Friday, January 11, 2013

Not All Advice is the Same

     I had a client who occasionally engaged me to provide him with some assistance in site planning and design for his single family residential homes.  He was a house builder who specialized in medium income speculative homes.  Most of the time, he built his houses and had a landscape contractor plant a few things - enough to get a certificate of occupancy - and the house was on the market ready for sale.  Occasionally, though, he would end up with a house that had been on the market for a very long time.
     I was called in one time for a very lovely home with lots of extras and built-ins.  He called me because the real estate agent who had been handling the property had been urging him to make changes to the site.  She correctly convinced him that the site issues were the reason that the property was not selling.  Fortunately he listened to this amount of advice and hesitated when it came to following the rest of her advice.  The site was wooded and her advice to him was to clear the back yard, put a fence around it and plant it with a nice green lawn.  She reasoned that people were not interested in the house because there were no places for kids to play and that could only be provided with a nice open lawn area that is fenced.  This is a frequently expressed, if flawed, sentiment.  Kids will play in all kinds of places, and they usually choose other areas than open, flat lawns.  Just watch them when they are allowed to play in an unstructured situation.
     I arrived at this house for my meeting with this builder on a rainy morning.  The house was at the end of a cul-de-sac.  The first thing that I noticed driving up to the site was the neighborhood package plant for the area well.  After a moment, I saw my client's house.  It was next to this plant, and the plant was the major feature that drew your attention when you drove up.  Strike one for selling the house!
     Once inside, the real estate agent kept insisting that the back yard was the problem and that it needed to be cleared and grassed.  I finally convinced my client to walk the site with me.  I knew the realtor would not be interested in joining us with her nice suit and new high heels.
     The site itself had a great deal of positive features.  The house did face a fairly flat wooded area in the rear.  Off to one side, a creek ran through the lot cutting off a corner of the property.  It was somewhat hidden by small trees growing along the tops of the banks.  The realtor had alluded to this and demanded that a pipe be laid to carry the water and the creek be filled in to make the lawn area a nice square.
     After meeting with my client, I proposed a couple of items be changed.  First, I suggested a heavy evergreen screen with multiple heights and plant types along the side.  This would completely obscure the view of the package plant to anyone entering the cul-de-sac.  In the rear, I suggested a minimum amount of selective thinning on the house side of the creek.  I then designed an armoured path to a new foot bridge over the creek.  In the triangular part of the lot previously cut off by the creek, I continued the path to a secluded patio area made with pavers- using the existing small trees and undergrowth to its full advantage.  For the rest of the rear yard, I suggested some minimal limbing up of the trees and a border planting of varying densities and heights to help define the area of the yard.  This kept the trees and used them to a fuller advantage.
     My client spent a week installing all of the features of my plan.  A week after he had completed installing the features of the site plan, he called me.  He was very excited.  He had just gotten a legitimate offer on this house.  It had been on the market for almost eighteen months without so much as a single offer and he had twice made revisions and additions to the site based on the advice of his trusted realtor prior to having me take a look.
     The realtor meant well.  After all, it was to her advantage to sell this house as much as it was to my client's advantage.  She just did not really know how to help.  Unfortunately, all to often people listen to the advice of people who act as if they were experts but who really have nothing to offer.  My client paid that price with this house.  In the end he paid $5000 to install the things as per her advice and it got him nowhere.  He very nearly cleared the rear yard which would have removed the major amenity of this site and vastly reduced its overall value.  By listening to the advice for someone qualified and experienced in this kind of work, he ended up spending $1000 for my design and $3000 to implement it.  More importantly, the house sold!


  1. I hope that he kept your contact information and shared it with other builders. This is the best use of a lot!

  2. Unfortunately, he lost his business in 2009. He was building mid-priced spec homes and just could not stay in business. Fortunately, the realtor is out of the business as well,