Mental Preparation for Selling a Home

From an emotional point of view, selling home is tough.  When we look at our homes, we see more than brick and mortar–we also see memories of our past.  The driveway where the old Volvo station wagon used to sit, dinged up from all the kids learning to drive; the entrance that had been variously decorated for the Halloween trick-or-treaters, the birthday parties, and homecomings; the kitchen where everyone crammed down breakfast before heading off to school and work.

Not all the memories of home are necessarily pleasant, however.  Some of them are of leaking roofs, a rat caught dead behind the refrigerator, a crack in the patio cement that got bigger every year from the roots of a misplaced ficus.  Given our blood, sweat, and pocketbook, it’s also not surprising that we hold certain attitudes about our homes that may not fully correspond with reality:  Typically we all think our own home is the best one on the street.  We also often take the position that if something is amiss, and we can live with it, so can somebody else.

Given such strong attachments and attitudes, both good and bad, it’s easy to understand how, once we’ve made the decision to sell, we don’t want to put any more energy into our homes.  Not a dime more.  The thought of spending after all those years on remodeling, landscaping, or staging is about as palatable as being asked to wash your own dishes after eating at an expensive restaurant.

But–here’s the kicker–if we can get past our emotional responses to our homes and look at them more objectively as what we propose they become–houses/ commodities–the financial reward is likely to offset the exercise in detachment.  Consider your home from the buyer’s point of view.  Whereas you see memories gone by, the buyer is likely to project possibilities for a happy future.  What you don’t want to do is color those thoughts with the possibility that the garden party gets cancelled.

I cannot speak with any authority about the interior of a house, but I can speak to the landscape.  Typically, the effect of the landscape on price ranges between five and eleven percent of the total cost of a house. (If you want the academic references for these estimates, send me an email.)  This means that for a home worth $300,000, the landscape is typically contributing between $15,000 and $33,000.  That’s a range of eighteen thousand dollars.  It’s easy to see that given this scenario, investing a couple thousand in the landscape, even when our emotional response to the extra expense tells us to run for the hills is misguided.

George Herman clinging to home

My advice is get the house up to snuff so you can maximize your enjoyment of it well before you plan to sell.  But if you are one of those who has let the fruit trees languish, the weeds invade the lawn, and the ficus push up the sidewalk, and you are thinking of selling–grit your teeth before you call your real estate agent and consider your prospective buyers first and yourself second.

Casual Symmetry

With its mesas and valleys, La Mesa as a rule is a tough locale for a formal garden, so I was more than a little surprised to visit Marcia Tolin at her new listing at 4180 Hurley Drive.   Here was this house on the west side of Eastridge’s steep hillside that pulls off a formal look without much effort.

Whoever designed the front yard deserves a medal for thwarting an isosceles triangle of a slope and allowing it to fit in with the usual regularities–even numbers of plants, regular spacing, strict geometrical shapes–that characterize the formal garden.

So how was this effect of casual symmetry achieved?    Well, with respect to the afore-mentioned slope, containment seems to be the plan.  Below, the incline is defined by  six rounded pittosporums (five show up in the photo above).  The clean wall with brick that matches the house borders the drop-off at the top.  Myoporum–not my favorite plant but certainly serviceable and easier to manage than ice plant — provides  green uniformity to the the slope, and even allows the indiscretion  of the occasional boulder.

Even the orb spider is tricked out in yellow at 4180 Hurley Drive.

My favorite, touch, though, is the use of yellow.  Yellow is arguably too playful for the formal palette, but here it is used to great advantage in the euonymous that punctuate the date palms in the planter next to the house . . .  and in the brightly painted corbels and trim.  The suggestion that the formality shouldn’t be taken too seriously is perfect for the ethos of La Mesa.  To see more of this house, especially, the inside, which Marcia has done a great job of staging, visit her at Marcia Tolin.

Euonymous:  a well-behaved, drought-tolerant shrub

Rock Solid Advice

Kathleen Brand is a sought-after landscape architect in La Mesa who specializes in designing therapy gardens, or gardens to help people recover from illness or connect with themselves, others, and the natural environment.  These gardens often use rock as an important element in healing.  I asked her recently about the place of rock in gardens and how they are important in landscape staging.

Her main point is that, carefully chosen and placed, rocks help the house look like it belongs:  “Rocks are prominent in the Southern California landscape, especially anytime you get out of urban areas.  So they look natural here, and they work well with our homes based, as they tend to be, on natural materials like stucco and adobe.”  (Stucco is made from sand and a cement binder, such as portland cement.)  Further, Ms. Brand added, “Rocks provide a defined sculptural element to the landscape.  Most people can appreciate them, especially since we don’t have to settle for the pink lava rock and the crushed white quartz that our parents had to choose from in the seventies.”

I prodded her further, asking what some of the advantages might be.  Her points:  apart from the up-front installation, rocks require no maintenance and no water.  They can be functional as well as aesthetic, offering natural seating.  And with their solidity, architectural form, and colors–often veering toward the warm end of the spectrum–they compliment the cool greens of native plants.

“Rock as gravel provide a great mulch and a place where you can create pattern and movement in the horizontal plane,” as is the case when the shadows of tree leaves move over it.

Kathleen Brand’s advice for placing rocks is to use them as focal points.  Their number is also important:  even numbers look unnatural, so go with one three, five, or seven in a group.  They should be used to define scale in the space.  Finally, an important rule of thumb is to bury a third of them below grade so that they look natural and stable.  A rock sitting helplessly atop the ground creates uneasiness.

You can reach Kathleen at (619)922-2121 or visit her website at