July 18 2018 06:29 AM

It’s not just staging the interior. New research shows landscapers can play a huge role in increasing the likelihood of a home sale.

The real estate market in many U.S. cities is red-hot, with prices at an all-time high. Plenty of people are cashing in, putting their homes up for sale while the selling’s good. Whatever the reason for planting that “For Sale” sign in the lawn, there are things to be done to make those homes sell faster and at as high a price as possible.

This is good news for you, the landscape, irrigation or maintenance contractor. No matter your company’s focus, whether its design/build, irrigation or general maintenance, your services are in demand.

A report released in May from a study conducted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia, and the National Association of Realtors, Washington, says that residential (and commercial) property owners looking to sell should consider undertaking an outdoor project.

The report, titled “2018 Remodeling Report: Outdoor Features,” presented 13 outdoor residential project scenarios, and highlighted the reasons why property owners might complete such projects. It also assessed the rewards, both financial and emotional, that these sort of remodels bestow on homeowners.

Curb appeal This is the two-word mantra real estate professionals repeat endlessly, saying it’s essential to selling a home at or above its asking price. NAR says 99 percent of its members believe curb appeal is important in attracting a buyer.

You’ve probably heard of “staging,” where a Realtor trying to sell a home will clean it, paint it and bring in decor and furnishings to help potential purchasers picture themselves living there.

It’s like preparing for a job interview, only for a house.

If you went on a job interview without taking a shower, hair askew, wearing rumpled clothing, you probably won’t get that job, no matter how slick your resume looks. And all the interior staging in the world won’t help if a prospective buyer never crosses the threshold because he’s turned off by an unkempt, overgrown lawn or landscape — or a dead one.

A landscape contractor, by planting, installing, building, repairing and mowing, stages a home’s exterior so that it looks inviting. “Realtors understand that a home’s first impression is its curb appeal, so when it comes time to sell, a well-manicured yard can be just as important as any indoor remodel,” says NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty, Columbia, Missouri.

According to this study, curb appeal needs improvement most of the time. Ninety-four percent of the Realtors surveyed have suggested to sellers they spruce up the outsides of their homes before listing them.

The interesting thing about this study is that it didn’t just look at what improvements Realtors most want to see, it also looked at which ones gave homeowners the most satisfaction. To measure the pleasure the homeowners derived from each of the projects, the report assigned “Joy Scores” of one through 10 to each of type of project. The higher the number, the greater the joy. (See sidebar at right.)

Interestingly, the types of home improvements Realtors say are important are not necessarily the ones that homeowners most enjoy having nor are they among the most exciting or “spendy.”

An example is an outdoor kitchen. A home that’s so equipped is surprisingly not a hot seller according to this survey. Only 1 percent of the Realtors have suggested installing an outdoor kitchen prior to sale. As to whether an outdoor kitchen sealed a deal for them, again, the percentage was just 1 percent.

Both fire features and irrigation systems earned perfect 10s. Eighty-three percent of homeowners who installed fire features said they have a greater desire to be home since completing the project. And 69 percent of homeowners who installed an irrigation system said they feel a major sense of accomplishment when they think of the project.

However, the Realtor score for both was among the lowest. Just 2 percent of Realtors have suggested a presale fire feature installation, and only 3 percent suggested an irrigation system. Only 1 percent said the presence of either one closed a deal for them.

Pools are another example. The Joy Score here is 8.8. Ninety-two percent of the homeowners said they have a greater desire to be home since completing a pool; 83 percent have an increased sense of enjoyment when they are at home; and 79 percent feel a major sense of accomplishment when they think of the project.

However, less than 1 percent of the Realtors suggested a swimming pool as a presale upgrade, and only 2 percent said that having one clinched a sale.

Simple over sophisticated

So, what do Realtors want to see? Return on investment in the form of money back at time of sale. In terms of spending versus reward, standard lawn care services ranked at the top. That’s right — ordinary, workaday scheduled chemical application did more for the sale of a home than a big, flashy outdoor kitchen.

The sample project described in the survey included six applications of fertilizer and weed control chemical on 2,835 square feet of lawn, at an estimated cost of $375. That amount would come back to the home seller in triplicate, grossing $1,000 post-sale. This makes the recovery percentage an astonishing 267 percent. No wonder over half of the Realtors, 55 percent, suggested such a service be in place before a homeowner puts a home on the market.

Next most favored by Realtors were landscape maintenance and tree care, both recovering 100 percent of their cost.

How can you grab a share of this business for yourself? Cultivating relationships with local Realtors would be a good start, perhaps through your local chamber of commerce, or simply by cold-calling a few and offering your services. Remember, these enhancements are usually made before that “For Sale” sign goes up. To find out about pending sales, you need to be on the inside track.

But your clients don’t necessarily have to be considering a sale in the near future to make this data valuable to you. As Mendenhall says, “Even homeowners with no immediate plans to sell can gain more enjoyment and satisfaction from their homes by taking on a project to revive their outdoor spaces.”

The high Joy Scores for big-ticket improvements like irrigation systems, fire features and patios mean that’s what people really want. If they’re planning to stick around and enjoy them, their motivation is even higher.

Why not share those homeowner satisfaction percentages with your clients?

“This report validates that landscaping is an investment worth making, offering the immediate benefits of increased enjoyment of your property as well as desirable long-term value that holds if or when it comes time to sell,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president, public affairs, NALP.

She continues, “From lawn and tree care to installing a new fire or water feature or landscape lighting, there’s no shortage of opportunities for homeowners to enhance their landscapes and to reap the benefits of these upgrades.” … and no shortage of opportunities for you to help them do it — and reap some rewards for yourself.

Staging the exterior

You can be a big help to your clients when they decide to sell. Let them know what an asset you can be in getting their homes ready to meet potential new owners. You might want to give them a tour of their property and point out anything you could help with. It’s also the time to remind them of any projects they may have discussed with you in the past but didn’t get around to authorizing.

There is also a chance that you are brand new to the client. According to the report, “2018 Remodeling Report: Outdoor Features,” from a study conducted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia, and the National Association of Realtors, Washington, 21 percent of homeowners calling for new landscape services are preparing for a sale.

But whether its an old client or a brand new one, almost every homeowner has outdoor projects that have been put off until “later,” whenever that may be, often due to cost. Tell them that now’s the time to get those projects off the back burner and into the pan, things like sprucing up the deck, removing that old shed, or covering the patio.

Explain how important it is to remove all the deadwood and excess growth on his trees and bushes and how you can trim them into pleasing shapes. Suggest replacements for struggling or dying bushes or plants in landscape beds and offer to put down all-new mulch.

If the client doesn’t have an irrigation system, suggest installing one.

If there is one, offer a complete inspection of the system as part of the spruce-up package, replacing broken sprinkler heads and tightening leaks. Emphasize that dripping faucets or weeping sprinkler heads just plain look sloppy and may signal to a buyer that other plumbing issues could exist on with the property.

And don’t forget about the water features, if any. They should be cleaned out and in working condition or repaired or replaced if they’re not. A boulder bubbler adds sound and beauty and costs much less than a bigger, more elaborate feature.

At the very least, suggest adding some bright, popping annual color or container plants to front walkways, flowerboxes and beds. After all, the house is looking for a new suitor; why not dress it up in a spiffy new outfit for its “dates?”

The author is senior editor of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine and can be reached at maryvillano@igin.com.