Need to "wow" up my front yard

weedyacresFebruary 13, 2013

Our house is for sale. We have completely remodeled the inside and get great feedback on it, but the house itself is boxy and plain, and the landscaping doesn't match the inside. Our price is 90th percentile for the area, and things are still slow at this price point, though lower prices have picked up.

I'm working on coming up with a design to improve the front landscaping that we can execute come springtime should our house not sell before then.

Here's what we've got now:

This is the satellite view from nearly a year ago, and we seeded the spots that are just dirt in this photo. You can see how the house is sited compared to the lake. There's really nothing around the house, though, other than short landscape beds and a couple trees in the front yard.

Closer up view. The house is set about 100' back from the road.

Street view that's about 5 years old, but shows the drive up to the house:

Photo from last fall, after we re-did front landscape beds:

Shot of the back:

My goals are:
1. Make the drive from the street to the house feel like you're entering an estate. Inspiration: long, mature tree-lined drive. I know this isn't a super long drive, and I can't/won't buy 30-year-old trees, but that's the feeling I'm trying to conjure up.
2. Make the house seem more secluded from the street. Though 100 feet is a decent setback, given the lake and the fact that all our neighbors' houses are closer to the lake, we suffer from the perception of "too close to the street."
3. Soften the sides of the house, which are large, unbroken brick expanses.
4. I don't think we need to do anything to the back of the house. The views are fabulous from the house itself, and the back profile of the house isn't as boxy as the front, thanks to our renovations (sunroom, turret and deck were added).

Let me know any other questions you've got or other photo vantage points that might be helpful. I appreciate any help and suggestions on a design that you can provide!

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molie(z6 CT)

Weedyachres, you have a very ambitious landscaping project planned for your home. But honestly, it sounds more like a project for a permanent homeowner than for someone who wants to sell this year. There's really no time to create the look of an estate entrance in just one year ---- not without spending big bucks on huge trees and mature shrubs.

I'm not a professional, but I would suggest that you focus on purely cosmetic changes. The back deck is lovely. All it needs are some large pots of color, outdoor furniture that's anchored with an indoor-outdoor area carpet and some spreading annuals for the ground below the deck.

At the front, the edging of small stones or bricks (?) along the right should be removed. These aren't in keeping with the formal structure of your house. I can't tell the exact shape and "look" of that bed but perhaps it could be "anchored" more to the house with a larger shrub to the right of and behind the tree.

What are those evergreens between the front window and the entrance? From the distance they seem to be hiding the view of your home --- but this is just a guess. I'd love to see a closer view of the front doorway. The shape of the evergreens on each side work very well with the style of your home, but I'm not sure about those pots. That could be a relatively inexpensive improvement to the entryway.

Also in the front --- the two benches, especially the one on the right, need to be relocated. Think about what anyone would "see" if they sat on the benches and then orientate the benches' position to that view.

I think your one area of concentration should be at each side of the driveway entrance. By creating two quarter-round planting beds there (anchored by shrubs) you'd give your entrance a more substantial presence. I'm sure others on this site can come up with specific shrubs, etc. for your growing zone.


    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 11:56AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

To lend importance and privacy to a property, access should be gated. Grand gates are de riguer for California estates. Google images of entry gates in Montecito, Holmby Hills, or Bel Air and you'll get the idea.

Pardon me for saying so, but your front "landscaping" serves the house very poorly. The style and quality of installation are below standard for the house, which is why you feel the outside does not match the inside. You've spent grandly on the house, and will benefit from devoting a serious budget toward professional design and installation that will complement the house. It doesn't have to be elaborate -- no Greek fountains necessary -- but it should have some substance to it.

Edit: I should add that gates don't require the property to be fenced. You can have formal gates with no fencing and use shrubs to suggest enclosure.

