House up for sale - and no one's biting...

hostarasta(z9)May 25, 2005

It's Marlene again. Thanks to all of my fellow gardening lovers for all your thoughts and experiences about moving and leaving your gardens behind.

If anyone of you have read My Page, you know I'm a comedienne. But I'm not laughing right now! Michigan's economy sucks. Hardly anyone has come to look at my house. It's been up for sale since February. Price is not the issue. We have already lowered it significantly. No one seems to be buying houses around here. We are using a good realtor.

So why am I writing? Because of our financial problems, I have been unable, and not extremely motivated, to take care of the lawn and gardens as I should. Dandelions are getting ready to shed their seeds. But food comes before top soil and fertilizer! I've been gardening for friends to make some extra money. Their gardens sure look a lot better than mine!

Someone motivate me to garden!

Thanks for listening. Again.

p.s. Remember - tulips are better than one.

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cbars(z5b6a MO-Kansas City)

Curb appeal - if your lawn and gardens look neglected, people conclude that your house has been neglected also. Get to work and make it beautiful. Elbow grease is free!!!

Wishing you luck.


    Bookmark   May 26, 2005 at 9:58AM
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sheri(St. Louis/zn 6)

My DH and I were just talking about this last night. The old saying applies -- "you only get once chance at a first impression." If they drive by your house and the first impression is that it looks unkept, they may not come back to see the rest of it.

Get out there! It will do a lot for your house and your SOUL!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2005 at 2:14PM
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I agree with the others. Curb appeal can make a huge difference as to whether or not someone wants to come look inside. We did some massive and quick house-hunting in this area when we moved here last summer. Total intention to buy, looking for the right space, and needed to find it quickly. More than once I was turned off by terribly crappy gardening. Hard enough to move when I didn't want to...but moving to a place where I would have to kill myself to get it livable, was NOT on my list of things to do. I was up to my armpits in boxes and two kids. Moving from a different time zone, concerned about getting my daughter into school... Last thing that I wanted to do was fight weeds too, kwim? And I was leaving my own gardens, did I want to start from scratch? NO. Again, more than once walked around a property and thought "no one loves this place". Add bad paint jobs and all of that and there would be a tipping point of work that we said no, too. Have to redo paint and trim AND garden and and and? Screw it.

What I do if I were you would be to sit down with your agent and ask some specific questions regarding what buyers in the area are asking about as a group. Wants and needs, in a general way.

Back in CA, you could sell ANYTHING eventually. Lots of "as is" properties. We sold our home with a deck that had termites. I'm not joking. And it didn't affect the price of the house.

Here? I just read an article that said buyers are so picky, some will turn down a house if they don't like the color of your carpet. @@ That tells me volumes. Tells me that my place better be spanking clean and perfect in order to sell (and we MIGHT have to this summer). One property I went through had a sign that said "owners will powerwash and stain the deck if necessary". WHAT? Another sign of pickiness in buyers in general...

The house needs to be excruitiatingly clean. No bad grout in the bathroom. Fresh paint if need be. My sister had a trick of using her breadmaker on the morning of an open house. Smell of fresh bread makes things feel homey. Myself, I put cinnamon and nutmeg in some water in a pot and simmer low on the stove. Flowers in a vase..Things that make you think "a lovely family lives here"...

And then I would do the gardening in a way that says "I love my place". Put in some happy massively bright and eye-catching annuals in front beds. Some fab stuff in containers on the porch. Get rid of the damn dandelions and have perfect edging. Keep the thing watered and mowed. Prune back stray tree branches or chop down some of that hedge if it's hiding the house completely. Think HGTV...

And when someone comes through? Romance them with that garden. I saw it happen when I spoke with our stager. We stood on teh back deck and I talked about our backyard like it was an old lover. I told her all about the loveliness of it during the season and the ease of taking care of it. By the end of it, she went "oooohh, it must have been so nice to live here".

It was at that moment that I realized what I had just done. I made her fall for the place too. You might want to do that to your agent, so your agent can really sell your place.

People buy HOMES, not just houses. If you are selling what you love, someone will buy it. If it's just an albatross, if the market is slow, it'll be a problem.

Btw, one other thing that you might consider is to go house hunting with your agent pretending that you want to buy and see what is out there and what your competition is. That might also give you ideas as how to better market your place.


    Bookmark   May 26, 2005 at 3:14PM
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I bought a house in michigan last week four days after seeing it for the first time from inside. I had been looking at houses for two days only when I put in a bid. I looked for maintenance inside and out and considered it an important factor in my decision. Also, landscaping was important for me. Just go through magazines or consult a professional such as Bordine's and then fix the lawn. It will make a difference. Houses are still selling and there are buyers out there for a well-maintained house.

