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Don't let your yard sabotage your home sale

Information for Sellers

By Melinda Fulmer

Will your landscaping pull in buyers or make them drive on by? Outdated or extreme styles, high-maintenance features and invasive or overgrown foliage can kill interest. Here are the experts' dos and don'ts.  

For homemaker Sue Wildrick, it was the koi ponds that killed the deal.

While the house she and her husband looked at in Denver last winter had its appeal, its elaborately bricked-in backyard and large network of fish ponds seemed like too much work. "It was a little overwhelming," Wildrick says. And it provided little room for the family to play games or throw a ball to their dog. "We would have probably had to take some of that stuff out."

These days, elaborate patios, outdated or high-maintenance landscaping and invasive plants and trees can kill buyer interest in a home almost as quickly as an outdated kitchen or orange shag carpeting, according to landscaping experts and real-estate agents.

Here's a look at the top landscaping turnoffs for buyers and what homeowners can do to make sure their landscaping efforts enhance, rather than detract from the value of their home.

1. Your father's landscaping

Rounded junipers, squared-off boxwood and holly bushes, and topiary shrubs scream that the house is a throwback to the 1960s and '70s, agents say. People now want their landscaping to look natural, with more native plants and interesting, varied foliage.

2. Gnomes gone wild

It should go without saying, but put the lawn ornaments away. Other buyers may not share your love of lawn globes, gnomes and plastic deer. The same rules for depersonalizing and de-cluttering inside your home apply to the outside, as well.

3. High-maintenance yards

While many buyers fancy themselves green-thumb gardeners, few want to invest serious time in pruning, spraying, mowing and fertilizing. Beds of non-disease-resistant plants such as hybrid tea roses can eat up a buyer's weekends with pruning and applying fungicide. "They may be beautiful when they are in flower, but it's a nightmare to keep them from getting sick," Butterfield says.

4. Over-the-top outdoor living spaces

The line between the indoors and outdoors has been blurring in recent years, with more homeowners building elaborate outdoor living spaces complete with fireplaces, kitchens, outdoor showers and custom stone work. In many parts of the country, these areas are a big selling point, making the house seem larger. But when the work gets too ornate or extensive, it can sometimes detract from the value of a home -- especially in colder climates.

Homeowners who put in these improvements should not expect to recoup their total investment at resale. One man's $80,000 outdoor kitchen may only be worth an extra $30,000 to another, says Orange County, Calif., appraiser Jeff Siler. "People have to remember that this is their own personal preference," he says. In essence, you're renting this lifestyle, he says, and you probably won't see the bulk of the money back.

"Landscaping often makes the difference between a prospective buyer getting out of the car for a closer look at the house and simply driving on by," says Cynthia Bee, of Solscapes Landscape Design in Salt Lake City.

Indeed, agents say, good landscaping can provide more bang for your buck than almost any other home improvement -- provided it's done right