Buy­ing a home? Do a land­scape in­spec­tion

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - By Dean Fos­dick

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.”

AP PHOTO/ AAA TREE EX­PERTS INC., BRUCE AVERY

In this Nov. 11 photo, a crew clears de­bris from por­tions of a tree that col­lapsed across sev­eral prop­er­ties in Tallahassee, Fla. Even healthy trees can fail be­cause of their size and weight. The role of a land­scape in­spec­tor is to lo­cate trees with...

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