This post was edited by catkim on Wed, Feb 13, 13 at 12:10

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 11:59AM
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"At the front, the edging of small stones or bricks (?) along the right should be removed. I agree. To me, they look a little junky or "country" but not suited to your house.

the only nickel I'd spend on a house that is soon to be sold is defining the existing beds to their best and freshening the mulch. Strategic annuals for some color around the home or drive entrance would be OK, too. And get rid of anything that does not look in good condition.

It would be good to remind people who are early in the remodeling years to spend some money on the landscape now... not wait until the inside is finished or they're ready to sell. Since plants grow exponentially, an incredible--unbelievable really--amount of change can happen outside in only 2 or three years. If one gets started early on, they can buy small, cheap plants and still achieve something wonderful. I'm a dedicated plant maker so for next to nothing, I create large amounts of plants. In many instances I've spent only a few bucks on a single plant and then made hundreds of cuttings from it.... enough to do large amounts of groundcover, for instance.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 6:59PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Oops, right, house is for sale NOW. I was focusing too much on the "goals" at the end of the post, sorry. Maybe spend a few $ on a plan that shows a potential buyer what might be done to augment the landscape, but don't actually do it yourself.

Good point made above, to new readers, about starting the landscape sooner rather than later.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 10:25PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd agree with others posting already that your timing is off, and if you had known you were going to sell the property, there are huge advantages of doing tree and shrub plantings at least a year or two or three ahead of your intended sell date. Seeing that your own perception of your home's lack compared to the homes closer to the lake amenity is a lack of privacy from the road, it would seem that adding some trees of large enough size to give an indication of future woodsy privacy is the only significant change you could make. Planting dozens of small 15 gallon size or bb trees isn't going to have much visual impact. I'd suggest biting the bullet and plant some groupings of better sized trees at both sides and slightly forward of the home. If you can keep larger grown transplanted trees alive, look into prices for specimen trees moved by tree spade. I'd suggest initial sizes of at least 18 feet tall would be necessary to have any visual weight. Probably not the answer you're looking for, as it isn't quick and dirty or cheap. The house just looks too wide open without enclosure of trees to my eyes. If spending money on some larger trees isn't feasible, it may make more sense to drop the asking price with no additional landscaping to help it sell. New fresh mulch, annuals for color, containers on the decks don't address the landscape setting of being so wide open, so wouldn't impress a buyer to make an offer, while a lower asking price might.

This is also a topic that a good agent will have a better feel for than people on this forum that don't really know your market, or how your home compares to the competition.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 10:44PM
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Yardvark: That's definitely my learning from our remodeling process: start the outside earlier on because it'll take a few years to grow in. We weren't anticipating that we'd be selling, so didn't worry much about stuff like that.

While I appreciate all of your concerns that we shouldn't dump money into something that will sell soon (I wish!), I'd love your opinions on things that would help should we decide to invest and don't get an offer in the next couple months. Our realtor agrees (and other agents we had through) that our landscaping needs appeal to match the house. Any money we spend (a few $K plus some elbow grease) would be less than the price drop likely required to attract more attention ($25K). The competing houses have more interesting facades and look less barren.

So, if you can turn off the part of your brain that says "this isn't a good idea to spend the money" and help out with some ideas to make it more appealing in a short period of time should we go that route, I'd be ever so grateful.

Touching off from a couple comments above, I like the idea of some front stone piers on either side of each driveway entrance, with perhaps a wall connecting the center ones and some plantings on the house side. Something like this:

Traditional Landscape design by Chicago Landscape Architect James Martin Associates

It would separate the house from the road, feel like driving through an entrance, if not a gate, and provide something better to look at from the front rooms of the house.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 12:29AM
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If you feel you must do something, I think I'd opt for installing larger trees. These would need to come from a real nursery, not a garden center (who has only small material.) You'd need to personally select them to obtain trees with shape and fullness. I could see trees at both sides of the drive and a grouping @ ea. side of house. Since you already have trees in the drive vicinity, you could add one @ each side to make passageways. Trees would need to match species and be pretty close in size. Trees @ the house would need to match species to one another (but not to those at drive.) You could eliminate the farthest back tree in each triangular grouping, if needed, to keep in budget.

