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How to Hit Pay Dirt Just Outside Your Door

March 10, 2001|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Selling your home or just want to increase its overall value? Remember that the outside is just as important as the inside.

"The exterior of your home gives potential buyers their first impression," said real estate agent Nancy Althin, who is with Seven Gables Real Estate in Anaheim Hills. "An eye-catching, colorful exterior makes a home more salable, and custom hardscape additions such as patios and patio covers increase a home's value. Making creative use of a small exterior space is even more appealing."

Although it's not always possible to recoup landscaping investment dollar-for-dollar, a well-designed exterior will make a home sell faster and you should be able to get more for it than a comparable house without landscape upgrades, said Placentia landscape architect Carey Orwig.

"When you improve the exterior of your home, you're actually providing future buyers with an outside environment," Orwig said. "If you can create an inviting outdoor retreat that uses all available space, and makes you feel like you've just entered another world, you will increase your home's value."

Anything you do to individualize and customize your home will make it more memorable and attractive to a potential buyer, said Richelle Rowland, owner of the Elegant Garden in North Tustin, which specializes in decorator items for the garden such as statuary, trellises and gazebos.

"Many homes in Orange County are tract housing on small lots, and they don't have a lot of charm and style," she said. "Anything you can do to infuse personality and add a special ambience sets your home apart. Visitors will feel as if they've entered a villa in Italy, rather than a tract house in Tustin."

Creating more space also makes a home's exterior more appealing, said Orwig, who has drawn up many architectural plans that have carved out space on hillsides, including areas for seating, planting and even pools.

You can also maximize existing space and use it more wisely, Orwig said.

"Instead of large planters or dinky patches of lawn, I often recommend more seating area and a barbecue space," he said. "Rather than traditional planters, I create low concrete walls with a smooth cap for seating. The idea is to extend the indoors into the outdoors."

Disguising unattractive areas and adding privacy with the use of hardscape and plants can also add value to your home.

"One home I designed had a great outdoor seating location but an unattractive area behind it," Rowland said. "I disguised and transformed the area by framing it with sheer fabric suspended from fishing line. You can get the same effect with trellises, gates and mirrors."

Trees offer another excellent way to add privacy and improve the appearance of a landscape, said landscape designer Steve Kawaratani of Landscapes by Laguna Nursery. "Well chosen, strategically placed trees are a great upgrade. They provide privacy and create a welcoming environment," he said.

There are a variety of things you can do to an exterior that will increase its value and salability, or simply make it a more comfortable and enjoyable place to live.

Keep the following tips in mind:

* Enliven the entry. Add something interesting to the front of the house such as colorful shrubs or trees. Or for a striking effect, pot up a variety of eye-catching annuals in warm, hot colors such as yellow and red.

* Provide street access to the front of the house. For many homes, the entrance to the front of the house is off the driveway. It's much more appealing to separate the two and have a walkway from the street to the frontdoor.

If the path is long, add an interim stopping point with a place to rest. This adds a charming touch, even if you rarely use it.

* Expand the porch. "Because the front of the house is such a high-traffic area, I often suggest to clients that they enlarge their porch and make it an appealing seating area," Orwig said. "If possible, some privacy from the street is also a good idea."

* Add hardscape. A variety of hardscape items freshen or update the appearance of a house. These include patios, patio covers, seating walls, swimming pools, spas, fireplaces, waterfalls, fountains, ponds, fire pits and barbecue centers.

If you have these items, consider updating and repairing them. Replace old concrete with brick, flagstone, slate, tile or pavers.

* Accessorize the landscape. Engaging exterior decor items immediately create interest and drama and can serve a variety of useful purposes, such as lending privacy and screening less attractive areas of the yard.

Add statuary near the entrance of the home or use it to offset a pool.

Strategically placed trellises and arbors can offer a dramatic backdrop to any entrance area. They can often be custom-made to size and distressed so that they appear vintage.

Other accessory items include gazing balls, obelisks, sundials and birdbaths.

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