Curb appeal: We all love to see it; not all of us know how to do it. But we all can do it, with a little help from our old friends, plants. If you’re looking to sell your house — be it now or years from now — or if you just want people to pass your property and say, “Hey, cool, that person’s really got it all figured out, plant-wise,” then curb appeal is worth paying attention to.
A visitor’s (read: prospective buyer’s) first impression of your house is from the curb. This means curb appeal is your property’s first impression — its handshake if you will. So whether you’re a novice looking to firm up that grip, or a seasoned vet checking in on the best handshake-enhancing wristwatches, here are some tips to give your property more curb appeal, through the magic of greenery.
Hiding things like trash bins, HVAC units, and storage lets a buyer imagine living in the house, not all the projects they’ll have to do. I know you’re proud of your fancy new central heating system; that doesn’t mean everyone should see it as soon as they pull in the drive.
Hiding the ugly stuff does not mean preventing inspectors or prospective buyers from getting info. That’s super illegal in most places. It does mean obscuring things from that first view. Going back to the handshake analogy: Eventually, a new acquaintance is going to find out that you use your hands to eat broccoli like a toddler. That doesn’t mean you need to slather your hands in broccoli juice before you meet them.
Plants are perfect for this role, as they’re affordable, attractive, and endlessly customizable. And don’t worry if your shrubbery doesn’t completely hide unsightly features. The goal of landscape design is to draw attention, not build barriers.
Our excellent aesthetic taste demands that we obscure, not that we impede. You and any future owners need access to utilities, egresses, and walkways, so take care to leave clear paths to any of these things. Blocking egresses is usually illegal, and removing access to utilities is likely to result in city workers bringing in chainsaws and excavators. Also, keep in mind your views from inside the house, not just from the street. Those huge floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the singing hills don’t do much good if there’s a jungle of shrubs directly outside them.
Fall is about to kick in as we’re writing this, which means everything will be beautiful for a couple months or so in most parts of the country. And then it’ll all be dead. Some plants will be brown and crunchy; others will disappear altogether. Even if you’re not planning to sell in winter, you never know how long things could take. You might have an offer in August fall through at the last moment, and suddenly, you’re showing again in November. Luckily, there are plenty of plants that will provide just as much curb appeal in cold seasons as they do in the warm ones. Evergreen foliage, colorful berries, and even appealing bare branches will keep your landscape vibrant all year. Some plants we recommend are red twig dogwoods, japanese maples, any type of arborvitae, and holly.
This is a little less about immediate aesthetics and more about avoiding pitfalls when planning your curb appeal projects. Whether you’re selling your property now or years from now, it’s imperative to keep in mind what your landscaping will do in five, ten, or twenty years. If you plant an oak tree that grows to 80 feet tall, 15 feet from your house, there will be roots blasting right through the foundation, which will cause major structural damage. (Okay, maybe not blasting, but “slowly and steadily exerting displacing force” is less fun.)
Avoid planting too close to a neighbor’s property as well. If you don’t, you could be inviting fines or civil suits, depending on local policies. And you’ll certainly be creating bad blood in the neighborhood, which nobody wants. A savvy buyer is going to have an eye on the future, so make sure your landscaping won’t be a concern.
In some buyers’ eyes, this is the most important tip of all. Having some deliberate, tasteful landscaping is a huge plus for curb appeal, but going too crazy with it will have the opposite effect. If you’re a diehard gardener who isn’t concerned with mass appeal or difficulty reselling, go all out! We love seeing those types of properties around our towns. For the rest of you, bear in mind that landscaping can quickly get overwhelming. With brand new landscaping, plants are new and fresh and tiny, and there’s probably too much empty space. But avoid the urge to over plant. Even if you maintain your property immaculately — a true cornucopia of color and texture, more a work of art than a yard — the next homebuyer doesn’t want to do that potentially. If they’re the sort of person who is willing to put in that kind of work, they’ll likely want to customize their own space, rather than inheriting yours.
Phew, we covered a lot. If you feel a little overwhelmed, that’s okay! The core idea is this: If you’re looking to improve curb appeal, a dash of landscape design can go a long way. And hey, here are a couple bonus tips we’ll throw in to help you get started.
Good luck, and happy planting!