to twenty feet. Personally, my preference is toward flower beds with annuals providing a great show, but I have been focusing more on perennials. I remember one homeowner who had a gorgeous rose bed in this area. I think that there are other choices like azealas that could work well.
Third, he argued that the majority of people use plantings that are too large near the homes. To create the perception that our homes are larger, we want smaller plantings near the house. He commented that three feet high is a good height. My azealas are currently five feet high. I looked at them, and I can see that they are overpowering the house. Looking down the street, I am not as bad as other neighbors with bushes coming up to their roofs. I was already planning to prune my bushes down to four feet after they bloom. My other concern is the crepe myrtles near the house. I have been letting them grow to shade the roof, but they do dwarf the home. I may be better having these by my sidewalk. I also have two Italian cypress by the corners of the home. Another landscape architect stated having larger plants by the corners was a great accent, but I have to think about them. Moving these large specimens would surely be an issue. In any case, I think four feet may work for most homeowners. This height is at the window base on may homes, so you have a nice bush covering the wall, yet people can still have a good view out of the window.
There is a concern that I refer to as the pebble effect. I drive through quite a few neighborhoods, and I have noticed that one home can set the tone. If you have one guy who is really involved with gardening, you will see others imitating his garden to various degrees. The homes closest to his will be the ones to respond first, but you can see a wave going through the area. This will also happen with a home that is incorporating green features, but it can also happen with a home that we might perceive in a negative light. Have you seen that house where the owner seems to be perpetually working on it. You see supplies leaning against the exterior walls. The garage is left open to showcase a jumbled mess. And why are there so many cars parked in the driveway? Getting back to the pebble effect, we may have to respond to the other homes. For a house that is not greatly landscaped near highly landscaped homes, we should consider adding landscape to fit into the neighborhood, so our home does not look to shabby. When we live in the neighborhood where no body is cutting the grass or maintaining the yard, we may wish to do the minimal in yard care to make out home stand out , but you do not want to make the home appear as if it does not fit into its environment.
I guess an important lesson is know your market. If I am going to buy a car, even a used car, I am not going to buy something that looks like a piece of junk. However, if I want a car that I can convert into my dream, then I might not mind the piece of junk. If your neighborhood has a lot of foreclosures, then investing in landscaping is not going to be for you. My reasoning is that most buyers are coming to see the area, because they are hoping to get a great deal. I would have basic yard care, then I would spend my money on a kitchen or bath renovation. Maybe pick one, the kitchen or the Master bath. Again, if people are looking for a steal, do not go overboard, but make the remodel look good. You do not need Viking kitchen appliances in a home that would be catering to this value seeking audience.
Perception is more important than reality. Home buyers have blinders on. They do not need to see a bed of annuals. In fact, they do not look at the details or think of the consequences (that is what a home inspector is going to do for them). Most items that I brought up from the landscape architect may be long haul projects if you are going to be selling next year. However, they can be applied to current concerns. The pebble effect can change the buyer’s perception of your home, so think about how your home can fit into the neighborhood. Have the plants (trees and bushes) pruned in a professional manner, then maintain them. Keep the grass cut and edged. Oh, allow for views from your windows. Too often homeowners have large shrubs directly in front of a window. This is not a great view. I think that curb appeal still matters, but I also feel that money spent on landscaping is not going to be fully recouped. Do not embark on a huge landscaping project to create curb appeal. What you may want to do is move plantings around. You will have a mature plant that you do not have to pay for. We have a tendency to crowd our garden beds anyway, so having openings or space creates the impression of a larger area.

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© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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