Landscaping, curb appeal attract buyers in tough market

Landscaping, curb appeal attract buyers in tough market

by Ellen Goff

Home sales have yet to stabilize since the economic downturn began. Throughout the Southeast, from Tampa to Atlanta, Charlotte to Raleigh, property inventories are high, distress sales are abundant and buyers are looking for the best value in every pricing category.

The importance of a property's first impressions, called curb appeal, cannot be overstated. According to Realtor and appraiser Brad Carlton of Atlanta, curb appeal can make or break a sale.

"It sets the tone for the house and gives the perception of how the owner has cared for the property," he says. "With 100,000 homes currently available for sale in the Atlanta region, buyers look for reasons to narrow their choices - and lack of curb appeal is an easy cross-off."

Curb appeal scrutiny starts immediately when the house is listed online. Real estate agents judge the look and quality of the exterior photos before deciding to show the house to clients. Driving by, prospective buyers must be compelled by curb appeal to make an inquiry call.

Tampa Bay, Fla., Realtor Jamie Everett has witnessed these two aspects of curb appeal play out often during his 18-year career, but says today the stakes are even higher. "The clients that take curb appeal seriously and go out of their way to enhance it, sell their property faster and for a better price," he says.

In his experience, Carlton says the No. 1 appeal killer is overgrown trees and shrubbery. Oftentimes, just some judicious pruning will take care of the problem. Most of the South's popular foundation plantings can be lightly to moderately pruned any time of year. In a more severe case, a certified arborist may be needed for tree removal.

Landscapers say they've noticed an increase in requests to beautify property that's for sale.

"We've received more and more calls for this in the past six months," says Kevin Harrison, co-owner of A-rated Paragon Landscape Management in Charlotte, N.C. "Homeowners want their landscape tightened up with a neater appearance. A bad landscape detracts from the property. A landscape in good condition sets off an attractive home."

Harrison says his firm likes to use pockets of color as accents.

"Colorful foliage of a single plant, like an abelia, can set off an area," he says. "Some camellias are nice for the fall and winter. We use seasonal flowers a couple of ways. Smaller bungalows look great with potted flowers around the front. For larger properties, having several beds of colorful flowers helps move your eye through the property."

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She's passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

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