Have any ideas on how my sellers can change their terraced backyard from awful to awesome?

All buyers have rejected the spectacular house because of the steep but terraced back yard. There is a walkout door from the basement about 20 feet from the first wall. They are willing to finish the patio and put in some landscaping but how to divert the attention from the edge and show that it is still useable space...thats the issue.
have any ideas on how my sellers can change their terraced backyard from awful to, doors, landscape, patio, two stone retaining walls with a five foot drop to next level just grass mowed now
two stone retaining walls with a five foot drop to next level, just grass mowed now
have any ideas on how my sellers can change their terraced backyard from awful to, doors, landscape, patio, upper deck off kitchen looks out over roofs of homes behind
upper deck off kitchen looks out over roofs of homes behind.
have any ideas on how my sellers can change their terraced backyard from awful to, doors, landscape, patio, basement walkout to patio area under the deck above Patio area is not finished at all
basement walkout to patio area under the deck above. Patio area is not finished at all.
  51 answers
  • Sandra R Sandra R on Apr 23, 2012
    You could use the retaining walls as the base of a two level deck with walkway to a small garden area on the side of the house. Use lighting to accent. A nice Bar-B-Q area with built in benches is always a welcome addition. Use plant to soften the deck and even a water fountain.

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Apr 23, 2012
    Thanks Sandra. You can't tell from this photo but the middle section of the retained lawn is about 8 feet deep. I like the idea of the plants softening the rather stark edges and landscaped lighting accents. The sellers cannot afford to put on another deck. They need a staged landscaping just to get an offer. (there is a new career for someone! A Lawn Stager)

  • Stephanie G Stephanie G on Apr 23, 2012
    well you should plant various plants to create depth and interest. give they eye a reason to wander further back. put a bistro set out there under an archway or something.

  • Ruth B Ruth B on Apr 23, 2012
    Gazebo,waterfall, sky light and or energy panels.

  • Criss T Criss T on Apr 23, 2012
    Add a fire pit area in the middle section, making it a destination in the yard. You could include stone seating around the pit (matching the retaining walls) and add stone steps in between each level.

  • Jodi L Jodi L on Apr 23, 2012
    Definitely plants. Trees, shrubs, flowers, ect.. It's so bland how it is, just a little cookie cutter sticking up out of the ground.

  • DeAnne T DeAnne T on Apr 23, 2012
    Along the wall build wood stairs (keeping them open for light & affect) with wrought iron railing for that "pop" everyone looks for, ascending from one level to the next and add a Pergola out from the existing supports of the upper deck for additional living space and warmth. Wrought iron railings along top of each retaining wall, both safety & affect.

  • Tina S Tina S on Apr 23, 2012
    I agree with planting to soften those edges..plant some interesting textures and colors that detract from the straight edges..would it be possible to get some dirt and berm it up along the bottom wall to add some curves in there?

  • Suzi B Suzi B on Apr 23, 2012
    have you thought of a landscape allowance?? I love the empty beds cause half the time we rip out what was there and redo it with what we what...even if they give them blueprints of what it could look like....

  • Becky P Becky P on Apr 23, 2012
    Where are the steps to the backyard from the deck? Why would you want to go all the way downstairs to get outside?

  • Leona G Leona G on Apr 23, 2012
    First get some plants that grow over the walls. In the center one that is 8' wide add the fire pit with seats matching the walls and also put in some solar lights to light the path to the pit. At the back edges of the pit build some pedestals that can be used for planters and install some kind of soft lighting. on the low wall have fragrant flowers so that you can enjoy them as you sit by the fire. Some type of railing for safety would be nice as you don't want people falling over the edge. A pergola or gazebo for seating. Get rid of the 2 plants on the pop out area and replant with either a symmetrical or asymmetrical planting that looks like it was planned and include color and texture to add interest. Since this is facing the back of another house you may want to add some taller evergreen plants to provide privacy. The bush on the left side needs to be brought into some kind of pleasing shape, right now it looks out of place. I am assuming zone 6 or 7 so Lilac bushes for spring color and fragrance, antique roses for summer color and fragrance with low maintenance, hydrangeas for color, some low growing junipers contrasted with taller junipers but need to be careful as some junipers have an unpleasant smell.

