The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 12, 2012

Landscapers wait for housing to come back


Sun Sentinel (MCT)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Your neighbors may be keeping their lawns mowed, but they’re likely holding off on planting geraniums, laying mulch and skipping other detail work to make homes extra spiffy.

Some landscapers report a small increase in business these days but say the industry still has a ways to go to recover from the depths of the housing crash.

“Landscaping is a good indicator of the economy,” said Mark Lubow, owner of Tropical Tree and Landscape in West Palm Beach, Fla. “When things go bad, it becomes a budget cut.”

New homeowners are hiring companies to take care of the lawns and prune the shrubs but are careful about how much they spend, landscapers say.

Homeowner associations, hammered by delinquencies in recent years, want only basic yard maintenance and demand hefty discounts for that, said Larry May, owner of Branching Out Tree Service Inc. in Coral Springs, Fla.

“People are really cutting corners,” May said this week. “They’re still holding back.”

Gene Iliobert, owner of Suwannee Cut Property Maintenance in Broward County, Fla., said he’s getting by with existing clients but is struggling to add customers because of the economy.

“It’s tough to find new business,” he said. “What you have in your hands, you have to keep, you know?”

But landscaper Doug Holcomb is more upbeat about his business, saying he’s adding five to 10 new customers every few weeks and generating about $18,000 in revenue a month.

Holcomb, owner of Enhanced Quality Landscaping Services in West Palm Beach, has a pair of two-person work crews and hopes to add a third in the next six months.

“People didn’t have jobs before and now they do, but money is tight,” he said. “As people get out from under these housing issues, one of the things they want is a nice yard. Everybody wants their place to look better than the guy’s house next door.”

Landscapers say they expect their bottom lines to improve as spring turns to summer, the peak of the lawn maintenance season.

At H2eco Inc. in Broward, the phone is ringing more frequently, owner Marc Musgrave said. In fact, he said the company is getting requests for estimates of artificial turf.

Meanwhile, homeowners who want to put their properties on the market would be wise not to scrimp on landscaping — whether they hire someone or do it themselves, real estate agents say.

Jim Heidisch, an agent for Campbell & Rosemurgy in Pompano Beach, Fla., said he tells clients he doesn’t want to have to drag a prospective buyer inside to prove how nice the house is.

“The curbside is the cover of the book,” Heidisch said. “When you’re trying to sell, you have to keep the house up, and that means making it presentable on the inside and the outside.”