The home you like is nestled in the chillest neighborhood ever — mature trees, quaint back alleys and lots of charming front porches as far as the eye can see. And your favorite coffee shop is a short block-and-a-half stroll away.
You’ve visited this house more than a few times — at different times of the day, to make sure you have a lock on noise and traffic. You’ve examined what feels like every interior nook and cranny. But what about the yard? The grass looks green. Trees appear healthy. So what else is there to know? A lot, actually.
Evaluating the yard is an important part of the home buying process. Following an inspector’s own checklist is a smart way to ensure that no expensive surprises will arise come the first heavy downpour or wind storm.
Moisture. It’s not your home’s friend, trust. Water that seeps from the ground through your foundation walls and into your basement can cause flooding as well as mold and mildew. The way the property “wicks” water is going to have a big impact on your home, the health of your lawn and landscaped elements and the life of hardscaping.
To assess drainage, first scrutinize the slope of the yard. A gentle downhill slope means water will flow away from, rather than toward, your home. And that’s what you want. A dramatic slope, on the other hand, is a no-no, as accessibility to the home will be difficult.
Next, take a look at gutters. Do downspouts end abruptly or do they extend out about six feet from the exterior walls? If they extend, good. If you see downspout extensions or splash blocks, you’re in even better shape.
Lastly, see if you spot any telltale signs of poor drainage. A healthy lawn isn’t likely if you see standing water, bare spots or yellow patches, exposed tree and shrub roots, trails of rocks, mulch and debris and yellowing plants.
And one final note not related to drainage: Don’t overlook patches of grass that look particularly lush or overgrown. If the home has a septic tank, it could be leaking. And if you buy, you’re the lucky person who gets to replace it.
Do shrubs look healthy? Pests or nutrient deficiencies can cause leaves to wilt, shrivel, mildew or blacken. Other signs include die-off of trunks and branches.
What about the trees? Signs of trouble from pests, deficiencies or death include patches of discolored leaves, bare branches and cankers or weeping on trunks, as well as root rot, decay and growth of fungus.
Does one tree in the yard seem to lean a bit too extremely? This could spell danger and damage, especially if the tree is leaning over the home or driveway.
Closely examine walkways, the driveway and the patio. Do pavers seem level and stable or do they wobble? Do you see cracks, crumbling or pits in concrete or brick surfaces? Do fountains, walls and other ornamental features seem stable and in good condition? Hardscaped surfaces should slightly slope so as to shed water. Do they? Permeable surfaces that allow water to slowly seep back into the ground rather than running off are even better.
And don’t forget to do your due diligence when it comes to the deck. Discoloration, broken or loose slats, railing and stairs, loose nails and screws or cracks or rot in wood are signs that the deck is in need of repair or complete replacement.
If you truly love the home, but spot red flags in the yard, it may be in your best interests to pay for a landscape inspection in addition to a home inspection. Once you have an official list of issues in hand, you’ll be better able to assess the cost of repairs. If it comes down to one tree in particular that’s bugging the heck out of you, give a qualified arborist a call. Keep in mind that in many municipalities, tree ordinances are in place and a permit may be required to do any trimming, let alone removal.