GREEN Interviews: Michael Glassman, Landscape Designer, on How to Improve Your Landscape and Up Your Home’s Value

Yards are for beauty and enjoyment, but can definitely help resale as the curb appeal of one home trumps another. Too often, however, homeowners spend dollars to improve their home’s façade and interior and neglect their trees, lawn, walks and other natural and manmade outside features. What a shame. Spending dollars wisely on these elements can make a bigger difference, says real estate specialist Barb St. Amant with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty. Hiring a landscape professional to offer guidance about color, height, and texture is smart, but these specialists can step in regarding choices for their property’s micro-climates, soil, amount of water, sun and shade, and wildlife that frequent. They can also help a client prioritize about where to put their dollars based on their budget and whether they like to lounge on a terrace or dig in soil to plant vegetables.


Before clients list a home, real estate saleswoman Barb St. Amant of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty in Atlanta advises them to focus as much on the exterior as the interior. “You only get one chance to make a first impression!” she says. “Good curb appeal with coiffed landscaping helps more than you can imagine. You don’t need expensive landscaping, but need it mowed, trimmed, plenty of pine straw, and a pop of color. Get the mailbox looking good, too,” she says. Pressure washing the house, and/or painting with updated colors is huge. The return on the seller’s investment will double with some minor changes. “I love to hear a buyer say ‘wow, that is a really pretty home’ when you pull into the drive,” she says. But the grander the home the grander the landscaping needs to be to go with the home, she cautions. But St. Amant also advises homeowners not to overspend. “Spend wisely and plan ahead,” she says.


GREEN Talks to an Expert…

Micheal Glassman, California-based landscape designer and author.

For more than 40 years, Sacramento, Calif.-based landscape designer and author Michael Glassman has been guiding homeowners about such issues to transform their properties, from simple small lots and balconies to multiple acres filled with favorite amenities such as ponds, fire pits and orchards. He always takes into consideration all these challenges, as well as a budget to cover materials, installation, and maintenance. Here, Glassman takes us through the basics as garden catalogs start arriving in mailboxes. After all, spring is just weeks away.


Question: Realtors (R) and others speak of the importance of curb appeal; what exactly does that mean and how does it help resale?

A: A landscape is vital to a home’s value because it can extend the usability and attractiveness of the home. Curb appeal—what’s seen as soon as someone pulls up—definitely can help sell a house whether it’s a freshly painted façade or shutters or a nicely planted lawn, pruned shrubs, and colorful flowers. Most people will change the amenities and decorating inside their new home to fit their taste and needs. But they can also do so to improve the look of their landscape for their own enjoyment as well as to attract future buyers.


Q: What is the advantage of having a master plan drawn rather than just buying a tree for this area and some flowers for that?

A: A master plan is crucial for a landscape—like a road map.  Without it, you can proceed on your trip but you may end up going in the wrong direction, sometimes taking a longer route, sometimes arriving at a dead end, and sometimes spending far more than expected. The master plan for a yard maps out all the elements of design so you don’t make dozens of mistakes. It also allows for budgetary reasons for a homeowner to work on different areas of the site in phases since all of the spaces have been thought out at one time for a cohesive whole.


Q: Who do you hire for this job?

A: A landscape professional experienced in residential design, either a landscape designer or architect. Landscape architects generally work on more commercial and industrial design projects. Either can tackle most home jobs. I always advise homeowners to get references and see portfolios, often in a website or in person. Certain projects also call for a specialist such as a pool designer or contractor for a water feature or a horticulturalist for an orchard. Wildlife experts can advise on keeping out or getting rid of groundhogs, deer, and bats.


Q: How does the site’s topography, climate, municipal restrictions, existing problems spur solutions?

A: It is crucial when designing a project that the site’s topography be considered. Does the landscape need retaining walls to handle a slope? Does a patio need to be terraced or leveled? Are there drainage problems or too much afternoon sun over a terrace? Does the city or county have specific restrictions, setbacks, and other rules regarding a pool or fencing?? All of these challenges need to be addressed when designing any landscape in advance of work beginning.


Q: How much might a plan cost and what does it look like and include–plant materials, numbers, height, etc?

A: Plans vary in cost from a simple preliminary design that may cost as little as $500, but can easily go up to $3,000 for detailed colored drawings with plants drawn or listed. Even more detailed working architectural drawings may run from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the scale of the project, its complexity and project details. Preliminary plans may also include a three-dimensional drawing showing the finished design, which will add to the cost. But plans also help a homeowner visualize how all works together—the paths to a rose garden.


Q: What about the budget–what’s reasonable to spend?

A: Budgets for each homeowner vary by pocketbook, but many real estate experts advise spending 20 percent to 35 percent of the value of a house for all—plans, materials, and upkeep. But again all doesn’t have to be done at once. And remember that budgets are made to be adjusted based on needs.


Q: What about dividing up the budget for lawn, trees, hardscape, amenities such as a pool, bocce ball court, or fireplace?

A About 70 percent of a budget should be spent on hardscape (walks, decks, patios, pools) and the remaining 30 percent on softscape (trees, shrubs, lawn, irrigation and mulch). Upkeep will add more yearly.


Q: In fact, what are the more important and least important amenities to include and any to avoid and why?

A: The most important amenities are the entertainment elements such as patios, walkways, terraces, overhead structures for sun protection and rain protection. These elements add function to a garden that otherwise is unusable. Extras such as outdoor kitchens, fire features, water features, sports courts can be added later to add drama and comfort. Climate should dictate some caution. If you live in a mostly cold area, think twice before you add a $100,000 pool and spa; will you use it sufficiently, and might other buyers? If money is no deterrent, fine, but if so you might find better use for dollars with a screened porch. But more of my older clients don’t want to put in a pool.


Q: Once you have the plan how does a homeowner start?

A: This is the time to get numerous bids on construction. If you only get one bid how do you know it’s fair and equitable? Then it’s important to prioritize what areas you want to do first. What is your timeline for this project?  What is the contractor’s timeline? If you want that terrace for spring or to sell in spring better start sprucing up the yard now. Go look at area nurseries to study their plant and tree choices, and ask if they offer guarantees.


Q: Can you work on one area at a time and still get a cohesive look?

A: You can phase in your project and do one area at a time as long as you have a cohesive master plan that considers the entire design, That’s the secret to phasing a project properly.


Q: So many seem to forget about maintenance; that takes a lot of time and expense, right?

A: A garden does not take care of itself.  Consider the cost as well as the time it takes to maintain your project. Many times a beautiful landscape is destroyed due to a lack of regular maintenance—watering, feeding, pruning, fixing missing pavers or crumbling brick.


Q: What about new developments such as faux lawn, good or trendy?

A: There are new trends and products that are being introduced. Again, it’s important to ask for references, check warranties and ask friends if they had any experience with these new products. For example, the new synthetic grass is far better quality than ever, it is great to use for dog runs and play areas for children. Ask if the new products are sustainable, and if they are green (rather than destroying the rainforests when made).


Q: What if interests change; you no longer want those vegetable beds; is it crazy to rip them out?

A: Remember, tastes change and your needs do, too.  It’s important to design with adaptability in mind. When you have young children, your needs are different than when you are older and empty nesters though you may have grandchildren. Think ahead while you are in the design stage. Play yards can become rose gardens. Vegetable gardens can become areas for cut flowers and bulbs. A pool can become a koi pond or an extension of your patio.  If you think ahead, making these transitions will be easier.


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