My agent was Kathleen Goodrich and her no. is 248-644-6300. She came highly recommended by our friends who have bought and sold 3 houses with her help in the michigan area over the last few years. She might be able to offer you some good advice.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2005 at 6:48PM
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tropicanarama(Chicago 5b)

You may be getting to a point where people aren't coming to look at your place because it's been on the market for too many days. I know when we've been looking, our first thought on seeing a high days-on-market figure has been, what is wrong with that house? and then often as not we passed it over without going to look at it. ...I'm not saying anything is wrong with your house specifically, just that people turn down houses with high DOMs. If you haven't got a contract by mid-June, if you can, you might want to take it off the market for a bit, at least til fall when it'll pick up again. Summer is the absolute worst time to try to sell a house.

We are putting our house up on the market next January (I totally get the conflicted feelings about gardening when you know you're going to leave it all behind!) I agree completely that curb appeal is everything. I bought my first house despite its truly ghastly condition because I irrationally fell in love with a magnificent garden. So definitely get out there and attack those dandelions! It is totally a heart-wrenching drag to invest time and money in a yard you know you're leaving, but financially, it's worth it: Presumably you've already invested a lot of what you're going to from your previous years of gardening - but this is the BEST time to fill in the holes and tidy up.

If you do want to keep it on the market, here's ALL the advice about landscaping that our realtor and his landscape designer friend suggested to us, emphatically, and over a good deal of beer:

- Gardens in general really do help sell the house - but only if they're in good condition. Unkempt yards and ESPECIALLY weeds make people think that the house has been poorly kept up, too. (We do all organic, and our realtor has been BEGGING us to ChemLawn the place or something so the lawn looks all nice.) Prospective buyers routinely do a drive-by to look at the outside of houses before even scheduling an appointment. When I was looking - LOL I'm not proud - if I could, I went down the alley and peeked over the back fence too. If your yard looks ratty they may never come to look inside.

- Both our realtor and a landscaper friend said that most people just cannot for the life of them envision a garden from drawings or a list of plants. (I don't understand that personally, but I have the perfect example of this in the blank stares of my husband when I moon over plant catalogs, LOL.) Most folks need to SEE it in its full glory to understand just how great your garden is. It's not enough to know there are some perennials back there someplace that you haven't gotten around to tending to.

- In keeping with that, they both urged us to take photos of the garden at its peak throughout the season - all the way from crocuses in the snow to the last of the fall Misicanthus plumes. Then when you have showings or open houses, you can have large printouts of your pics in a little binder for people to flip through. My realtor has done this trick before and had fantastic results - it's the gardening equivalent of making cookies in the oven before open houses. For one thing, it allows prospective buyers to see your hydrangeas or iris or whatever in full glory even though they're just dead sticks at the time of the open house. Possibly more importantly, it keeps them hanging around in the house for longer while they look. The more time they spend in the house, the more likely they are to buy. ...If you're missing photos you wish you'd gotten earlier, you can always go online and find close-up pics of plants you have, and supplement with those. But it sounds like if you can muster it, you've got perfect timing to make your garden kick a** all summer. (LOL hopefully it won't be all summer!)

- Write a little mini-guide in *excruciating* detail (but not in a way that makes it sound hard or scary)of what's in your garden, how easy it is to take care of, and any other tips you can think of. Your realtor should be able to put that on a web page or you should be able to make it into a brochure with pictures of your house and garden. ...People really seem to like this and it reassures them that they won't kill everything anyway.

- Is your garden mentioned prominently in your ad? And are you putting descriptive enough ads out there? We just rented our apartment unit, and we'd had absolutely NO luck until I added a huge description of exactly what our garden was. We went from no calls to almost 100 in a week. ...Our realtor really liked the detail we could provide, because he said that even if a non-gardener bought the house, it reflected on the general standard of care we had for the whole property and made it seem again like a carefully managed place.

- Do you have any online presence for your listing? That's another place some well-done garden pics can really make a place look great. If your realtor is affiliated with a large franchise then you should be able to get this and it's worth it.

- I don't know where in Michigan you are, but think about advertising heavily on Craigslist. It's free and it really worked great for us, and it's spreading fast across the country. ...It can't hurt.

- If you can get it together, you may want to have your realtor do some kind of "garden walk" event/open house for you to draw people in.

