When you’re planning to sell your home, you get lots of unsolicited advice. Friends, acquaintances, co-workers and random strangers will tell you which real estate agencies to go to (and which to avoid), how to get your home ready to go on the market, where you should move to and more.
But if you want proven facts and not arbitrary opinions, you can turn to Remodeling magazine’s cost-vs.-value report, which reveals that the highest returns on investment come from exterior remodeling projects. No matter what you learned from Mr. Rogers in the ’70s, it is not always what’s on the inside that counts after all.
What people want to see is beauty, or at least attractiveness. A neglected and shabby exterior on a home for sale is a like a sweatsuit and unwashed hair on a single 20-something trying to attract a mate — prospects will take one look and keep on moving.
Landscaping is the Magic Word
New siding, windows, garage door, front entry door — all these have high ROIs. But the single most important project, the one that gets you more than 100 percent RIO, is landscaping.
Landscaping is like lipstick and mascara for front yards, except better, because it generally lasts longer if it’s done right. Even if you cut your lawn regularly and keep your sidewalk swept, this doesn’t compare to a professional landscaping job. It’s true that some yards stand out for their weed-strewn brown lawns and rusted iron railings, but while doing basic maintenance is definitely helpful, it’s not the same as beautifying.
A story in the Washington Post says you can expect to see at least a 150 percent return on your investment for landscaping when you sell your house.
Assuming your current landscaping is moderate at best, the guideline is to invest 10 percent of the value of your home on landscaping. Not everyone has that kind of cash on hand, but if you can beg, borrow or steal it, know you’ll get it back and then some as soon as your house is sold.
Clean up the Mess
If you have the time and the desire to do any of the work yourself, start by creating a clean slate for the landscaping team. Get rid of yard clutter — old lawn furniture, toys, discarded building materials you can’t put in the trash and anything broken or unattractive. If you have a dog, stop letting it out into the back yard to burn out the grass and leave little piles. Take it for a proper walk — you could both use the fresh air and exercise.
Also get rid of broken branches, pull up weeds and cut back on overgrown plants. Repair crumbling concrete, rickety railings, sagging gutters and remedy peeling paint. Once this is done, you’re ready for step two.
Not in Kansas Anymore
Color in your front yard translates to dollar signs. If you have time, plant perennials that will bloom in different seasons so you always have color in your yard. Azaleas are hugely popular in and around D.C., as are hibiscus and rose bushes. But these take time to grow and mature. If you’re in a hurry, plant annuals in pots and put them on the front porch, steps and walkway. Don’t skimp on the pots either — get nice ones!
Though they never bloom, evergreens are also a must-have for a beautiful landscape, since they add needed greenery throughout the dull, gray winters. Consider a holly tree as well for the same reason — plus, as a bonus, you’ll get red berries in winter.
The company you choose to do the actual planting work should be able to offer you a list of suggestions and even provide images of what your home will look like once the work is done. They’ll also help you tailor your choices to your surroundings. If all the other homes on the block have modest front yards with petunias in window boxes and you have a grove of cherry trees and a veritable forest of tulips, you’re going to look silly.
What you want is for your home to look distinctly better than the others, but not over the top.
It’s never too early to start planning. Even if a move is not currently on the horizon for you, the likelihood that you will spend the rest of your days in the home you live in now is small. Plant some bushes now, and down the road, when they’re mature, you’ll thank yourself.
Always get professional advice before you pick up a spade and start digging, though — it will help you get the most out of the time and money you put into your project.