Inspect the landscape before buying a home in the Southwest
by Jacqueline A. Soule
A home inspection plays a vital role in buying a home. A real estate agent can help schedule an inspector for the home itself, but when it comes to the land around the home, you're on your own. Yet, there are a number of things you should know about the landscape before you buy.
There is no "landscape inspector" heading in any directory, but a licensed landscape contractor with broad experience should be able to help you. It will take an hour or two, depending on the size of the lot. Expect to pay a typical hourly rate, between 65 and 100 dollars per hour. Accompany them and learn about the land that will soon be yours to maintain.
Most homes in arid areas of the Southwest have an irrigation system and you'll want to know if it's functioning before you buy. Jeff Wolfe, of highly rated Sun Wolfe Irrigation Inc. in Phoenix, does a number of pre-purchase inspections each year and has discovered all types of irrigation system problems. Emitters grown into trees are common and a minor repair cost; irrigation lines crushed by tree growth or valves engulfed by tree roots can get costly to correct.
Knowing the soil also is important. Sandy soils drain quickly and you'll have higher water bills if you want a lush landscape. Clay soils resist water penetration. A heavy rain may form a lake in the yard for hours or days, if drainage is poor.
Drainage should be a major concern for homebuyers, according to Maria Bargellini of A-rated Dallas Curb Appeal. In addition to flooding problems, poor drainage can easily lead to cracked foundations. If there are drainage issues, the buyers can insist that the sellers fix the problem.
How fresh is the mulch? Below the mulch there should be a plastic or a polyfiber liner installed to keep weed seeds in the underlying soil from sprouting. It's also supposed to keep weed seeds that blow in from getting enough moisture to germinate. A liner works for three to seven years before it needs replacing. If the landscape has rock mulch, it needs checking. Any type of mulch will need routine maintenance. Rock mulch just needs it less often. But when it needs maintenance, rock mulch is very expensive due to the labor involved with such a cumbersome material.
Water features warrant investigation. Do fountains hold water? Do pumps and lights work? Are electric components installed correctly? Such high voltage electrical features in the yard should be done by the home inspector.
Landscape lighting is a low voltage system and may fall to the landscape contractor to inspect. All lights should be operational. The transformer should operate silently.
Take a moment to size up the trees - are they healthy? Are their roots starting to disturb sidewalks or foundations? Recent extreme pruning can indicate potential problems.
Are the plants the type of species you can live with? Are they messy? Plants with allergenic pollen may need removal.
Save yourself future headaches, heartaches and potentially a great deal of money - inspect the landscape before you buy a home.
Jacqueline A. Soule has been gardening in the Southwest since an early age, and writing about gardening for almost three decades, with weekly and monthly columns in a number of Southwestern publications. She has degrees in plant sciences, ecology & environmental biology and botany, obtaining her Ph.D. from the University of Texas. She currently resides and gardens in Tucson, Ariz.