Northside SF
Real Estate Update
Enhancing your home's curb appeal at the curb

There’s good reason for fixing up your home even before you’re thinking about selling it. Just before my husband and I sold our first home, we had its interior painted. Once it was finished, we looked at each other and wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner so we could have enjoyed how pretty it looked while we still lived there. This was a valuable lesson for me. Of course, sprucing up your property when it’s for sale is always important. But why wait? 

One fun thing to do in an urban environment is to create a sidewalk garden. These add loads of curb appeal and potential value to city dwellings. City homes are often landlocked by other buildings and concrete. Most San Francisco properties do not have front yards. Some people are lucky enough to live on a block where trees have been planted. Whatever the case, you can create a sidewalk garden by removing sidewalk squares in front of your house and planting foliage.

What does it cost, and how can you do it? First, you’ll need a budget, and one that takes into consideration up-front costs as well as ongoing maintenance. Creating a sidewalk garden requires a permit (the fee is approximately $215) and a bit of red tape. Once you have the permit, you can expect to pay about $200 per sidewalk square for a professionally installed garden, which includes concrete removal, plants, and a watering system. Of course, you can do it yourself to save some money, but keep in mind a professional will know what plants will most likely thrive in any given environment and which will go well together. 

Sprucing up your sidewalk will not only make it a pleasure for you when you come home, but also for passersby. The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, with an $80,000 grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, has kicked off a series of free monthly workshops on how to create sidewalk gardens. These will run through November 2011. The Department of Public Works hopes that at least 100 new gardens will be created as a result of these workshops.

The expectation is that these small gardens will beautify neighborhoods, provide habitat for wildlife, and enable rainwater to soak into soil rather than flow into the city’s sewer system, which during heavy storms overflows and pollutes the bay. Many property owners are getting tagged with required sidewalk square replacement, so why not take the opportunity to turn those old broken sidewalk squares into a beautiful garden?

If nothing else, I encourage you to visit to see how it’s done. This is a wonderful website, and it provides a step-by-step guide to the process, enabling you to create a little garden and make your curb more appealing. Most important of all though, don’t wait until it’s time to sell your home to do this. Do it now, while you can still enjoy it yourself.

Stephanie Saunders Ahlberg has been a real estate agent for over 30 years and joined Hill & Co. in 1983, where she has consistently been among the top 10 salespeople. She can be reached at

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