Living in the Toronto area, the subject of selling real estate is never far from one’s mind. We have long had one of the most incessantly frenetic real estate markets in the country, if not the world. Unlike in quainter places where people buy a house with the simple objective of living in it, we almost naturally assume when people here move into a house that they will be out of it again before long.
Prepping for for the sale of one’s house is a usual subject of conversation at lunch or dinner, in the way one might discuss one’s children’s extra-curricular activities or yesterday’s golfing. The real estate market is exciting and entertaining, like a horse race (God forbid, not a Leafs game), with everyone interested and opining about how it will turn out.
Perhaps this constant flipping of real estate explains, in part, why, until recent years, Torontonians were notoriously apathetic gardeners, throwing nothing more than an oversized tree and a juniper in front of their new homes and leaving them like that for decades.
However, many experts have long advised that good landscaping can add 20% to the value of a home, and that is enough to get anybody’s attention! Some suggest that means you should spend 20% of your house budget on your landscaping, but I think you can get a lot more value out of less spending if you use your landscaping dollars thoughtfully.
The following excerpt from a study by Virginia Tech sums up elements of design found to affect buyer perceptions:
Survey results showed that relatively large landscape expenditures significantly increase perceived home value and will result in a higher selling price than homes with a minimal landscape. Design sophistication and plant size were the landscape factors that most affected value. The resulting increase in “curb appeal” of the property may also help differentiate a home in a subdivision where house styles are similar and thereby attract potential buyers into a home. This advantage is especially important in a competitive housing market.
Perhaps the value of your home will simply be up to 20% greater by installing a good landscape, or perhaps the financial impact of good landscaping may be more indirect: as between otherwise equal houses, if one house has a beautiful, inviting landscaping where buyers can picture themselves relaxing, it may just generate more interest, and everyone knows that in Toronto that can easily mean multiple offers-a situation which, in itself, will drive up the price of a house.
Garden as Agent
A garden (almost like a realtor) has two jobs to do in selling your house. First, it must get people in the door to look at the house, and secondly, once they have decided to look at the house, it must enhance their belief that this is the house for them. It must encourage people to schedule an appointment to see the inside, then convince them they would like to live here.
Therefore, the first thing a garden must do is create a sense of welcome, both from the street and in the realtor’s photos. Experts often tell us how crucial first impressions are, how a potential buyer makes up his or her mind in the first few minutes, and how purchasers buy a house largely on how they feel about it, which is why your choice of indoor scent (green apple for an expansive feeling, cloves and cinnamon for a homey, warm ambiance) matters so much.
Welcoming front yard. (Photo from HGTV.com)
Walk or drive past your house and look at it critically from all points of view, imagining you are a picky, unforgiving stranger. You might like the overgrown, low-maintenance look of your one lonely evergreen, but you aren’t trying to sell it to yourself, are you? Do the gardens have the tidy, loved look of a house someone is enjoying? Do they suggest the owner cares about the home enough to look after it properly, or are they shouting, “beware of maintenance issues!” Are there dead limbs on the trees? Overgrown shrubs? Dandilions going to seed? Or is it neat, but just bland and unremarkable?
And, hey, can you even see that sweet little pincushion flower you put beside the front steps last year?
Getting Buyers Inside
Gardening to sell is a bit of showmanship. Obviously, the front yard is the focus when it comes to getting buyers inside.
First of all, is the existing garden in scale with the house? All too often, big, old trees are overwhelming small houses or low-lying bungalows. A large, badly-placed tree may interrupt visual flow from side to side giving a sense that the house is not as wide as it actually is.
To the detriment of your marketing, your trees may be convincing onlookers that the house is small or gloomy, to say nothing of their effect on the interiors. To solve this problem, it often works to limb a tree upwards and away from the front of the house, especially with deciduous trees. I will be the first to say that mature trees are a major asset to any property; that does not mean, however, that every and any tree is helping you. Like chocolate, they are good within certain limits.
Also in terms of scale, this is not a garden to end all gardens or feature in a gardening magazine. Enhancing the real estate asset can be a very different exercise from, say, creating your personal piece of Eden.
Spend some time and money on putting some large, high-impact planters on your front porch and keep them maintained. I suggest focusing first on something high-impact that relates to the season in which you intend to list your house or have your open house. For example, if you are listing in March, people will feel good when they see your spring bulbs and pansies blooming on the front porch a little ahead of the ones in the garden.
Or, the large, colourful hydrangeas so typical of April will give a sense of anticipation and bring a punch of colour to the still-drab landscape, and that colour will lead the eye right to your front door. (Just wrap them or bring them inside overnight if the weather goes below freezing.)
Be free and easy with the fake ivy if it is still too cold for tender annuals: again, showmanship. No-one is looking closely at it.
