Adding Value Through Landscaping: The Homeowner’s Green Thumb Guide

A healthy lawn, bright flowers, and lush greenery nourish us from the inside, providing oxygen as well as reducing stress and improving our quality of life. When your house is on the market, all the attention you’ve put into your landscaping reaps additional benefits: More interested buyers and a better asking price.

In one HomeLight survey, 94% of top agents said that great curb appeal equals money in your bank account at closing — and you don’t have to break the bank to wow buyers, either. Regular lawn care — mowing, applying fertilizer, and weed control — recovers an estimated 267% of the cost of upkeep at the time of sale.

Landscaping and real estate experts agree that how your home looks on the outside builds buyer anticipation for what’s inside. “Like dating, love at first sight can also happen if your landscaping is properly done,” says Justin Critchfield, a single-family home expert real estate agent in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Just how does landscaping add value? And what projects should you tackle first? Pull up a patio chair or a chaise lounge, and let’s see.

A row of flower pots, landscaping that could add value.
Source: (Daria Shevtsova / Pexels)

Landscaping costs versus value: An overview of the available data

Across a variety of research out there on the ROI of landscaping, there’s one common theme: Landscaping adds significant value to your home. Here’s what studies have to say:

  • Over 75% of top real estate agents across the country say that well-landscaped homes are worth anywhere from 1% to 10% more than homes with no landscaping, according to our research at HomeLight.
  • One Virginia Tech survey found that landscape expenditures “significantly increase perceived home value,” resulting in a higher selling price than homes with minimal landscaping.
  • The more attention you put into the landscape, the more value buyers attach to your home — anywhere from roughly 5% to 12% more, depending on where you live. Researchers found that plant size and “design sophistication” (not just hedges or flower beds along the front and sides of the house but also perhaps shade trees and islands of plants, or a focal point in the yard) most affected value.
  • In general, the more expensive your home — and the more expansive your property — the more money and attention you should spend on your landscape. Consider it a multiplier effect.
  • The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recommends investing 10% of your home’s value in landscaping; Other studies suggest that you can increase your home’s value by 5% to 15% by spending the equivalent percentage on landscape maintenance and upgrades.
  • The average cost of installing new landscaping for a 1,200-square-foot yard is about $13,200, within that recommended percentage if your home is valued at $130,000. However, if you’ve already budgeted for landscape and lawn maintenance throughout the year, you might not even spend that much and still recover considerable value.
  • The National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) estimate that applying mulch annually, mowing about 2,800 square feet of lawn, pruning shrubs, and planting about 60 annuals or perennials costs about $3,000 — but has a 100% return on investment (ROI) upon selling.
  • HomeLight’s top agents, working with data on national average costs from HomeAdvisor.com, estimate that lawn care service of about $268 adds about $1,200 in value—a 352% ROI. Adding fresh mulch at roughly $340 recoups about 126% upon closing.
  • 74% of real estate agents told NAR they suggest sellers complete a maintenance program before putting their homes on the market. What’s more, 17% of those surveyed said recent landscape maintenance had led to a sale.

Create amazing curb appeal on a budget

Critchfield says he advises clients to do these basics to create striking curb appeal without having to spend too much:

Cut and edge your grass

If you have a mower and edger, you can handle this yourself. If not, the average cost of mowing a lawn ranges from about $30 to $80 per visit, depending on square footage, with extra fees for edging. (Although you also can trim your trees and snip your shrubbery with a handheld lopper or pruner — check out our visual guide for the proper way to cut — it’s wise to let a landscaper prune trees that are close to your house or exceptionally tall or overgrown, which can cost about $75 to $1,000, depending on height).

Just make sure you don’t cut your grass too short or too often, or you’ll risk brown patches and more sunlight reaching the weeds, causing them to sprout. Lowe’s recommends never removing more than one-third of the blade length. Also, mow when the grass is dry for fewer clumps, and leave the clippings on the lawn (unless they form clumps or rows) to return nitrogen and nutrients to the lawn.