If we were doing this from scratch, it would have been nicer to have the drive trees positioned closer to the street. Given the risks and cost, don't think you'd want to transplant them now. As I recall, the existing trees needed limbing up. Hopefully, it's been done. Don't let them give the impression that they will eventually be obstructing the view to the front of the house.

Another thing you could do (don't know if it's been mentioned) but great looking, green grass makes a huge difference in the overall picture. Hopefully, you have irrigation, but if not, set up a temporary system. Find a way to get it uniformly green ... maximum fertilizer and water that it can tolerate until achieved. Don't allow any bare earth areas. Makes it look like a construction site.

The plantings by the culverts look weedy and junky. It would be better to have only mowed lawn.

The freestanding landscape wall looks good in your picture, but there are many variables in getting something like that to come together. And it's more than just the wall itself. If you made any errors, it would be better not to have started on such a project. I would advise against it unless you're going to get some qualified professional help, but I question if that would be worth it at this point. There would be a tendency to economize if building it just to help sell the property, so you'd need to be an expert at making no mistakes under those circumstances.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 10:41AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

You've identified the quandary rather handily. Adding a low entry wall and pillars and enough large trees to make the house seem less exposed is going to be in the same price range (or more), than the $25,000 price cut to be competitive within your market. Have you considered alternative approaches such as a lease with option to buy or financing the sale yourselves to make it more attractive at your price point?

Anything to really help the landscape for a quick sale that really addresses the visual image is not to be had for a few $1000's, but one can dream, or one can be pragmatic. The housing market realities aren't always favorable to the seller...

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 11:42AM
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In many parts of the country, you can get a pretty nice, big tree installed for $1,000/ ea. Last year I was talking with a local nursery owner who was grumbling because of the low price for live oaks due to the surplus that the decimated housing & construction market left in its wake. He seemed ready to accept low-ball offers, as the alternative was going to be trees that became unsalable. It pays to shop around. Some tree "magic" might could get done for a few K.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 11:54AM
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weedyacres you have a beutiful home!! I could only image what the inside looks like. I agree that it needs something to help the outside. I did some landscaping around my home last year and it helped out alot. I got my ideas from the a cd I bought online. I really thing some tall trees would help you out a lot and it would help break up the the big box style walls of the home.

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscaping

This post was edited by Susan_Lay on Thu, Feb 14, 13 at 14:44

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 2:41PM
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Thanks for the suggestions so far. I think I'll have someone come out and quote the piers and wall just to see how much we're talking, and price out bigger trees. We'll definitely fertilize and treat the crap out of the front lawn when it starts its spring greening.

Yardvark: Would you really put the trees all in a line like that, as opposed to the outside ones a little closer to the street?

In the meantime, if someone comes along that doesn't need to love the front yard to buy the house, then so be it.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 7:37PM
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"Yardvark: Would you really put the trees all in a line like that, as opposed to the outside ones a little closer to the street?" Your question is a little confusing so not sure I understand what you're questioning. The fore line of trees (toward the road) ... I'm finishing what you already started, with the minimum number of trees possible... adding one to each side ... a "gateway," if you will. But it would be nicer if they were all closer to the street, as street trees, nearer the entrance and exit ... in a line as street trees usually are. Near the house, you may be looking at lines of trees, but I'm looking at two massive foliage canopies held up by three legs @ each side. If you think you can pull off a meaningful look for your big house with less than 3 trees, I wonder how you would do it. Does your site call for some angle or curve? Remember, I'm giving you something basic that you might adjust, since I can't see what's beyond the information you've provided. If you're wondering that a pair or trio of trees lined up can look good, the simple answer is "Yes. They can."

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 8:39PM
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