Site improvements Resale Value

The Old House Web

Editor's note: This story is adapted from theU.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Residential RehabilitationInspection Guide, 2000. Clickhere for other stories in this series.


before and after

Don't underestimate the importance of maintaining landscaping. The house above was vitually hidden by overgrown shrubs in the top picture. The bottom photo was taken after trimming, landscaping and painting. Photo: Ken Holmes

Well-maintained landscaping and other site improvements are important for theenjoyment, resale, or rental value of a property.

Inspect the following:


  • Note the location and condition of all trees and shrubbery.
  • Those that are overgrown may need pruning or trimming; in some cases they may be so overgrown that they will have to be removed.
  • When trees or shrubbery exhibit disease or infestation, consult a qualified expert. Removing large trees may require special expertise and can be particularly costly.
  • Check where overhanging branches may interfere with the chimney's draft, damage utility wires, or deposit leaves and twigs in roof gutters and drains.
  • Trees and shrubbery that are very close to exterior walls or roofs can cause damage that is sometimes severe, and they can make it difficult to make inspections, do maintenance, and make repairs. Branches in these locations will need to be pruned back.
  • Tree roots under paving and stairs can cause damage that is sometimes severe. Roots are usually exposed near the surface and will need to be cut back.
  • Tree roots can heave foundations and may cause cracking by pushing against foundations from the outside. If tree roots are under a footing, cutting down the tree can lead to rotting of the roots and subsequent settling of the foundation.

Observe the solar shading characteristics of all site plantings. Do theyprovide protection from the summer sun and allow the winter sun to warm thebuilding? Large deciduous trees located to the south and west of a building cando both, and a special effort should be made to retain and protect such treeswhere they exist.


Fences are usually installed to provide physical or visual privacy.

Examine their plumbness and overall condition.

  • Inspect wood fences for signs of rot or insect infestation
  • Inspect metal fences for rust.
  • Inspect all gates and their associated hardware for proper fit, operation, and clearance.

Fences are often addressed in homeowner association bylaws and deedcovenants. These should be checked and their requirements, if any, compared toexisting conditions or used for the design of a new or replacement fence. Payspecial attention to fence locations and property lines.


Examine outdoor lighting elements to determine their condition and functionalsafety.

  • Turn site lighting on, preferably at night, to check its operation and to determine if the light is adequate for its purpose.
  • Exposed wiring that is not UV- and moisture-resistant should be replaced.
  • Underground wiring should be type UF.
  • Fixtures, switches, and outlets should be properly covered and protected from moisture penetration.

Paved areas

Inspect all walks, drives, and patios for their condition and to make surepaved areas immediately adjacent to a building are sloped away from buildingwalls. Paving that is not sloped to drain water away from a building should bereplaced.

  • Inspect paving for cracks, broken sections, high areas, low areas that trap water, and tripping hazards.
  • Paved areas that are made of concrete and are in poor condition may have to be replaced. Concrete cannot be repaired by resurfacing with a thin layer of more concrete. Concrete repairs in climates where freezing occurs should be no less than three inches thick. Where there is no freezing weather, repairs that are two inches thick may be used. Cracks in concrete should be cut open and sealed with a flexible sealant compound, which will extend its service life albeit not improve its appearance.
  • Where there is a difference in elevation in a walk or drive that creates a tripping hazard, the higher portion of concrete may be ground down to the level of the lower portion, although the grinding will change the appearance of the concrete.
  • Sunken areas of concrete paving result from failure of the sub-base. For sidewalks it may be possible to lift up sections of the paving between construction joints, add to and compact the sub-base to the proper elevation, and replace the paving sections.
  • Failed or sunken areas of asphalt drives and walks usually should be resurfaced or replaced.
  • Sealing asphalt paving extends its life. Examine the paving to determine when sealing is needed.
  • Check asphalt drives and walks for low areas that hold water and freeze in cold climates. Low areas in asphalt paving can be brought to level with an asphalt overlay.
  • Brick or stone patio paving should be set either on a concrete slab in a mortar bed with mortar joints or in a sand bed that is laid on earth or on a concrete slab. Mortar joints can be tuck pointed and loose bricks or stones can be reset in a new mortar bed.
  • Pavers set in sand can be taken up easily, sand added or removed, and the pavers replaced.

When considering the repair or replacement of such site elements, payparticular attention to existing property lines and easements. The maintenance,repair, and replacement of sidewalks, drive aprons, and curb cuts at the streetmay be the responsibility of the local jurisdiction. Check the property's deedor consult local authorities.


Inspect the condition of exterior stairs and railings using the current building code asa guide.

  • Every stair with more than three steps should have a handrail located 34 to 38 inches (865 to 965 mm) above the edges of the stair tread.
  • Shake all railings vigorously to check their stability and inspect their fastenings.
  • Stairs that are more than 30 inches (760 mm) above the adjacent grade and walks located more than 30 inches (760 mm) above the grade immediately below should have guards not less than 36 inches (915 mm) high and intermediate rails that will not allow the passage of a sphere 4 inches (100 mm) in diameter.
  • Check wooden steps for proper support and strength and for rot and insect infestation.
  • Inspect steel stairs for rust, strength, and attachment.
  • Deteriorated stairs should be repaired or replaced.
  • Stair treads should be as level as possible without holding water. It is preferable that stairs in walks on site that are accessible to the general public have at least three risers. Stair riser heights and tread depths should be, respectively, uniform.

Buried oil tanks

Buried ferrous metal oil tanks are common on older properties that havebuildings or domestic water heated by oil.

Inspect: The presence of a buried oil tank usually can be determined by finding the fill pipe cover on the ground and the vent pipe that extends above ground to a height of at least four feet.

Abandoned and very old buried ferrous metal oil tanks are an environmentalhazard. If such a buried tank is located on the property, the soil around itshould be tested by a qualified environmental engineer for the presence of oilseepage. If leaking has occurred, the tank and all contaminated soil around itmust be removed.

If leaking has not occurred, it may still be a potential problem. Even if atank is empty, it still may have residual oil in the bottom that is a pollutant.Strong consideration should be given to removing the tank or filling it with anapproved inert material after pumping out any old residual oil.


On-site installations of aerial masts either from the ground or mounted to atree or building should be assessed for structural stability, especially in highwind areas.

Related stories: Retaining walls ~~ Site drainage issues

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