Apply fresh mulch

Mulch helps soil retain moisture, reduces weeds, and makes a landscape look fresh. Plus, it costs as low as $1.60 for a bag that covers 2 cubic feet. Home Depot has an online calculator to help you figure how much mulch you’ll need.

Although red mulch is popular among commercial areas, Critchfield recommends a darker color, such as brown or black. “Certain homes can pull off a red, but it has to match the color scheme of the house,” he said.

Wright Manufacturing, a lawn equipment manufacturer based in Frederick, Maryland, adds that red mulch decomposes quicker because it’s often made from recycled wood chips. Brown mulch, which tends to lose its color after one season, is a good universal color that makes plants appear vibrant, the company says. Opt for black mulch in colder regions because it retains sunlight and heat better.

Add beauty with groupings of flowers

For about $100 or less, you can purchase potted flowers or plants that intrigue buyers with color. “Even just around the front porch area adds some color and makes the house pop. You’ve already set the stage for the buyers,” Critchfield said.

Amy Fedele, a gardener whose blog, Pretty Purple Door, has been featured in Country Living magazine and other publications, suggests grouping a specific type or color of plant together in clusters of three, five, or seven. This creates a “drift” of plants that adds flow to your landscape and a stronger impact than just scattering them; it also moves the eye pleasantly along the landscape instead of a visitor feeling like your flower beds play “connect the dots,” she writes.

A backyard porch with a table and patio chairs, landscaping that could add value.
Source: (Blank Space / Pexels)

Make your backyard an outdoor paradise

Although sellers understandably focus on the front yard, don’t neglect the backyard. “Backyard landscaping has become more and more important to buyers,” Critchfield said. “Buyers are falling in love with the features backyards can offer.”

A backyard is a prime area to highlight as an oasis. Here’s how:

Punch up the garden

Even with a small yard, you can create the feeling of ample green space. Using plants of varying sizes or planters with multiple tiers adds visual interest through height as well as depth, so the landscaping doesn’t appear flat.

Garden Design magazine suggests a number of “vertical gardening” ideas for a focal point in the garden, such as building a terra cotta planter wall on your fence, or using wrought-iron flower pot rings (such as these 8-inch ones from Achla Designs) to elevate planters on a porch or balcony.

Not feeling that handy? Choose flowers and accents in calming, rich tones of blue, such as cobalt, a new trend for 2020, according to the NALP. Choose plants such as delphinium, hydrangea, globe thistle, grape hyacinth, or blue fortune. Repurposing items in a garden is a clever and growing trend (pardon the pun): A cracked birdbath finds new life and makes a statement as a planter.

Stain your deck

Over time, weather can wreak havoc on a deck, causing the stain to fade or crack and leaving the wood vulnerable to rot. NAR recommends power-washing your deck and applying at least two new coats of stain to maintain the deck’s look and integrity.

You can take on this project yourself with the proper equipment (renting an electric power washer costs about $39 per day, for instance, while stain costs about $25 to $30 per gallon), or hire a professional. A handyman or handyman service takes about three to five hours to clean and stain a deck measuring about 20×25 feet (or 500 square feet) at a cost of roughly $1,000, or $2 per square foot.

Refresh your patio

You can power-wash the patio and any seating as well to jettison any dirt and cobwebs. (Roughly 90% of HomeLight’s top real estate agents recommend homeowners remove dirt, grime, and cobwebs from the front entrance alone to ramp up curb appeal before selling).

Because the NALP says walkways and patios with contemporary, geometric patterns are a new trend for 2020, consider installing or redoing a walkway with pavers starting at about $1,700 (depending on materials and size), or painting a pattern on the existing patio or walkway using concrete stain. The couple behind the design blog Beneath My Heart used Quikrete Semi-Transparent Concrete Stain to transform their backyard concrete patio into faux tile.

Reduce noise and add privacy

If your house sits where buyers might think they’ll hear road noise — for instance, off a high-traffic road, near a traffic light, or on a corner lot in a neighborhood — enhance the oasis feeling by reducing noise and adding privacy.