If you aren’t in a market that sells quickly, be prepared to keep those planters fresh by updating them as each display fades and the seasons shift–take out the hyacinths after they bloom and create a lush display of summer flowers; in September, perhaps, mums and ornamental cabbages; add spiders and pumpkins in October, and so on. Nobody wants a house that looks like it is languishing with last season’s wilted trappings. Finally, keep them watered and fertilized for their best look.
The front yard garden, itself, should provide drama from the road. This is not the time to put in your collection of hens and chicks or purchase cute stuff you fancy. It is not the time to become a plant fanatic go in for exotic varieties. You need plants that bloom large, a selection that will provide continuous bloom or other interest during the period the house is on the market, and contrasting foliage colours. All colour decisions should carefully complement the colours of the house, itself. I would strongly recommend sticking to a limited number of flower colours that go well together, as you would in decorating an interior, in order to maximize impact.
Don’t forget to use enough evergreens to avoid a barren look in winter, especially if you are not throwing in your garden last minute right before it goes on the market.
On that note, why not put the garden in so that you can enjoy it while it matures, with a view to your future sale. After all, a garden takes about two years of growth to fulfil its potential, so planning ahead will definitely give you best results. When reading listings, note how often the realtor mentions, “lovely English gardens“, “mature landscaping” and the like–this tells us that people respond to these features.
Tying the house and garden together in a unified vision will achieve a number of things. 1. The house will look larger and have more presence. 2. You will not get an unfortunate jarring effect in the buyer’s subconscious. 3. The buyer may have chosen the style of house deliberately, in which case you want the garden to reinforce the style rather than clash with or undermine it.
Similarly, the garden should not be crazily out of touch with the neighborhood.
Toronto area buyers are notorious for shying away from a house that is the slightest bit unusual, and there is no benefit to conveying a sense of being out of place in the front yard. Ideally your landscaping and garden should be a better vision of its neighbors: think “harmony”. It can have more colour, be more lovely (or less intricate if you prefer) and be a personal reflection of your own taste if you wish–but never to such an extent as to give a sense that the home is a bit odd or strange.
What are the style and character of your house? Would someone who likes your house be seeking warmth, grandeur, country lifestyle, modern drama or . . . what? Help your buyer spot this in your house by reinforcing its strong qualities with your plants. Country gardens should suggest a languid, relaxed lifestyle. Modern is not “sweet” or “pretty”, but requires certain elements.
Inviting Modern Style (Photo from homedesigninspiration.com)
A large house may still be casual and require a relaxed exterior, or it may have a formal look that could be reflected with boxwood hedges and single-coloured annuals. These considerations are much the same as you would use to design a garden for your personal enjoyment. Again, “harmony”.
Clinching the Deal
This usually entails tweaking what you have. Go inside. Once you get the buyers inside, does the garden contribute to your marketing? Note the views from windows and glass doors. Often people don’t even go outside but they will always look, so create a sense of places to enjoy, such as a deck, patio or sitting area, especially if complemented by plantings that make it seem restful and pleasant. A pretty garden or woodland view, particularly one that creates a sense of privacy and serenity, is not hard to create and is often sought-after by buyers. In most cases, not a great deal is required, but a barren back yard does nothing to help the buyer envision herself enjoying living there.
Barren back yard (Photo from http://www.hgtv.com)
How will people picture themselves living in it? Is this a retirement community, or do people have young children? Are your buyers affluent? Will they want to lounge by the pool? Entertain? You want to create a vision of an enticing lifestyle geared to your likely purchaser(s). A word of caution here is that the garden should not smack of high maintenance.
There are a lot of buyers who want a beautiful home and property but who envision themselves spending summers at a cottage or where both members of a couple work full-time or run young children around, and the whiff of extra work may put these people off.
Realtors frequently suggest that you remove curtains as well as clutter inside, to let light in and make the house feel more open. For the same reasons, you must remove or cut back plants or limbs that block sunlight. Do, however, strive to maintain privacy at the same time.
Another frequently-used term in real estate listings is “well-maintained”. Again, knowing that this means people generally want to move in to a tidy house and not face a lot of immediate work or expenditures tells us that lawns must be kept mowed, gardens crisply edged, trees and shrubs tidy, weeds removed. Nothing should look mangy, messy or worn-out. Therefore, make sure hardscaping and any outdoor objects are in good repair. And mulch! Not only will mulch reduce weeding, watering and winter damage, but the right mulch can infinitely enhance what you have. Steer clear of the brightly-dyed orange stuff in most situations. I recommend the darkest, fairly coarse, wood mulch available, which will set off plants, lawn and house to their best advantage.
Dark wood mulch
One Last Thing
Having considered these main factors in creating your landscape or garden, you should then turn your mind to the time of year you expect to go on the market and how long it typically takes to sell in your area and price point. This issue was referenced above regarding evergreens and planters, but make sure you have fully considered all landscape issues specific to your time of year. For example, do you need to put in early spring bulbs? Focus on fall colour (potentially a real asset in our climate)?
Planning to sell? Have you had an interesting selling experience involving landscaping? Need more help? Comment below and share, or via “Contact Us”.
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