  • Catherine G Catherine G on Apr 23, 2012
    I say add some large stone steps and a seating area to the lower level. A fire pit with chairs would be nice. Also, add some stairs from the deck to access the yard from that upper level.broke switchback stairs would look nice. Fill in unfinished patio area with a stone walkway from the doors instead of a concrete patio and mulch and shade loving ground covers.

  • Margaret J Margaret J on Apr 23, 2012
    take those plant on upper deck and bring down.. Put in cute pots add some color...trim bushes by window to cover cement under window..hang flowers put outside rug that is colorful... solar lights ...

  • Kelly S Kelly S on Apr 23, 2012
    I agree with Ruth and Criss. Lots of plants with water and fire features. Maybe some overhead shade too.

  • Catherine G Catherine G on Apr 23, 2012
    Not broke switchback, it was supposed to be some...auto correct!

  • Carol S Carol S on Apr 23, 2012
    Following up on what Stephanie said, even simple trellises (ala the Japense style ones..) would give definition to a seating area on the middle section as well as distract from the steepness. Definitely need plants. It's just too stark.

  • Erin H Erin H on Apr 23, 2012
    I think plants and try to create a little seating area that is kind of tucked away like a little secret garden about a third of the way over on the second edge. Some stepping stones would be a nice touch too. Homey it up!

  • Barbara Barbara on Apr 23, 2012
    I can't even imagine anyone wanting to live that close to another home. Do you not imagine having no privacy is another reason no offers made?

  • Tina S Tina S on Apr 23, 2012
    Also, I'm thinking about toddlers..maybe a decorative fence that acts as safety rail along the edges..that would be quite a tumble at any age.

  • Carol G Carol G on Apr 23, 2012
    I would add lots of shrubbery to give a sense of privacy. I cannot imagine going out back and having all the neighbors see every move I make. Agree with Criss about the fire pit (or bbq pit) with seating in the middle section. I also noticed there must be children in the home now. Where do they play? A nice wood swing set/activity set would be a welcome sign for a young family.

  • Can't begin to answer withhout a budget range to work with

  • Ananda S Ananda S on Apr 23, 2012
    One problem is that there's no easy way to get from the upper tier to the lower tiers other than going all the way around to the end. I'd build some sort of stair between the tiers. And there's the issue of *falling* that five feet because there's no fence. I would put a fence a foot or so back from each wall, and plant in the space between the wall and the fence to soften the line. On the second level, I would add benches -- some right up against the wall, and the others sticking out from the wall. Then add a table, fire pit, planter, whatever inside the L or U made by the benches. I also like the idea of the landscaping allowance. Talk to the people who are interested, present them some options, and maybe they'll have an idea. Who knows, you might run into someone who would go for a raised garden bed along the edge of each terrace, or someone who thinks a series of koi ponds with waterfalls between terraces would be just the thing.

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Apr 23, 2012
    Wow, thanks for all of the suggestions. I definitely like the idea of a patio with a firepit out to the edge of the top wall with a fence along the top. Should the fence be solid or see-through? Steps down to the next level would be nice making that a seating area with something overhead- like the pagoda shown above. I was thinking that I should suggest planting some kind of fast growing shrub or tree (like crepe myrtle) on the second level to stop the eye and the children from falling over the edge. Lower level needs some fast growing evergreens and/or flowering trees on the one corner that is so steep.

  • Jacqueline S Jacqueline S on Apr 23, 2012
    <~agrees with Jodi....it just looks .....well...blah.....it needs life....shrubs to give it depth....the patio idea is great but definately some landscaping.

  • James T James T on Apr 23, 2012
    Take the wall closest to the house out, save them, now double the height of the wall furthest from the house. Now you have a much bigger back yard!

  • Paula A Paula A on Apr 23, 2012
    It looks as if they have a nice view out there so you wouldn't want to block it in any way. I'd use stone pavers matching the wall meandering through the second level. Add some planters with dwarf fruit or short foliage, and a fountain or two with steps at the ends offering easy access to both lower levels. Their budget, HOA and/or County rules would determine what you consider at the bottom. I presume HOA because I don't see any fences.

  • James T James T on Apr 23, 2012
    and dont forget you can put a pool in when you have to backfill!