  • Place strategic garden containers:
    Plants and lawns can reduce noise levels by 20% to 30%, the NALP says. But if you don’t have enough established bushes and trees in the backyard for a noise barrier (and you’re not keen on investing in plants that you can’t take with you when you move), create a temporary one by placing a few Japanese maples or evergreens in containers. Japanese maples cost about $20 each at Home Depot; 2.5-quart Spartan juniper trees run about $19. Just put them on the patio, deck, or along the walkway, if possible; not on the grass, because their weight could damage the lawn.
  • Include a water feature:
    Landscapers recommend a fountain for “white noise,” which masks unappealing sound. Installing a backyard water fountain or waterfall can cost as little as $50, depending on size, complexity, or material, according to HomeAdvisor.com. If you can adjust the fountain or any of your irrigation system through a Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a smartphone app, you’ll maximize efficiency and tie into another landscaping trend.

Keep maintenance low, beauty high

Buyers concerned they don’t have much of a green thumb, those interested in water conservation, or those who worry about upkeep will appreciate a low-maintenance landscape.

A low-maintenance landscape can be a matter of adding hardscaping (non-living features such as a walkway, patio, or retaining wall), or embracing xeriscaping (pronounced “ZEH-ri-skeiping”), a combination of the Greek word “xeros,” meaning “dry,” and the word “landscape.” Xeriscaping relies on drought-friendly plants, such as succulents, California sagebrush or Terra Cotta yarrow, reducing the need for frequent watering.

You also can combine these elements, using hardscaping, xeriscaping, and plants typical for your area. Garden Design recommends 21 low-maintenance shrubs, perennials, annuals, and groundcover plants, organized by the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map. They include textured grasses, peonies, black-eyed Susan, and a carpeting of sedums.

Talk to your real estate agent about the demographics of buyers in your area for your price range, Critchfield adds. “A lot of older people that I talk to in Utah, one of the main reasons that they want to move is that they are tired of taking care of the landscaping.”

A watermelon shaped flotation device in a pool.
Source: (Vincent Rivaud / Pexels)

Beware of landscaping projects that are too specialized

By now, we might have inspired you to plot out a whole new yard. But before you start budgeting or browsing the home store, be careful not to go overboard. You won’t want to invest in projects that don’t have a huge ROI, appeal to a narrow segment of buyers, or that you won’t be living in the house long enough to enjoy. Such as:

An outdoor kitchen:

Although a full-blown kitchen on the patio complete with countertops, cabinetry, and a wet bar exudes luxury and helps market to home buyers shopping in the high-end range, it also costs about $12,000 to $20,000 to install, with an estimated ROI of 71%.

Only 1% of real estate agents told the NAR they’ve suggested homeowners put in an outdoor kitchen before selling. Stage the same kind of outdoor-dining area with a gas grill, cushioned seating, and end tables. “A grill or barbecue, if you already have one, can paint a good picture,” Critchfield said. “There’s no need to buy one to sell your home if you don’t already have one.”

A fire feature:

An outdoor fireplace or a fire pit, such as a dry-stacked natural stone kit with gas burner, also adds marketability—and topped an ASLA survey of the most popular outdoor design elements. But at a cost to install of perhaps $6,000, you’ll recover roughly 67% of that at resale.

You’ll also have to research whether your community has any restrictions on such features (Denver, Colorado, for instance, bans “open fires,” which includes fire pits), or whether the installation impacts your homeowners’ insurance policy.

A pool or sauna:

In certain price ranges and areas of the country, such as Florida, Arizona, California, and Texas, a pool can be an expected amenity.

But again, this is a hefty investment: installing an 18×36-foot in-ground pool that’s about three to seven feet deep costs about $58,000, including the standard filtration system. For an estimated 43% ROI, it’s not worth taking on just to sell your house. Plus, you may eliminate some buyers who aren’t “pool people” or who don’t want to deal with the maintenance.

There’s no doubt that landscaping can add value to your home, both in psychological and emotional benefits while you’re living there as well as boosting your bottom line once you move.

But to truly turn your greenery into greenbacks, talk with your real estate agent first about your competition, market conditions, and your targeted buyers.  You might find you’ll achieve a great impact for little expense, or as Critchfield advises, “Do the projects first that cost less money.”

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