Curb appeal: As with love, first impressions matter in home sales

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

A formal landscape of shrubs and trees completements the modern, straight lines of this home, in the two-year-later after image.

Just as every house has a personality ó whether itís a ranch, bungalow, Queen Anne, Tudor, Cape Cod or any other architectural style ó the landscape that surrounds it has a personality, too, especially out front. There are formal gardens ó neatly trimmed and fertilized lawns, tightly manicured evergreens and plenty of straight lines. There are cottage gardens with billowy, informal plantings of annuals, perennials, flowering vines and roses. Thereís the prairie garden, the shade garden, the collectorís garden that sports every new plant, and thereís everything in between.

Whatever the look, the front landscape creates a first impression about who lives there and ultimately affects its resale value.

"A lot of older gardens have a little of this, a little of that, and the clutter creates visual noise," says landscape architect Billy Goodnick of Santa Barbara, Calif. "What you see from the street needs to be coherent."

Goodnick, the author of "Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space Into the Garden of Your Dreams" (St. Lynnís Press), coaches real estate agents and homeowners on how to create a landscape that attracts buyers.

"If the whole garden is a jumble of stuff, get it down to key groupings of plants," he advises. "If your garden is so personal and unique, it could come back to bite you. By the time youíre getting ready to sell, itís usually too late to redo the garden."

There are several ways to improve the curb appeal of your home even if youíre not planning on selling anytime soon.

"Add new perennials or annual color to existing garden beds to stimulate the overall look," says landscape architect Deirdre Toner of D.T. Design in Old Mill Creek, Ill. "And add several containers that work with the homeís architecture that can be filled with seasonal displays. Strategically placed, they can also be used to attract attention away from a dated yew hedge along the foundation." Toner also suggests adding a seasonal botanical wreath to the front door, which creates an inviting entryway.

"The landscape should be the bow on the package," says landscape designer Diane Smith of The Perennial Professionals in Northbrook, Ill. "It should enhance the house and make it look nice from the street." She suggests starting by taking a good look at planting beds around the homeís foundation. "They can get out of control, become massive and eat up lawn space. Get rid of old, overgrown evergreens and plant something more in scale with the house."

Another often overlooked fix is the sidewalk leading to the front door. "When front walks get tired, itís an opportunity to redesign the walk. Donít just do what you had before," Smith says. If the walk has broken, cracked concrete, now may be the time to replace it with pavers and perhaps change it from a straight run to a curving path. Smith recommends that walkways be at least 4 feet wide so that two people can walk side-by-side to the front door. Adding an outdoor foyer ó a place for a bench with some pots ó sets out the welcome mat for visitors.

When it does come time to sell your house, Goodnick recommends staging the landscape. "You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Do a good cleanup and some simple grooming of the plants, and power-wash the walkway. You can get fancy or fussy near the door by adding a few little treats ó some potted plants with color ó along the way as visitors enter. Make it look inviting."

SIDEBAR: Considering a makeover?

Here are some tips from the landscaping experts we talked to on increasing the curb appeal of your home.

Simplify. "If you have a lot of tiny plants, the landscape may need to be scaled down," says landscape architect and author Billy Goodnick. "The view may need to be simpler with bigger masses of plants and fewer types of plants. You donít want it to look like itís too busy and too much work to maintain." On the opposite end of the spectrum, he says that oversize plants may work against you, too, and you may need to remove some, especially those that obscure the windows or walkway. "You want big plants to frame, not obscure, the house."

Check out the view. Cross the street and take a good, hard look at your front landscape to see what plants may be overwhelming the house. Try to view it as a first-time visitor would. "Now, as people do much of their home shopping online through Zillow or Realtor.com, viewing the propertyís front or foundation landscape is the initial green or red light for a buyer," says landscape architect Deirdre Toner.

Remake your beds. Does the landscaping reflect the style of your home? "If you have a modern house thatís very linear, youíd want the bed lines to mimic the house (with) more architectural plants ó vertical grasses, for example," says landscape designer Diane Smith. "Bed lines (the edges that meet the lawn) should be simple and clean, and the beds spacious enough for plants with room for them to grow."

Eye candy. "Color is important," Smith says. "The home landscape should embrace the seasons ó bulbs in spring, flowering shrubs, long-blooming perennials. Itís nice to try and get something blooming from spring through fall."