- Another thing that you might want to consider is actually investing a little bit MORE in your garden by putting in stuff that's specifically geared to sell a place: plants and shrubs with year-round interest, and/or that are drought/neglect tolerant. This idea was presented to me as a kind of balance thing - on the one hand, most people won't know how to garden as much as you do, so a connoiseur's garden might be daunting, but on the other hand, you don't want to have McLandscaping as that turns a lot of people off. (There are enough Stella D'Oro daylilies in this world, thank you very much.) You want demonstrably carefree plants that escape total banality but also provide multi-season interest. Cranberry viburnum, hardy plumed grasses, some of the less common colors of evergreen barberries, red twig or yellow twig dogwood, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick, coneflowers, variegated shrubs like Daphne Carol Mackie, a Japanese maple that is relatively not so much of a PITA, etc. are all great. (My personal faves for this purpose are rugosa roses. Just try killing one. It's impossible! plus, they rebloom all summer, are fragrant, the foliage is nice and bushy and not modern rose-like at all, they turn brilliant purple or scarlet in fall, and they have bright orange or red hips that stick around through fall and right to the end of winter. You can't beat that!)

- Think too about things that put on a tremendous show and then don't ask for anything for the rest of the year. There's an 80 year old peony bush in my backyard that would uncomplainingly pump out 100+ huge showy fragrant blooms a year, whether I fed and watered it or not. Tough hardy rambler roses, less ubiquitous daylilies (like Black-eyed Stella or Strawberry Candy), drifts of naturalizing daffodils, and crabapples are great for the same reason.

- Paradoxically, while I would have thought that the ONLY place to spend money was on perennials, my realtor insisted that we fill in every single remaining gap with colorful annuals. The point was to make the house look as bright and cheery as possible because people would respond emotionally to that instead of saying, Hey, those are marigolds, I'd have to plant those again next year.

- This last bit may be specific only to city folk because it's such a novelty here in Chicago - but think about planting a fruit tree. When people here found out that there was an apple tree in the back yard, and that it did in fact actually make real apples, they flipped. It just charmed their socks off. Our realtor thought the tree added a surprisingly large amount to the value of our house. If you don't have room for a dwarf tree, consider putting in something even like ultra-dwarf blueberries, a strawberry bed or a few raspberry canes, or even a little potted herb garden. People get inordinately excited by the idea of having their own little herb garden - it could cost you less than $50, look nice, and help charm potential buyers.

...Okay. That is just WAY more suggestions than I suspect anyone could possibly want, so now I'll stop rambling.

But not before telling you my current plan to not be heartbroken all the time about leaving my garden: When I have to buy perennials to round out what's there so it looks good for when we put it up on the market, I'm choosing vigorous stuff so I can divide tons of it and keep it when I go; I'm asking some friends to give "foster homes" to a few really choice plants; I'm taking cuttings of absolutely everything I can and nursing them (in multiples) now; and I'm splurging and potting up plants I can take with me so I don't feel like I'm just stuck gardening for somebody else this year. It's making me feel good about tending this garden I love and feel rather unmotivated about, and helping me look forward to wherever it is I'm going. :)

I do hope some of this is slightly helpful SOMEHOW! ...I do commiserate deeply. It's so awful to leave a house and a garden, and the process of selling is so awful... to have to do them both is just unimaginably crazy! let us know how it's going! (and just think of all the new plants you can buy when you sell, LOL)

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 10:39AM
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Kerstin_Linnea(Z5, chicago)

-I do not know if you are reading this thread still, all the postings above is good solid advice, however, I beleive I sense a undercurrent that not everybody seems to sense, You are selling the house involuntarly.?
'short supply in cash' seems to have quite a bit to do with it...,
I can not imagine that being a comedienne is all that lucrative... unless your name is ellen of course..
Well. then, all the advice above is worthless.

(I have trying to live off my writing and although I am constantly producing, it is not enough to cover much..
I know how it is when you can not justify a purchase of a certain kind of fertilizer or even new topsoil because it will simply take away that crucial bit of money to cover the bills. But gardening I AM, hell needs to freeze over before I stop, )
As a result I became a scaveneger, picking up everything of use out of backalleys- I still do LOL.. copperwire, broken trellises, screws,old chairs etc, etc., I found a brilliant trellis last week.
I do indeed agree, your yard has to be appealing for a succesful sale, a tip is to look at lots that are to be re-built, many contractor's are not giving a rats ass about the plantings and I just a month ago, sat powerless and witnessed a gorgeous lilac about 25 yrs old being chopped down to coffe wood, I just couldn't get it out of the ground and had nowhere to place it..
I also just came from another thread, were a woman in MO just cleaned out a huge cluster of peonies..
keep your eyes open. ESPECIALLY if you are moving around Chicago.
get annuals that you can keep taking cuttings from, buy a clematis if you have enough to spend, get it from brushwood that includes shipping in their sales , pop it in the ground and by the end of the summer It will be all over the place, no kidding, these plants come ready to ROCK. They are WAY better than anything I have found locally for many times double the price.
Don't bother with too many perennials as these still need another year to look their best, except that clem that I really think is gonna add so much more for little.
even nongardeners go bonkers climbing vines.

