Friday, 17 October 2014

"Nice things Estate Agents Say"

What possible connection, I hear you say, can this have to gardening?

Well, last year one of my much-loved Clients died, and the daughter asked me if I would continue working at the garden until they sold the house.

Several months later, I had come to appreciate the difference between "Gardening" which I love, and "garden maintenance", which I don't, and I can assure you that I won't be doing the latter again in a hurry! Instead of a living, changing, evolving garden,  it became a static museum piece, with every plant being kept in a sort of horticultural stasis. I couldn't let anything grow bigger, I couldn't risk anything dying, so nothing was split or moved around for better effect (there being no-one there to water them between my weekly visits), and for the same reason, it was hard to introduce any new plants.

For the first seven months, all over the autumn and winter, it was just a case of keeping it tidy so it was less apparent that the house was empty: then when the house went up for sale it was time for spotless housekeeping, with lawn edges sharply clipped, everything dead-headed to within an inch of their lives, and every scrap of dead or damaged leaf removed immediately. Luckily, the sale coincided with that exact time of year when the front garden - first impressions being the most important - was an absolute picture.

Once it was sold, I was back to keeping it tidy and looking as though it were occupied while the process of contract exchanging took place, and yes, during this time I did take cuttings of some of the plants, in particular a spectacular yellow rose on the back fence, whose flowers don't last long, but are the clearest yellow I have seen - no hint of custard, just pure bright yellow. When my Client was alive, I rarely saw them fully open, as she would pick them for indoors, and I found that arriving to find the fence covered in fading yellow flowers each week really underlined the fact that my lady was gone. So I have taken cuttings of the rose as a reminder of her, and they are currently growing on quite promisingly in my front yard.

Now, where does the Estate Agent come into it?

One day I arrived for work to find the Estate Agent just finishing showing someone round, and he stopped to have a chat. He commented on what a good job I had done on the garden ("the best butter") and made some complimentary remarks on how pleased the family were with me, which was nice. He then went on to say that keeping the garden nice had made the house vastly easier to sell.

I must have looked at him slightly quizzically, as he went on to explain that in houses where an elderly person has died, it is traditional that the house - as was the case here - needs a massive amount of work done in the plumbing, electrics, decorating, kitchen and bathroom departments,  not to mention leaky outbuildings etc. That is ok, it's expected, and such houses are usually bought at a reduced price as "fixer-uppers" , ie they are bought by someone with an eye to making a quick profit by doing them up and selling them on. And the gardens are usually a complete jungle.

In this case, they were able to market the house not so much as a fixer-upper, but as suitable for moving into, simply and solely on the basis that the garden was perfect (his word, not mine, I know where the weeds are hiding!) so a normal family could easily imagine themselves moving in, and gradually doing the necessary renovation, rather than being completely overwhelmed by not only an outdated house (with due respect to my Client, you know what they mean) but also a horrendous mess of a garden to cope with as well.

This is of course a perfectly valid point, and I am very pleased to have contributed to my lady's family being able to sell the house so quickly, and for a good price. Significantly, the house next door has been up for sale for nearly two months now, it has been empty for well over six months, with a shaggy overgrown front garden and a mad jungle at the back: it's exactly the same house, in the same road, in fact it's a better house because it has a very smart conservatory on the back, and it's a great deal more modernised inside. But no-one has bought it.

This proves the estate agent to be right: if you let the garden go wild, not only will it take longer to sell, but you are likely to only get "fixer-upper" offers, whereas if you keep the garden nice, you can get much closer to top market price as a family home.

And best of all, the estate agent concerned rang me up last week - this is now some five months or more since the house sale went through - and asked me if I could take on another empty house, to "work the same magic" there, which is a tremendous compliment.

Unfortunately for the owners, I said "no thank you," as I have learned my lesson: gardens without owners don't need proper Gardeners, all they need is a firm of contractors who come in, blow the leaves around, chop the shrubs willy-nilly, and take the rubbish away.

I put my heart into all my gardens: they deserve to have a heart of their own, as well. 


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