STYLE

From termites to dying trees, inspect landscape before signing off on a new house

12/03/2014 10:23 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST
Prudent house hunters usually await the results of a professional inspection before buying their dream home. All too often, though, one of the biggest contributors to a home's value is neglected: the landscape. And that can prove costly.

"I feel bad telling people who've already put their life's savings into a new house that their sprinkler system is outdated or was installed wrong," said Jeff Wolfe of Sun Wolfe Irrigation Inc. in Phoenix, Arizona. The company's services include irrigation and outdoor lighting inspection.

"Now they're facing big expenditures," he said. "Depending on the size of the property, costs for a new irrigation system can vary from $2,000 to $20,000. The same goes for lighting systems."

Landscape problems are more costly to correct when deferred, said Bruce Avery, an arborist with AAA Tree Experts Inc. in Tallahassee, Florida. "And the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets."

And inspections are increasingly important now that families are making more use of their outdoor living areas, he said.

Pre-purchase landscape inspections should include such things as retaining walls, patios and decks, outdoor kitchens, water features, fireplaces and fire pits, irrigation systems, fencing, pools and spas, lighting, playgrounds, lawns and trees, Avery said.

Regional considerations vary.

"If you live in California, you'd probably want to know about wildfire hazards," Avery said. "In Florida, hurricane prevention."

"Up North, ice and snow and their maintenance activities can cause landscape and hardscape damages," he said. "Gulf Coast areas from Alabama to Texas are fighting invasive termites that attack healthy trees, and a similar pest in the Northeast coastal areas is expanding inland at a fast pace."

Large trees can be beautiful but also problematic, Avery said.

"Mature trees can add significant value to a property," he said. "Unfortunately, with age, stresses from a number of factors can lead to dangerous and unhealthy trees (and the risks) are not evident to the average consumer."

Don't ignore the ground. Get the soil tested before you buy, said Richard Koenig, a professor, associate dean and director of Washington State University Extension.

"It is difficult if not impossible to address a soil problem after perennial plants, irrigation systems and hardscape (sidewalks and such) are installed," Koenig said.

"Poor drainage, high or low pH and salinity are the most common problems. In rare situations, soils can be contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides from previous industrial activity or an accidental spill," he said.

If landscape problems are discovered during an inspection, then those issues can be passed along to the homeowners for a suggested fix, be included in the price negotiations or become total deal-busters.

"There are so many elements of the landscape that consumers have no idea what is hidden," Avery said. "A wise homeowner or prospective buyer should always involve a qualified arborist or landscape professional to help answer their questions."

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Online:

For more, download this Cornell University site assessment checklist: http://www.cceoneida.com/home-and-garden/master-gardener-volunteer-program/site-assessment-tool/

You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick@netscape.net

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