Gardens are often the poor relation of the house when it comes to adding value to your property. But if you're thinking of selling up, your outdoor space could be a deal breaker.
"If a garden is well kept and designed, it's a real plus," says Jan Hytch, president of the National Association of Estate Agents. "It makes the property stand out and people would probably pay more for a really well-designed garden. It might add from 5 to 10% on the price of a house."
As well as your budget, the style and period of the property and the neighbourhood you live in will influence your garden design. For example, if you live on a modern estate with lots of identical houses, spend a bit more on your garden and you are likely to recoup the cost.
"In the city, if you have a tiny garden with a decking area and some seating and the space is well crafted, it will certainly be worth more than one up the road where nothing has been done," adds Hytch.
"Glenn Ackroyd, partner at EweMove.com, agrees: "Consider whether your garden stands out from neighbouring properties, giving it that Chelsea Flower Show wow factor. Having an amazing garden could increase the price of a typical house worth £200,000 by up
Less is more
The availability of outdoor space is at a premium, so you need to consider what you want to use the garden for and what type of buyers it might attract when you eventually come to sell. If it is a family home, it's wise to maintain a grassy area for children to play on while a low-maintenance garden will be a top priority for busy City professionals. Older buyers tend to have more leisure time, so may be happy to have more flower beds, trees and areas that need tending. But overstock your garden with plants, and you could put off all but the keenest horticulturalists.
Henry Sherwood, managing director of The Buying Agents, says: "Most young professionals either want a low-maintenance garden for outside entertaining or a safe environment where the kids can play. In both cases, less is usually more.
"Buyers would probably prefer points of interest in the form of architectural detail such as multi- functional, integrated seating areas or sculptures – think Henry Moore – as opposed to intricate, all-season planting designs, which require year-round maintenance.
Around 25% of the houses we bought in Fulham last year had artificial grass."
Hiring a landscape gardner
It's certainly worth taking the advice of a garden designer if you're planning fundamental changes to your garden. They will come up with a plan of how to maximise space and can show you photos or take you around similar gardens they've transformed.
Depending on the size of the garden, you can expect to pay around £400 for an initial consultation and plan, and from around 5 to 15% of the value of the project.
Ask friends and neighbours for recommendations. You can also find local landscapers in your area through the Association of Professional Landscapers (landscaper.org.uk) and RatedPeople.com.
It's always worth showing the garden plan to a local estate agent, who can advise on whether it will improve your property's saleability. To come up with ideas, also browse through photos of gardens on property websites.
"The key word here is ‘professional', so don't be afraid to spend money on the right person to make the most of the space you have available," adds Sherwood. "It is not uncommon for garden enthusiasts to spend between 5 and 10% of the value of their property on the garden."
Patios and decking
A terrace is high up on most people's wish list, so look at ways to step out into the garden on to decking or a patio. For a family house, you need enough hard surfacing to put a table and chairs out for six to eight people plus space for a barbecue and a few plants in containers.
More people are investing in lighting and patio heaters to extend the amount of time they can use their garden. With a covered terrace and heating, you can enjoy the outdoors throughout the year.
"Buyers want somewhere relaxing for a barbecue or to entertain friends," says James Wyatt at Barton Wyatt. "It is another room really."
If you have the space, it's tempting to add larger-scale features such as summerhouses and swimming pools.
"Summerhouses are always appealing," says Hytch. "You won't get much change from £3,000 or £4,000 but it is not such a massive expense and you will recoup it within a few years."
But, like any renovation, make sure it's not over the top: it's unlikely you will recoup the cost of adding a swimming pool. Most people will see it as a liability due to the high cost of heating and maintenance, while young families will be worried about safety.
"Think about whether the project will add value to the property and be appreciated by the average person buying in the area," says Sherwood. "More permanent alterations can be costly to remove and the hassle of doing so could put buyers off.
"Ideally, you need at least the same area of garden as the footprint of the house before you start to add permanent structures."
First impressions count, so don't neglect your front garden. Keep it tidy and well presented, and plant slow-growing plants that don't need much maintenance. Invest in screening – perhaps a trellis or fence – to conceal unsightly wheelie bins.
In inner city areas where parking is at a premium, you may want to add a driveway – but call in the professionals. Since 2008, there has been stricter legislation on paving over front gardens, due to concerns about the effect on the environment of removing green spaces in urban areas.
"The more into an urban area you live, the more valuable a parking space is," says Hytch. "In some cities, it can be worth thousands of pounds a year in not having to pay for a parking permit or play hopscotch down the street trying to find a place to park."
Five tips from garden designers
"Low maintenance doesn't have to be boring. Use colours to brighten up a space, put in curves to add interest to paths and fit mirrors to make an area look bigger."
Nigel Cooper of Weekend Garden Makeover
"Design something quite simple and low maintenance for the whole garden. I would have a small patio laid with a mid-range paving product and something along the lines of planting in gravel, with a lawn area to appeal to families. Don't cut corners but don't overspend on it. If it looks nice, it will sell."
Paul Baker of Holland Landscapes
"It's worth investing in a tidy garden. Build a shed, so people know there is somewhere to store garden tools. Give the garden a bit of a makeover: wash down existing patios, paint fencing, re-seed – you'll definitely get your money back when you sell."
Debbie Winrow of Garden House Designs
"A water feature can add a focal point and the sound of running water can be tranquil. These are not as expensive as you may think - prices range from £50 to £400."
"Ensure your fencing is solid and won't be falling down anytime soon. Also have a little height with the fence panels as no one like to be spied on while in the garden."
Chris Pahtalias of Angelo's Dream Gardens