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RISMEDIA, July 16, 2007—(MCT)–Eileen N. Fanning can tell when new homeowners are shopping at her Pamelia garden center in Watertown, New York, by the items they choose. Hardwoods, shrubs, mulch, topsoil, stone, large trees and evergreens are ever popular.

With so many new homes coming on the market recently in the wake of the Fort Drum expansion, the co-owner of Sonny’s Florist, Gift and Garden Center, Route 342, said sales of such items have “increased tremendously.”

“People take a great deal of pride in their homes, and one of the things they add is landscaping,” she said. She owns the business with her husband, Milo “Sonny” Moody.

According to real estate agents, the market for houses in the area has been booming. The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors reported that the number of houses sold increased 26.8% from May 2006 to May 2007. What’s not so clear is how this high turnover is affecting those, like landscapers, whose business depends on the whims and wants of homeowners. While some say there’s too much work to keep up with, others have been unable or unwilling to capitalize on the surging landscaping market.

Positioned at the crux of the gardening world, Fanning said she has seen the number of houses increase and, in response, “a tremendous upsurge in the number of landscapers in the area.”

“Young people today are very, very aware of the value landscaping adds toward the property,” she said. “You can get by with the minimal, but most people always do more.”

Fanning recommends a landscaping budget that reflects 20% to 40% of the home’s value, but she said even an investment of $1,000 can “make an impression on a blank piece of paper.”

Deborah S. Moran, broker and owner of Exit More Real Estate, Henderson, agreed that landscaping can add to the appearance of the house, but said it is not always necessary in a booming real estate market.

Although Moran will recommend adding color, such as hanging flower baskets, to improve a residence with a plain front yard, she said an elaborate garden occasionally can be a drawback.

“Unless you find a buyer who is a gardener or a landscaper, people who want little yard work can be deterred if there’s an elaborate garden,” she said. Still, Moran said, nice landscaping is always “important to the curb appeal of the property.”

William M. and Dorothy M. Gracey were not thinking about resale value when they purchased a house in Croghan two years ago and began improvements to the yard. Gracey said the couple simply wanted to make the space look better.

Having moved from a farm, Gracey said, the couple appreciated the house’s proximity to the river and also liked the “two beautiful trees in the front yard.”

Since moving in, the Graceys have reseeded the lawn, moved the garage and hired Town and Country Landscaping of Carthage to build a retaining wall. They also are planning to gradually add shrubs and flowers when they have extra money.

“We’ve done it basically for ourselves,” Gracey said, “not to increase the value of our home, per se, even though it will.”

Joseph C. Lawler, supervising manager for Town and Country Landscaping, has seen more customers like Gracey, who want small additions to their homes, but also an increase in more elaborate landscapes. Lawler’s wife, Roxanne J., is the owner of their company.

“Now, there’s more of a demand for a higher-end landscape product,” he said. “Before, people were content to throw a couple of green bushes out in front of the house.”
Customers now are requesting what Lawler calls “landscape imagery,” imaginative yards with colored paving stones, free-flowing gardens that meld into the natural environment and natural features, such as boulders, as focal points.

“Everybody wants their own fingerprint version of landscaping,” he said. “You have to be inventive and change every time.”

To help in design work, Lawler uses digital images and creates landscape designs by computer. He said his customers are willing to pay higher prices, sometimes $50,000 or more, to make their yards stand out from those of their neighbors.

As with his competitors, Lawler warned against “the wide variety of people who call themselves landscapers,” noting that such a profession is not merely putting plants in the ground. Although Town and Country has remained fairly small, with five employees, Lawler said that might soon have to change.

“It wouldn’t be misleading to say, ‘yes, there are a lot more customers out there,'” he said. “We’re almost being forced into the idea where we have to really expand the business next year.”

Not all have benefited from the housing boom, though, with the smaller landscaping outfits reporting little change to their business.

Richard E. Pyne, owner of AD Ventures Landscaping of Watertown, has seen many projects bypass his company.

“There’s not been an overwhelming impact on my business,” he said. “The big projects all seem to be going to big, out-of-town companies.”

Although Pyne has seen local businesses spending more on landscaping — between $50,000 and $100,000 — he said the expensive projects often are picked up by companies from Syracuse. Typical work for AD Ventures ranges from $1,500 to $5,000, he said.
AD Ventures does both general maintenance and landscaping and design work, having recently moved away from the labor-intensive field of lawn mowing. The company has three employees.

Still, Pyne said, the high turnover rate for existing homes translates into requests to remove former landscaping to start over fresh.

“A lot of people are looking to have patios and paver walkways put in, to remove concrete sidewalks,” he said. “Some are looking for fountains and fishponds; there are a lot more gardens with perennials.”

Other small landscaping companies, such as the one owned by Anthony J. Casselman, may not even want the new business a recent housing surge can provide.

Having been in business for almost three decades, Casselman said he has seen the number of houses and landscapers explode recently. But the owner of Casselman’s Landscaping of Watertown said he’s content to simply maintain his customer base without running after new clients.

“I basically work for the same people every year,” Casselman said. “I’m not of the age where I’m going to expand any.”

Copyright © 2007, Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.