Conventional real estate wisdom puts a lot of faith in curb appeal as an important characteristic of a lovely and desirable home. And a crucial component of that curb appeal is of course the traditional lush lawn in the front yard. Small or large, square or rectangular, flat or hilly, that patch of green grass is the ultimate desire of homebuyers everywhere — or so goes the usual thinking.

But is the lush lawn now on its way out of style?

There’s plenty of evidence in the section of Los Angeles where I live that big green lawns rule. Just drive around the upper reaches of Beverly Hills and you’ll see my point. Or better yet, check out the monolithic Mormon temple in West Los Angeles or the sprawling Pepperdine University campus on the coast in Malibu and you’ll find two truly spectacular lawns. These perfectly manicured, weed-free stretches of Emerald City green grass are so amazing that it’s difficult for me to drive past either of those institutions without feeling at least a little bit of lawn envy.

Few homeowners can compete with such magnificent lawns. Most of us are restricted to small patches of dirt in front of and behind our homes, and we’re daunted by the time and money it takes to install and maintain a truly glorious lawn. But many of us still try to do our best and hope our neighbors will be equally as considerate about the state of their own front lawns and the overall curb appeal of their homes.

But now comes the challenge: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) has instituted some onerous restrictions on lawn watering. Sprinklers here can be run for only 15 minutes per zone on Mondays and Thursdays before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Any other use is illegal, and all other landscape watering must be done by hand. Frankly, I don’t have the time, inclination or patience to stand around with a hose in my hand for half an hour every other afternoon just to keep my lawn green.

The DWP also has announced a lawn removal program that pays homeowners $1 for every square foot of lawn that’s ripped out and replaced with plants that don’t guzzle water. …CONTINUED

One of my neighbors recently quit the green grass club, perhaps to capitalize on this incentive, and installed some small native and drought-tolerant plants in lieu of the lawn. These plants look nice, but there’s no telling how well this landscaping will hold up as curb appeal once the plants mature.

But another of my neighbors — the one who actually mows his own lawn himself — insists that this sort of lawn-less landscaping actually takes more time and effort to maintain than a simple patch of green-in-the-winter and brown-in-the-summer grass does.

The $1 per square foot is a tempting offer, especially since I actually like the look of native California plants that fit the natural colors of our desert-by-the-ocean climate. And it’s not as if there aren’t hundreds of types of trees, bushes, flowers and other nice native plants from which to choose.

Would the absence of a lush lawn ruin the front of my house or would drought-resistant landscaping be a worthwhile investment? Should I worry about curb appeal even though I have no plans to sell my home? Does the natural look signal a stylish up-to-date attitude or would a yard full of scrub brush just look cheap? Would I enjoy a yard full of native plants or just get pricked by the cactus? Would I have to give up my purple Jacaranda tree? My miniature pink roses? My fragrant white gardenias?

What’s ironic about the whole question is that some communities put so much faith in the green lawn to wow homebuyers that they’ve actually hired contractors to spray-paint the dead grass in front of foreclosed homes just to keep up appearances. Those lawns are still dead, but they don’t look dead from a distance and apparently that’s worth as much as $700 per house.

I haven’t seen any of these fake lawns in my neighborhood, but the practice speaks to the mysterious psychic hold that green grass lawns seem to enjoy.

Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.


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