The Power of Residential Landscaping When Selling a Home

A University of Florida expert offers insight into how to enhance the curb appeal of your home when putting it on the market.

Dr. Gail Hansen knows a thing or two about landscape design. As an associate professor specializing in the area for the University of Florida’s Department of Environmental Horticulture, Dr. Hansen instructs students on the elements of residential landscape design while doing extensive research and work in the area outside of the classroom.

ESTATENVY recently went to class to learn more from Dr. Hansen about ways you can increase the curb appeal of your home, and drive a higher sale.

EE: When it comes to landscaping ahead of putting a house on the market, are there any key areas that will help add to the value and/or the attractiveness of your home to potential buyers?

Dr. Hansen: The most important area to attract potential buyers is the front yard, specifically the walkway and front entry. Landscape features that create good curb appeal include a well-maintained yard, healthy turf (or a turf substitute such as low growing groundcover), a few colorful plants, large healthy trees, a well-maintained, hazard-free walkway, and planted areas that look easy to maintain. In addition to visual appeal, many homebuyers assess a landscape on the perceived maintenance needed and their ability to do the maintenance. It is best to keep the landscape fairly a simple, but also interesting and aesthetically pleasing. The most important concepts to consider in the design of the landscape are easy to maintain, functional, and sustainable.

EE: Conversely, are there any landscaping "no no's" you should avoid ahead of putting a house on the market?

Dr. Hansen: Most homeowners who don’t have sufficient ecological knowledge to judge a landscape on its environmental merit will judge the landscape on its aesthetics. Visual appeal does not mean the landscape should be complex, in fact, it’s best to avoid over-planting the yard. A landscape with an extensive variety of plants and large beds can look chaotic and “messy”, which is often associated with high maintenance costs and time. It is also best to not create a landscape that is very different from the typical neighborhood yards. Most potential homeowners want to be good neighbors and follow the social norms for landscaping of their neighborhood. Any changes you make to the yard should “fit” with the neighborhood but be interesting enough to catch the attention of potential buyers. Interest is created by using plants with a variety of sizes, forms, and textures, and a thoughtful color palette. If you live in a community with a Home Owners Association (HOA) another important consideration is to make sure any improvements are approved by the HOA landscape committee before you make changes.

EE: Is there any way to quantify the value of a nicely landscaped house vs. one with little or no landscape attention ahead of selling a house?

Dr. Hansen: Value can vary but generally large mature trees add the greatest value. Research has shown estimated aesthetic value of trees for beautification and property values to range from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the species and size of the tree. Besides adding a large amount of green vegetation, they are also prized for their beauty and the shade they provide. A mature landscape that is well-maintained will also add value, especially shrubs that are full with healthy foliage. Well-maintained, attractive hardscape made of durable materials such as stone or pavers also add to the value, particularly if the hardscape increases the outdoor living space, such as a patio or deck. Conversely, a poorly maintained, aging landscape with thin, over-pruned shrubs and cracked or broken walkways can devalue your property because they are often viewed as trip hazards (an insurance issue) and a “fix-it” project before the buyer even gets in the front door. Durable, quality materials in the hardscape will also add value. Obvious stormwater control issues, such as erosion and wet areas are also a red flag for potential buyers as a problem that will need immediate attention.

EE: Are there any more recent trends, or interesting new areas of landscaping that have emerged that can add to the attractiveness of a house for sale?

Dr. Hansen: Low maintenance plants that are drought tolerant and look good year around are popular. Home buyers will appreciate the cost savings on irrigation and maintenance. Sustainable designs that use less turf grass and more natives are also popular. Quality hardscape materials, including good lighting, well-designed pathways, and modern, well-built furniture add value by creating a luxurious look without a huge cost. Outdoor entertaining and spending more time outdoors has become popular as people seek more time in nature. Features such as sculptural fire pits and fully functional outdoor kitchen can add value if designed to be used year-around. Other trends that may not add to attractiveness for sale but are in demand include container gardening and raised bed gardening. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects' 2013 Residential Design Trends Survey edible gardens are the most sought-after landscape feature. High tech irrigation systems with smart controllers are in demand for homeowners who want to save money and water, as are other stormwater storage devices such as rain barrels and cisterns. Play spaces for all ages, such as bocce ball courts and dogscaping for the family pets are also becoming part of a multi-use, functional landscape.

EE: What would your advice be to those putting their first house up for sale on how to maximize the value of landscaping attention and cost?

Dr. Hansen: If you only have $500 to spend- Remove any dead plant material, pull weeds, and trim overgrown shrubs. Use colorful ceramic pots by the front entrance and fill with blooming plants, they are attractive, draw the eye to the front door, and don’t present a maintenance challenge. Putting a new layer of mulch in all your plant beds will make the landscape look new. Clean everything- pressure wash walkways, the driveway, any garden walls or other features, and the house. If you have $1,000, do all of the above and repair or replace broken fences, furniture, arbors, etc. and add a fresh coat of paint if necessary. Paint the front door a fresh bright color, using contrasting colors that draw attention to the door is a popular trend. And finally, install a new mailbox and landscape around it.