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Apr 23, 2012
    There is a wonderful children's play lot directly across the street from this home and the basement is a finished children's playroom. Most of the buyers so far are mentioning the no back yard for barbeque and wouldn't want their children to fall over the walls. So it needs to be made Private, Safe, Interesting, and Shady. And yes, buyers would probably wish to have stairs built down to the lower level. The allowance idea has been a steady offering but buyers don't have vision of what could be done with $5000 or buyers don't want to buy a home they still need to put more money into.

  • If they are doing this to sell the house, I advise against doing too much. As a remodelor I see a lot of people spend of improvements to sell, then the next owner redoes the same items to suit themselves. So do things to suggest ideas. colorful plats in pots that you can move around. Place them along the edge to simulate a fence. Use one or two in pots to make a long hanging ivy over the edge of the upper balcony to break things up. Steps could be good if done right to fit in with the existing retaining stonework and not clash with it. When I look at that home I see a too large, too plain box, so there is more going on in buyers minds than just that slope out back, tho a house that large calls to people with kids, and kids need a place to play - large flatter back yard

  • Meri C Meri C on Apr 23, 2012
    Add some COLOR to the back of the house. Won't take much. Throw some petunias in some hanging baskets. Would be helpful to actually see what the back looks like from the door that's opening onto the backyard. If the owners are serious about doing some landscaping, they should put in easy to grow shrubs like hollyhocks and purple coneflowers...that will freshen and brighten up the yard. No one likes to think they're stuck with landscaping to be done, although, they'll likely want to do their own eventually anyway. The owners could plant some hydrangas or snowball bushes around the back, against the wall, and then use the Hollyhocks to fill in "gap" areas. Also, a tree or two might help. Will eventually provide nice shade and a place to hang a tire swing and even possibly a tree-fort. A low growing shrub like creeping phlox could bet tucked in among the purple coneflower foliage. Be careful of what kind of water-scape used if they go that way as it could be a liability to neighborhood kids and animals.

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Apr 23, 2012
    Yes, whatever they do it is just to sell the house - thus staging. I have tried to google ideas of homes that have sloped and terraced yards but so far the buyers haven't been able to see beyond steep and unuseable. So, sounds like some $2000 or so might be invested but not much more. Just enough for someone to catch the idea and get excited about having a "different" and more interesting back yard that they could continue to develop as they live there.

  • Just do the plants then - strategically. Good steps would cost more than the two grand, and cheap poorly done ones would drive more buyers away

  • Mike L Mike L on Apr 23, 2012
    Some taller light canopied shade trees on the lowest level like single stem Heritage birch would soften the hard vertical lines and lessen the drop-off from the home.

  • Sandra R Sandra R on Apr 23, 2012
    Hi Ruth, I do some landscaping for people in the area (Allentown,Quakertown)Maybe we could get some ideas together that would help all of us.

  • Mari-John B Mari-John B on Apr 23, 2012
    Wall Trellis with climbing flowers or vines .. That would give them a little more privacy.. Then asst. plants all on the middle level along with the trellis.

  • Leona P Leona P on Apr 23, 2012
    I could see a set of steps at each end of the first retaining wall, maybe even a trellis over top of them. Down below at next level I would make a walk through garden, with paths taking you through a mini park, with a bench, water fall. Trees and shrubs that are not too tall. A nice patio in the middle part of the top yard,at the wall, with seating to view the garden/park below.

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Apr 24, 2012
    I am somewhat astonished that you can build terracing like that without adding a fence to prevent falls. I think the sellers need to take the "worry factor" away, either through planted hedges, or an addition to the hardscape.

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Apr 24, 2012
    Yes, we definitely will address that "worry" factor. There is nothing but hardscape right now so we need to soften with landscaping and divert the path from straight ahead. I am meeting with someone tonight to see how much we can do for $2000 for now and pass many of these ideas on to the new buyer to implement as they see fit.

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Apr 24, 2012
    Leona, I can dream like you do, trellis's, secret gardens, serene park, ..those are things I love to do in my own yard. This isn't my home so I don't have the freedom of doing any of them here, but it is fun to think of what someone else could do with it!

