The Backyard No-Nos That Instantly Date Your Home

published Apr 1, 2023
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Old tin fishing boat on a trailer stored on a backyard.
Credit: Alex Farias / Shutterstock

You’ve repainted, de-cluttered, depersonalized, deep-cleaned, rearranged, and organized your entire home before listing it on the market. Think you’re done prepping? Think again.

While it’s easy to get caught up preparing your home’s interior spaces before selling it, don’t underestimate the importance of spending a little time sprucing up the outside, too. If you’re not sure where to begin, consider addressing the below backyard faux pas you may be making, according to real estate experts.

Boring Grass Lawns

Sorry, die-hard lawn lovers, but times have changed. It’s no longer en vogue to have a big, green, uniform “mega lawn” that consists solely of grass, says Delyse Berry, cofounder of Upstate Down, a real estate brokerage, interior design firm, and home store in New York. Instead, buyers are interested in yards with a little more biodiversity — preferably, local native plants, which often require less maintenance and water to thrive.

“The move is toward embracing nature, not controlling it,” she says.

Artificial Anything

Along those same lines, buyers aren’t interested in anything fake or artificial, from plastic lawn ornaments and planters to overdyed mulch and artificial turf, Berry says.

“Pay attention to the wild spaces around your home to get inspired,” she recommends. 

Credit: Shutterstock / Steve Cordory

Decrepit Patio Furniture

Although you’ll most likely be taking your patio furniture with you when you move out, it can still contribute to a prospective buyer’s overall impressions of the property. 

Cheap-looking, faded, cracked, or otherwise tired outdoor tables and chairs may be a turnoff. If your budget allows, invest in higher-quality materials that will last a long time and age well in the process, like teak, says Berry.

“It patinas and ages without cracking or breaking,” she adds.

Over-the-Top Decor

Real estate agents and home stagers generally recommend making your home’s interior design as neutral as possible before showings. This helps buyers focus on the layout and the bones of the house, instead of getting hung up on how much they dislike your choice of furniture or paint colors. The same is true in the backyard, says Joy Keuylian, a real estate agent in Montana. Get rid of over-the-top decor like clunky metal signs or painted ceramic suns, she advises.

Bad (or No) Lighting

Lighting isn’t just important for interior spaces — it can also make a huge difference outdoors.

Especially if you know prospective buyers will be touring the property after work (or if you just live in a generally cloudy and dark climate), you’ll want to upgrade or add thoughtful lighting to your backyard.

“A few simple pathway lights or a strand over a dining table can elevate a space instantly,” says Jackie Mosher, cofounder and chief operating officer at Dzinly, a home exterior design platform. 

Junk Piles

Nearly every backyard has some amount of junk, whether it be a haphazard pile of dead branches and sticks (and maybe last year’s Christmas tree), a corner filled with leftover landscaping materials, a teetering stack of buckets, or a mangled heap of garden hoses. If prospective buyers see this, they may remember your home as being dirty and cluttered, even if the inside is spotless.

“Take the time to maintain and clean up debris,” says Mosher. “Really give your backyard a cleaning — if it isn’t being used or doesn’t have a purpose, it needs to go. You will be amazed at how fresh a space looks after a thorough cleaning and proper grooming.“

In that same vein, make sure there’s nothing in your yard that could be a distraction to buyers. For example, New York City real estate broker Scott Harris recently worked with a client whose child had found an old fire hydrant somewhere and plopped it in the home’s backyard. When buyers came to tour the house, Harris had to repeatedly explain that it wasn’t a functioning fire hydrant and was just there for decoration. That drew their attention away from the rest of the yard, as well as the house itself.

“Buyers are skeptical and skittish,” he says. “That feeling sometimes lingers and you don’t want buyers to associate bad feelings with the property.”

Your Neighbor’s Junk

Unfortunately, it’s not just your backyard that buyers are looking at — they’re also peering next door. You might not be able to do anything about junk or eyesores in your neighbor’s yard, but it’s something to consider all the same.

“One of my clients experienced this dilemma and solved the problem by paying for a fence at the property boundary to hide the junk,” says Denise Lang, a real estate broker in Montana.