Yards gone wild

Backyard habitats can be used as selling point in tough real estate market

By: Rhiannon Bowman, contributing writer//March 29, 2011//

Yards gone wild

Backyard habitats can be used as selling point in tough real estate market

By: Rhiannon Bowman, contributing writer//March 29, 2011//

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CERTIFIED SANCTUARY: The yard of Steve and Marcy Ketner, of 9505 Kent Village Drive in Charlotte, is certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation. The yard backs up to Clark Creek Greenway, and in the garden are plants and feeders for animals, which can take shelter under the porch or in the trees. Photo by Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman

It’s no secret that times are tough in the housing market.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some people feel stuck in their current homes as potential buyers circle, scanning neighborhoods for deals.

However, just because the Great Recession hasn’t quite released its talons from the local real estate market that doesn’t mean homeowners should give up hope that their home will sell. One relatively inexpensive way to make a property more attractive to potential buyers could also save the current owners money on their utility bills.

Backyard Wildlife Habitats, a program of the National Wildlife Federation, can make properties more appealing to some and can be used as selling points. But, cautions Josie Mazzaferro, a real estate agent and broker for Allen Tate in Ballantyne, backyard habitats can “help your house sell, but will it help your price? Maybe.”

She said such features stand out to potential buyers and may help make properties more memorable, and they might even boost a home’s selling price by 5 to 10 percentage points. Plus, she said, the money-saving features never hurt.

“Having landscaping that fits the environment, that’s low maintenance,” she said. “That’s something that buyers look for.”

Saving time and money

Ernie McLaney, executive director of Central Piedmont Community College’s Center for Sustainability, said Backyard Wildlife Habitats help homeowners save money and time because they incorporate sustainable gardening practices, such as growing native and drought-resistant plants, using rain barrels to capture stormwater that is reused to water plants, reducing the amount of lawn space requiring maintenance and growing plants and trees that shade and cool the house.

Creating and certifying a Backyard Wildlife Habitat doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, McLaney said, though it could turn into a fun project for those looking for a new hobby, as it did for his family.

“Who doesn’t like to have a house with songbirds and butterflies?” he said.

How it’s done

The ingredients for a NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat are simple: A property should provide a food source (flowers or berries), a water source (a birdbath or rain garden) and a place for animals to raise their young (dense shrubs or nesting boxes). Also, it’s preferable if they incorporate sustainable gardening practices, such as the use of mulch and compost, rain gardens or rain barrels and chemical-free fertilizers.

The certification process, which takes six to eight weeks and consists mainly of filling out an online form, “is on the honor system,” said Luisa Grant of the NWF.

There is a $20 fee, which includes membership to the organization and subscriptions to NWF publications. No home inspections or photographs are required to prove that the habitat meets NWF guidelines.

Once approved, property owners can also purchase a $30 sign to display in their yard that declares that the property meets the requirements to sustain wildlife.

Native plants suggested

Some other costs are up to the homeowner. A pond costs more than a concrete birdbath, although both fulfill the water source requirement. McLaney said some costs will save property owners money over time and most of them are commonsense moves that he wishes developers would take to heart.

He’s frustrated with builders who plant the cheapest nonnative plants they can buy in bulk versus looking for native species plants that require less water and less maintenance.

“They’re long gone when those things get big and the homeowner has to deal with it,” he said.

McLaney said non-native plants are usually easy to spot because “you know you have to clip that thing every few months or so” or because they can’t take Charlotte’s hot summers and require a lot of water, which is in short supply during droughts.

He suggests visiting small, local plant nurseries, where “the employees are often more knowledgeable,” over big-box stores when looking for native plants.

Mazzaferro is considering creating a rain garden, which makes use of areas where stormwater collects, in the backyard of her rental property in northwest Charlotte. There’s an area in the yard where, after a good rain, water collects and doesn’t drain effectively, she said.

Issues like that “can create big problems that may prevent your house from closing after you have an offer,” she said. “When buyers look at a house and there’s water standing there, you know the home inspector is going to point that out.”

Such water issues can create erosion and foundation problems, as well as moisture issues in crawls spaces. A rain garden “would take care of the moisture problem,” she said. “Plus it would be pretty.”

That’s important for those wishing to sell their homes, particularly in today’s tight market, she said, because “anything you can do to make your house stand out is going to help you sell it.”

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