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Love At First Sight




BEFORE

A FEW YEARS AGO, Annie Huston, co-founder of Englewood-based landscape design-and-build company Columbine Design, visited a for-sale property as a homebuyer. When she stepped foot inside the house, she remembers it was absolutely magnificent: clean, tidy, inviting. It even smelled good, as if someone had just been baking.

 

BEFORE

A FEW YEARS AGO, Annie Huston, co-founder of Englewood-based landscape design-and-build company Columbine Design, visited a for-sale property as a homebuyer. When she stepped foot inside the house, she remembers it was absolutely magnificent: clean, tidy, inviting. It even smelled good, as if someone had just been baking.

“But the outside was horrendous!” she recalls. “There was a disconnect between the outside—which is really the first impression you get—and the inside.” A light bulb went off in

AFTER

Huston's head. “Why would a homeowner not put a lot of energy into what's going on before the potential homebuyer gets to the front door?”

The company had fielded requests for years from clients who wanted help making their for-sale homes look top-notch. So last year, Columbine officially launched its landscape staging service. The company offers a custom approach to sprucing up landscapes before a sale: pruning shrubs and trees, edging beds, bringing in seasonal color and cleaning outdoor surfaces to a sparkle, among many more services.

Columbine's menu of services is broken down by three stages of treatments from which homeowners can pick and choose to improve their home's curb appeal. Selections are made based on the condition and scale of the property, as well as the homeowner's budget and desire to power up the lawn mower or put tool to earth on his or her own.

Stage one offers clean-up services such as weeding, edging of beds, debris and trash removal, light pruning, and cleaning the hardscape and outdoor furniture. Stage two involves evaluating (or replacing) the sprinkler system and outdoor lighting, pressure-washing the façade and windows, cleaning gutters, top-dressing the beds with a fresh coat of wood or rock mulch, plus fertilizing the lawn or adding new sod to areas that look tired.

BEFORE

And for stage three? Columbine will bring in distinctive seasonal plants and color and add or remove elements of landscape décor. “We'll try to remove the clutter that homeowners don't even realize is there,” Huston says. The goal is to achieve a feel that is personal—by adding a bench and a couple of pillows to warm up the front porch, for example—but not so personalized that it might turn off a potential homebuyer. “If has 15 birdbaths, we'll leave only one.”

Sometimes, instead of following the basic list of services, Columbine will simply focus on

AFTER

highlighting a house's best parts (or minimizing its blemishes): bringing in window boxes to emphasize the existing windows, placing a border of annuals to call attention to a grand walkway, placing vines around a worn fence. A light cosmetic touch may be all it takes.

On top of that, the company offers to take the legwork out of maintaining your newly refreshed outdoor space. With a landscape-staging crew that's 20 deep, Columbine will send a set of hands on a weekly, biweekly or even monthly basis—all depending on the demands of the grounds—to keep things in tip-top shape. Planning an open house? They'll show up the day before to primp and prune before the flood of visitors arrives.

The cost of a basic makeover (stage one) ranges from $500 to $1,000; a stage-three overhaul of your home's landscape has a price tag from $5,000 to $10,000. Huston points out that it's money well spent. (She cites a Michigan State University study that shows that high-quality landscaping adds 5 to 11 percent to a home's price. “The keyword is ‘high-quality,'” she says.)

That being the case, Huston advises against what she calls the “band-aid effect”: slapping a couple of containers on the front porch and calling it good. While adding a few flowers to the front of your house might be better than doing nothing, she says, shoppers will most likely see it for what it is—a cover-up.

Instead, aim for details that will set your property apart for weary house-hunters viewing dozens of homes each week. In the end, “It becomes a home instead of just a property for sale,” Huston says. And that's exactly what shoppers are looking for.

DID YOU THINK ABOUT...?
Annie Huston shares a few tidbits of hard-earned wisdom:

Just because the temps drop doesn't mean your home's curb appeal has to. Don't leave your containers empty during the winter months; Huston recommends a festive mix of fresh winter greens, pine cones, berries and twigs to bring cheer to your front porch.

Too personal can be too much. You might love your arched trellis or the crocheted pillows on your front-porch swing, but be sure to leave room for visitors to envision their own styles in the space. Trust your realtor or landscape experts to offer a fresh set of eyes—and an objective perspective—on what should stay...or go.

Room with a view: You'll want to consider what visitors see when they look out your window. “I don't think I'm the only one who enters a house and goes directly to the window to look outside,” Huston says. It's important that indoor beauty is matched by the view of the outdoors—and that means paying attention to what's going on full circle around your house, not just in front.

Help potential homebuyers start to make memories—or return to old ones. With some visitors going to half a dozen houses in one day, remembering one over another can come down to the little things that make a home stand out, Huston says. Columbine selects more unusual species of annuals so a house is remembered as “that house with verbenia out front.” Or, opt for a feature like a rose garden that might appeal to your visitors' sentimentally.

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