Furtherhmore, I have a bunch of seeds that never got in the ground, I will be happy to give them to you if you will send me a SASE, I can't imagine that it is too late for you to sow them, and the good thing is, I have some fun kinds not only the run of the mill.

I am so sorry but I truly believe that going out and do some hardcore sweaty chores will soothe you, at the very least you'll be too tired to fret much... One way or other, you WILL have another garden somewhere else, keep yer spirits up and try not to worry too much little bunny, summer is here and things tend to get easier when it is warm outside.
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2005 at 6:02PM
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Way out of your area but have 30+ years experience with this stuff. I suggest you drive throughout the area & notice every For Sale sign & look long & hard at their landscaping/gardening, etc. Espeically notice colors of annuals, then do something totally different.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 12:05AM
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CPeters(z5 Chicago)

I completely agree with everyone who says the yard and garden give the first impression and really help to sell a house. My wife and I bought our first house last year and actually went out of our way to look at houses that looked well built but the yard was in terrible shape, the paint was in bad shape, and had been on the market for a long time. Every time we saw a house that fit this criteria the price had been knocked down and the sellers were eager to negotiate.
After looking a number of houses this way we found one that was perfect, except - the front and back yards were completely overgrown and there was fake stone on the front, first floor only. After two thorough professional inspections we bought it. After the closing our realtor told us that she believed the owner could have sold the house in a week for more than he was asking if the outside had just been cleaned up some. We've gotten to know our neighbors and they've said that people were constantly driving up to it and then driving away after it went on the market. After less than $5,000 in construction work (all in the crawlspace) and many hours fixing the front and back yard we just got it reappraised at 28% more than it was appraised for less than a year ago. Yards matter a lot - make sure you get new photos taken if you improve the front appearance.

p.s. It costs thousands of dollars to get fake stone removed from a brick wall, but $30 or less for hop rhizomes to cover it up!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 2:41AM
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glassmouse(z5-Cent IL)

Hi, Marlene--
I don't have any specific advice to offer, and everyone above has already given some outstanding ideas. I just wanted to offer some words of hope...A guy I work with has had his house on the market for over a year in Decatur, Illinois (a depressed market if there ever was one!). After having virtually no interest for over a year, he finally sold it this month to the first person who's looked at it in forever.

Also, my husband and I bought one of those "too long on the market" houses. It was the first one we seriously looked at, and the only we one we seriously looked at. (Thereby breaking all the rules of housebuying, I know.) In the town I live in, most houses tend to sell immediately, so you can run into the problem of not even being able to see a listed house before it's purchased right out from under your nose. So I was leery of why this house had been on the market for months. It turns out that it was on the market so long (for here) for two reasons. The first reason is that it was on the market--again--after less than one year due to a sudden and acrimonius divorce. So the homeowners had done nothing whatsoever to clean it up or even make it presentable, since they had some personal issues going on. (Apparently they would harrass each other by turning the utilities off and on, because when we tried to get the electricity put in our name, there was a "hold" placed on the account barring any further switches!) LOL!

The other, and probably main reason the house hadn't sold is because it's the smallest house in a nice's too small for anyone with school-aged children, but too expensive for a starter home. So they just had to wait for the "right" couple to come along--a long-term married couple with no kids (us).

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that eventually the right buyers will come along. Around here, at least, summer is the home-buying season, since no one wants to look at houses in the dead of winter, and plenty of houses that were for sale all winter are now selling left and right. I hope the same happens for you. :)

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 8:32AM
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One thing that I would add is that I didn't care how long something was on the market to look at it, but I did mildly wonder 'is something wrong?'

That did NOT mean we wouldn't look at it. Matter of fact, when it came down to making a choice, two of the homes on our top three had been on the market for a very long time. We ended up buying one that had not, but time had nothing to do with our decision. The house was better suited for us, and that is why we took it.

Our number two house had been on the market for almost a year. We were days from making a decision on what we had already seen and probably would have taken that one had this one not come along.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 2:08PM
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katielovesdogs(z5b/6a Indiana)

You might want a couple of friends to come in and give you an honest assessment of their impressions of the house. I have bought three houses that we long term on the market houses. I turned around and sold them for quite a profit by making some cosmetic changes. Paint is cheap and easy to apply. Flats of annuals are also cheap this time of year.

I don't have the "gift" of a decorative eye, but my friend, Maggie, does. She came in and "staged" my houses for me before I sold them. She got rid of my clutter, rearranged some of my furniture, and added some decorative touches.

If your community has a garden tour, sign up to be in it. It would be great advertising for selling your house. Also, make sure that your realtor has put your house on local and national real estate websites and has included many flattering pictures of the house and garden.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 11:38AM
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