The location of your house might not be ideal, but there’s plenty you can do about your property to convince potential buyers to plunk down their bids. When realtor Carol Goldberg does a property preview, she goes equipped with a mental checklist, and her assessment starts at the curb. With 26 years of experience at Bedford-based Vincent & Whittemore Real Estate, specializing in country houses and horse farms, Goldberg is among Westchester’s top brokers. Goldberg has also been gardening since 1993. Her garden has been featured in several publications (including here in Westchester Home) and has been on tour for the prestigious Garden Conservancy Open Days Program.
Ask Goldberg what sells or what fizzles a deal, and she’ll assure you that buyers really do consider the yard when buying a house. Here are some of her best tips for getting your home ready to sell.
Q. Do good fences make good new neighbors?
A. Older homes are often too close to the road, and an appropriate fence gives buyers with children or pets peace of mind. But fences can be tricky. My advice is to get guidance. Do it right, but don’t overdo it. And never put in plastic or chain-link. Consider the house and shutters, and then complement their paint colors with the fence. Glaring white is usually not the way to go—it can make older paint on the property look dingy. Instead, try beige or off-white. Spend whatever you have to spend to do it right. And always check town ordinances for heights and regulations before you get started.
Q. Can a stone wall increase property value?
A. You can never go wrong with a handsome stone wall, but it can be expensive, especially if you don’t have stone available on your property. Consider the style of your house and put up an appropriate wall. A very formal cemented stone wall with a razor-sharp flattop might not be the way to go if your house is a former farmhouse. An informal dry wall usually fits the scene better. Again, check town ordinances for height restrictions before you start.
Q. Are you a fan of foundation plantings?
A. Let’s face it, a house looks sad without shrubs around it. It’s amazing what some basic, low-maintenance shrubs can do to soften the look of a house and make it more appealing. If you don’t have the time or knowledge to do it right, hire someone to install foundation shrubs, making sure they are positioned away from the house for future home maintenance and painting purposes. Steer away from arborvitaes that attract deer.
Q. Can you overdo it with a garden?
A. A wall-to-wall garden is overwhelming to most people. When buyers ask, ‘How much does maintenance cost?’ you’ve gone too far. But I always assure buyers that even the most dramatic garden can be brought back down to earth. Just call the local garden club—they’ll be grateful for donations to their next plant sale.
Q. How about huge lawns?
A. Buyers are eager to save on mowing costs. There’s nothing wrong with reducing the mown area by turning it into a field that’s cut only once or twice a year to dissuade brambles. Mow a path through it, and it’s charming.
Q. What’s your advice: Cut down old trees or leave them?
A. Mature trees are always admired, but be sure to clear branches away from your house’s roofline. And remove branches that obscure windows—they block light and cause dampness. Prune trees and cable them, but keep them.
Q. Does an irrigation system enhance the prospect of a sale?
A. Irrigation systems are more of a negative than a positive. They’re expensive to maintain, they don’t raise the value of a house, and a lot can go wrong. Buyers expect them to be in perfect working order—and that’s rarely the case.
Q. How about vegetable gardens? Thumbs up or down?
A. People are asking about vegetable gardens. In fact, when I see a spot on a property with ample sun, I often say, ‘You could plant tomatoes here!’ And you should see the buyers’ ears perk up. I even hand out lists of professional gardeners who can help people start vegetable gardens.
Q. How about planters?
A. A planter spilling with some annuals at the entrance of a property is an inexpensive way to make people smile. But don’t just buy a few marigolds and forget them. Instead, go to a nursery and ask a professional to plant something really nice. Then keep it watered.
Q. What if you don’t want to invest anything in a property? Is there something you can do?
A. You can make a huge difference just by cleaning up the yard around the house. Rake around the foundation of the house. Cut back shrubs. Edge beds. Mulch gardens. You can do the bare bones yourself. And then stand back, give it a critical eye, and think like a buyer. A tidy yard is much more appealing.