Residential PPN Spring 2008 Newsletter
Curb Appeal: Beyond the Front Yard
by Jeff Mitchell, ASLA
With the current depressed housing market, competition for sales is keen. The rates of available housing are at lows similar to those in 1992. And this decline in housing sales has affected not only existing homes but also the new home markets. Homeowners and builders are forced to reduce prices and yet the sales are still depressed. This is when we can look more closely at how to attract home buyers and make the sale more possible. An attractive and functional landscape becomes even more important as a way to attract buyers.

“Curb appeal” is a trendy term that abounds in landscaping publications, The Home & Garden  Television Network, and the real estate community, to mention but a few. But what exactly is curb appeal?

Today, curb appeal is considered more of a real estate term for a front yard that catches the eye of a prospective buyer. And yes, a well-designed and distinctive front landscape does play a significant role in attracting new buyers. But does it stop at the front yard?  
Author’s Backyard in Spring      Image Courtesy Jeff Mitchell

Author’s Rear Yard Garden      Image Courtesy Jeff Mitchell

As a practicing landscape architect who specializes in residential design, I look at curb appeal in a much broader sense. Curb appeal only starts at the curb; it flows throughout the entire landscape, both visually and functionally. A well-designed landscape is not unlike the frame of a picture. It encompasses the entirety of the residential property. Concentrating only on the front yard is like having a partially-framed picture.

Bradley Landscape Golfcourse-Berm West      Image Courtesy Jeff Mitchel

An attractive and functional landscape can now more than ever help to “make the sale.” Studies have shown that an attractive and functional landscape that complements and adds personal utility to the home and yard can increase values from 5% to 20%. Investing in an upgrade of the landscape can often be more costeffective than interior remodeling.

As an example, I have a friend who has had her home on the market for almost a year. Yes, the inside of the home is dated, but many buyers expect that in existing homes. Most buyers plan to remodel the interior of the home and leave the landscape as a low priority for improvements. Her home lacks “curb appeal” and personality both in the front yard and throughout the rest of the landscape. The front landscape is void of any winter color with only nondescript deciduous plants. The beds are barren and in need attention, the existing plants are old and unattractive, with no personality to impress a prospective buyer. The rest of the yard, enclosed with a typical wooden fence, has a similar appearance and lack of functionality. An investment in an overhaul of the yard would enhance the home’s marketability.

The same holds true for many new homes, especially those built as “spec” homes. The landscaping that is provided is generally done by the builder and confined to a few of “the same old, same old plantings.” These are generally very small plants that are found in most newly-built homes, and do little to attract a buyer.

In both situations, what is missing is a “distinctive” landscape – one that stands out among others with its own personality, complements the home, and adds functionality. Such a landscape can make a difference in attracting buyers.

My own design philosophy is that the “difference is distinction.” And this difference is important. Some of the design techniques that landscape architects can use to set their designs apart from other homes include:

  • Careful use of narrow leaf and broad leaf evergreens, perennials, and annuals that feature color throughout the year, and include plants that are not commonly found in existing landscapes
  • Use of water features that provide not only the beauty of reflecting pools, bubbling fountains, and cascading waterfalls but also add the sounds of flowing water
  • Functional uses of plant material to act as wind breaks to help reduce the costly effects of winter winds, to shade the home from the heat of the summer sun, and to help direct drifting snow away from driveways and walks (a future article will be devoted to these design techniques)
  • Use of plants that bring soothing fragrances
  • Alternatives to the entry of a home such as wider sidewalks, extended porches, and small patio areas
  • Well thought-out decks, patios, walks, arbors, fences and other amenities such as outdoor cooking areas, natural sitting areas and complementary sculptures
  • Gardens that provide both attractive and functional use to the landscape and help reduce monotonous expanses of lawns
  • The knowledgeable use of plants that are low in maintenance and require less watering
  • And, the use of plants which attract butterflies, pollinators, and other valued insects
So, the next time you hear someone speak of “curb appeal,” think not just of the front yard but the yard as a whole – that frame that enhances the beauty and investment of your home.

Jeff Mitchell, ASLA is owner of Jeff Mitchell, Landscape Architect in Sherman, Illinois. He can be reached at
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