Summer time is the outdoor season, and if that is when you plan to sell your home, you can be sure potential buyers will be paying special attention to your backyard.

“The backyard is always important to buyers who are outdoors oriented, particularly those who like to garden, but at this time of year, everyone notices the yard,” says Nicole Norwalk-Galanis of RE/MAX Signature in Chicago. “I’d say landscaping and outdoor space are high priorities for about 50 percent of buyers. For others, they are still a factor if not a top concern.”

Especially at this time of year, buyers will respond positively if they can easily envision themselves enjoying the backyard of a home they are considering, according to Cindie Patterson, an agent at RE/MAX of Barrington in Barrington, Ill.

“A well maintained yard with an attractive seating area, whether it’s a deck or patio, along with some well trimmed shrubs and a few flowers, help create a positive first impression for any home during the summer season,” she says.

Not every buyer, however, has the same idea of what constitutes a great yard.

“Some buyers prefer minimal landscaping because they don’t have time for a lot of yard work or the resources to hire someone to do the work for them,” notes Angela Lotz of RE/MAX All Pro in Bloomingdale, Ill. “But an extensively landscaped yard is viewed as a plus by a sizable majority of buyers.”

The value of good landscaping is as much a factor in the city as it is in the suburbs, according to Norwalk-Galanis, who reports that city buyers realize their yard won’t be large but still like it to be attractive.

“Having nice outdoor space, even if it is small, can be especially important to those purchasing in the city because their access to green space is often quite limited,” Norwalk-Galanis said. She notes that even condo buyers are drawn to units that offer an attractive patio or balcony.

If the appeal of landscaping crosses geographic boundaries, it does seem to respect differences in price, according to Gay Weaver of RE/MAX Synergy in Flossmoor, Ill.

High quality landscaping is more important to buyers of higher end homes than to first-time buyers or those who will have to do all the yard maintenance work themselves, Weaver reported.

“For homes priced in the lower portion of the market, nice landscaping can be a pleasant surprise for buyers, but it’s not something that will impact their offer much,” says Weaver. “On the high end, however, good landscaping is expected, and if it isn’t there, it will make the home harder to sell and even can negatively impact its value.”

For those homeowners wondering what the right level of landscaping might be to maximize the value of their property, Janine Walsh of RE/MAX Showcase in Long Grove, Ill., recommends looking closely at your neighbors’ property.

“It makes sense to harmonize your landscape with what’s around you. A lack of landscaping can make a home look like the least attractive one on the block,” says Walsh. “However, too much landscaping can be overkill, and many buyers won’t want to deal with it. So I recommend that sellers work for a look that is both inviting and low key.”

What specific features do these agents see as being most attractive to buyers? The top choice was a backyard that offered an attractive seating area, something that could take various forms – a brick or stone patio, tiered deck, open porch or even a gazebo.

“Especially for smaller homes, but really at all levels, it works best when the indoor entertaining area flows naturally into the complementary outdoor area, whether it’s a patio or deck or something else,” said Walsh. Lighting makes these outdoor seating areas even more appealing, creating visual interest and making the area more usable in the evening.

Water features also have proven attractive, especially in recent years. Buyers seem to respond positively to a water feature, even if it is only a simple birdbath.

“It doesn’t have to be elaborate,” says Patterson. “People love the sound of running water.”

For extra sizzle, add a fire pit or built-in grill, suggests Norwalk-Galanis.

Landscaping that enhances privacy is another way to make your backyard more attractive, according to Weaver. She estimates that 80 percent of buyers prefer a fenced yard, largely because a fence can increase privacy.

She also noted that the sense of privacy can be enhanced by plantings around the patio or deck.

Another way to add sales appeal to your backyard is to keep the landscaping low- maintenance.

“In recent years, we’ve seen people move away from things like swimming pools, and decks, as well as planting areas filled with annuals, because they require a lot of labor, and homeowners don’t have the time for it these days,” says Lotz. A garden that features perennials and a deck built of synthetic lumber or a concrete patio are low-maintenance solutions that will appeal to many buyers.

A final piece of simple advice comes from Patterson, who always urges her sellers to keep their yards neatly weeded, mulched and trimmed while the house is on the market.

“Buyers are always looking for signs as to how well a seller has cared for the home, and a lush, neat yard sends the right message,” she said.

Shelley Bryant, Broker/Owner, Villa Realty