  • Joe S Joe S on Apr 24, 2012
    Let us know what they decide and share pictures of the outcome. It's great to see Hometalk in action.

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Apr 24, 2012
    I will definitely take pictures and let you know if the attempts made were successful in getting an offer! Stay tuned! This is the fun part of being a Realtor.

  • Erica Glasener Erica Glasener on Apr 24, 2012
    Lots of great ideas here. Is it possible to add a few trees? Even the suggestion that there could be shade appeals to me. Screening is important but it must be very hot in the summer with no shade. Here is a photo of a terraced garden that inspires me.

  • Leona G Leona G on Apr 25, 2012
    Since the budget is 2k the first thing I would do is make it safe and this could be done in several ways. The idea to get rid of one layer is ok but then you have to worry about shift and building codes as to retaining wall height. Would it be possible to bring a stair way from the upper level to the middle level by building the steps into the wall. If that could be done then you don't loose any space and you could incorporate railing into the upper wall and staircase. Have know idea what that would cost. Crepe Myrtles are great for summer and spring but add very little winter interest. Most of the plants that have been mentioned are deciduous and will loose their leaves. I would suggest something like Magnolia, evergreen and flowering, Hemlock for its texture, maybe a Japanese Red Maple again color and texture and you could still have the Crepe Myrtles for summer interest. They also now have dwarf Crepe Myrtles that you could intersperse with the others and of course azaleas and rhododendrons. I wish I could grow some of these plants but I am to far south. Good luck and let us know

  • You want to make for a cozy and useful outdoor environment. I agree with the suggestions of tall trees perhaps to create a backdrop and a firepit we would highly suggest to create an outdoor living area where a family can have barbeques along with seating. The right landscaping will be key maybe having tall trees or bushes on left and right and shorter shrubs and flower bushes in middle to create a graduated look that is pleasing on the eye. Would love to see pictures of the outcome and hope you share with us!

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Jun 08, 2012
    This home was found by a grateful buyer and family, who bought it as is and is going to settlement today!!! Sometimes we just need to wait for the right buyer to come along. Hopefully now, this new family will incorporate some of your great suggestions! I am giving them this column at sesttlement this morning at 9! Gotta run!!!

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Jun 09, 2012
    Great news, Ruthie Mae.

  • Deborah K Deborah K on Jun 17, 2012
    @ Meri, I was thinking the same thing. Color on each level of the retaining wall. Low lying plants on the bottom one so it does not hide the wall on the top.

  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Jun 30, 2012
    This "Plain Jane" look needs to be spruced up. Make the maximum use of that 20' from the basement door to the first cliff! Attach and tie back a canvas painting drop cloth for privacy on the post side under the deck. This will give a spa feeling. Then dress out the patio with furniture...be sure and make it colorful. Find used pieces and paint them (see photo attached showing redo on 20+ year old furniture). Get some large pots and fill them with lots of flowers with vines hanging over sides for effect. Then place some clumps of beautiful grasses like shown in photo above posted by Erica. On second tier, cover with mulch and place bird feeder, shephard poles with baskets of flowers, a few medium to large rocks with a cute frog or bird statue sitting on it. For about $1,000-1,500 you can make a stunning. You can pick up pots at garage sales and repaint them. Be sure to get that Rustoleum 2X paint...covers soooo well and dries quickly. Caladium come in many colors and do well in pots.

  • Ruthie Mae P Ruthie Mae P on Jun 30, 2012
    Nice thoughts, Jeanette!

  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Jul 01, 2012
    Ruthie Mae, this just proves that there is a buyer for every home. To tell you the truth, I love that back yard and would prefer to buy it just like it is! Had I bought it, I would have screened the deck, put a roof under it over the patio, added a privacy fence atop the first terrace to make my own private oasis at the back of the house. The rest of the yard could have been a ball field for the kids!

  • Veronica Roach Veronica Roach on Nov 22, 2015
    Seems to me any family with small children, or rumbunctious(?) boys for that matter would be seriously worried at the picture of their kids falling off the 'ledges' - I would think you make the top all patio, with light metalwork fencing or shrubs along the top ledge and shrubs along the lower one - that lower ledge is useless space unless you make it something interesting - no-one wants to cut grass on any tricky area so that is also a problem.