I have several friends who are trying to sell their homes right now – and they are finding that it’s not as easy as they were hoping it might be – it’s a buyers market after all. Making a house appealing to a buyer is as much about psychology as it is about the price tag, and whole books have been written about how to stage a house to sell. Yet, the first thing that a potential buyer sees is the outside of a house – not just the siding or the color of the door, but the landscape. So, how do you stage the landscape to sell a house?
Spring is traditionally the start of the real estate season. March 20th is technically the first day of spring, but here in Vermont you’re more likely to see brown mud than blooming flowers. The snow is melting, leaving brown piles along the driveway, there’s gravel spray from the plow everywhere, the lawn has tunnels from the winter escapades of voles, and the bulbs and early perennials are still sleeping. Hmm, not exactly picture perfect. Take heart, there is an upside to mud season – when everybody’s yard is suffering a similar fate, your clean-up efforts will be especially noticeable, and once spring gets underway the plan you put into action now for your landscape will pay off in spades. Speaking of payoff, consider that the effort and investment you put into the landscape can increase a sale by as much as ten percent. That being said, don’t go overboard – people buying a house want a landscape with “good bones”, that seems easy to care for, and can be tailored to suit their particular style – so you are aiming for the vanilla ice cream of landscapes (just make it Ben & Jerry’s vanilla).
Start by approaching your property as a prospective buyer would, with a drive-by, and ask yourself (or an honest friend) what jumps out at you. People scanning a space see edges and shapes first – so if the edges of the lawns and planting beds are crisp and well defined, and spaces (gardens, porches) are not cluttered with too many objects, it puts people at ease. Then you can worry about adding a simple color scheme to tie it all together. First, concentrate on what breaks a sense of order – Is the mailbox or fence askew, are the trash cans visible, is there an old hedge that’s hiding the front door? Then park as a guest would and walk to the front door – what do you see (or not see)? Is the walkway broken, flooded, mossy or weedy? Is the porch or entryway welcoming? Are the planting beds too sparse or overgrown? The backyard is also important, but not nearly as important as the front approach, so let’s start there.
Here are our tips for increasing your curb appeal:
1) Clean up the Driveway – many driveways in Vermont are crushed stone, and usually look pretty worn by spring. Give it an almost instant makeover by having it power-raked and topdressed. The end of the driveway closest to the garage and guest parking areas can be defined with cobblestone edging, or a paver parking pad can be installed – a quick installation that makes a big impact as people get out of the car. If there’s a narrow area that can be planted to soften the hardscape – go for it.
2) Get a Professional Spring Garden Clean-up – you can see a complete description of what activities this encompasses, but at a minimum you need to cut fresh bed edges, weed, and spread a fresh layer of natural mulch or compost. Be realistic, if you don’t have time yourself, hire somebody to come back once a month to keep it looking neat until the house sells. A few scheduled hours go a long ways.
3) Add Instant color – Plant some containers and add a simple band of annual color to front foundation plantings or a walkway – at a minimum have some color on the porch and by the doors. Keep it simple though, just one or two colors and rely on interesting foliage. I find that more people have love/hate reactions to warm flower colors (red-orange-gold) and are more universally accepting of cool colors (blue-white-green) so these would be a safer bet, but pick a scheme that blends with your house.
4) Prune or remove overgrown shrubs – nothing dates a house and looks more overwhelming to a prospective buyer than a yew hedge that was planted in the 60′s and now covers the front of the house and blocks the windows. Ditto for half-dead, short-lived, diseased, or messy trees, or anything that was planted too close to the house.
5) Remove Personal Adornments – You may love your collection of garden gnomes, whirligigs, children’s art projects, flags, toys etc., but a future buyer may not. This can be hard for some homeowners to swallow, but trust me, you can find a new place for them in your next landscape but for now they should be lovingly stored. The same goes for decorative edging around garden beds.
6) Renovate Overgrown Perennial Beds – if you once had a fabulous cottage-style perennial garden but somehow it turned into a monster when you weren’t looking, it might be time to rip it out (don’t feel bad, it happens to all of us). One solution is to plant some simple Hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, and a border of annual color and call it good. Beds need to look easy to maintain and not like a backache waiting to happen. That being said, if you have a cottage-style garden that is well maintained and is colorful year-round, congratulations – romantic gardens are still the #1 requested garden style.
7) Clean Water features – make sure they are sparkling clean, full and running. If this isn’t possible, it’s better to remove them. If it’s not an obviously positive feature of the landscape then it is certain to look like a liability.
8) Tune-Up Walkways and Patios – if your hardscaping is more than 5 years old it’s very common to see moss in grout lines, joint sand that has deteriorated, and stains on the surface which can range from a uniform dark layer (algae), to rust, a white efflorescence (minerals), or the occasional grease spot (the cheeseburger you dropped during the last party). Not to worry – a spring cleanup for your hardscapes is needed and can be done in a day or two. If you have one or two cracked stones, then they can be replaced at the same time. I’ll write a separate post about the hardscaping clean-up process, but basically the joint sand gets vacuumed out, the pavers get scrubbed with a biological cleaner, then after the stone surface is fully dried, the joints get re-sanded. As an option the entire surface can be sealed, which depending upon the product used, can either deepen the color or keep it transparent and matte. Voila – your walkway and/or patio looks brand new again.
9) Create a Care Manual – if you have an extensive landscape, (not one easily labeled as low-maintenance) you can reduce a buyer’s trepidation by showing them that you have a system of maintenance that they can easily adopt. People are afraid of the unknown – so give them information in digestible pieces in the form of a binder that contains a landscape plan, a list of plants with photos and care instructions, a diagram of your irrigation system and lighting, and a list of contacts including your landscape designer, maintenance company, irrigation and lighting, arborist, pool company etc. A Care Manual is something that I have created for homeowners in the past, even if I didn’t design their landscapes, and it doesn’t necessarily have to include a full property plan, but should include a list of plants, photos, care instructions and contacts.
10) Details – Once you’ve tackled the landscape checklist above, then you can focus on the outside of the house – powerwash the siding, paint the front door, install a new mailbox or house lettering, lay down a new doormat, and/or plant a window box.
All of these activities will make your house looked loved – which is the first step towards getting a prospective buyer to think that they will love it too. Good Luck!