Landscape Worth More than Its Good Looks

07/02/2014 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener In the Garden, Landscaping

before and after landscapeThe American dream long has been the pursuit of happiness and owning our own homes.  This week Americans will celebrate our country’s independence; most will do it with family and the classic cookout/picnic in the backyards of our own homes.

Each backyard reflects the owner’s taste, personality, and values.  That’s why landscaping can be a risky investment.  A landscape that is too individualistic can be a handicap when it comes time to sell.  A fact that was in the National Association of Home Builders’ recent report, “What Home Buyers Really Want”.

According to landscape economist John Harris, good landscaping can add as much as 28% to the overall value of a house, and cut its time on the market by 10% to 15%.  According to a Clemson University study, if, before putting your home on the market, you upgrade your landscape from “good” to “excellent,” in terms of design and condition, you can add 6% to 7% to your home’s selling price.

So, create or improve your landscaping knowing that you are making a good investment in both your lifestyle and the financial value of your home. Be sure to draw from these 6 landscaping features that are sure to add to your enjoyment.

Prescott American ElmEnjoyment #1 – Trees.  Ever wonder what your trees are worth?  The National Tree Benefit Calculator can tell you exactly.  Trees are valued by variety and their location’s zip code.   Calculations are based on your property’s value, possible run off, CO2 reduction, and energy savings.  It’s a fun, informative app.

The Calculator projects the annual value an individual tree gives its owners.  The over-all benefits can be astounding.  Some of the realized values for trees with 24-inch trunk diameters are:

  • Ash                  $199
  • Catalpa            $283
  • American Elm   $143
  • Maple               $283
  • Sycamore         $257



Multiply those benefits by the number of trees on a property, and the home’s value climbs. For insurance purposes, the replacement cost of a 16-inch maple in good health could be worth over $2500.  Simply, trees are good investments.

More Tree Factoids:

  • Just 3 properly placed trees can save you between $100 – $250 a year in energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Planting windbreaks and shade trees can reduce winter heating bills by 15% and air conditioning needs by 75%.
  • 5 minutes of just looking at trees produces “significant recovery from stress”, according to a Texas A&M University study.

Enjoyment #2 – Native Plants.  Local hardy plants thrive without excessive gardening time or money.  A study by Applied Ecological Services Inc. shows that maintaining an acre of native plants over 20 years costs $3,000, compared to the whopping $20,000 price tag of maintaining a lawn.

Native plantings help wildlife. Many homeowners are now creating natural backyard habitats for birds, butterflies, and other animals that are looking for places to roost and/or feed. There’s a slow but steady increase in the numbers of homebuyers seeking wildlife- attracting properties.

outdoor lightingEnjoyment #3 – Outdoor Lighting.  Outdoor lighting consistently tops the National Association of Home Builders’ list of most wanted outdoor features.  In its annual “What Home Buyers Really Want” survey, 41% of home buyers rate outdoor lighting as “essential;” 49% say it’s “desirable.”

Tasteful lighting “paints” your home at night by highlighting your other great landscape features.  It also can direct guests to the front door and safely guide them across your backyard. Soft lighting protects against slips and falls and makes your property a more difficult target for intruders. The added security reduces burglaries, and therefore reduces insurance claims. Some insurance companies give 5% to 15% discounts to homeowners with few to no claims.

Enjoyment #4 – Fencing.  It keeps pets in, intruders out, creates privacy, and sets boundaries.  When it comes to boosting property values, the value of fencing becomes murky.  Since most privacy fencing is installed in backyards, it does not pack the curb appeal of a spreading tulip tree shading your front yard. Also, if everyone in the neighborhood has the same nice fence, yours won’t earn any extra points on an appraisal sheet.

But nice fences, excluding chain link, do have value. Appraisers say that cedar picket fences can boost home value by $1,500 to $2,000. In Mesa, Arizona, where chain link fences are typical of older properties, an upgraded cement block privacy wall can boost selling prices by $2,000 to $5,000.

retaining wallEnjoyment #5 – Retaining Walls & Terraces.  Retaining walls and terraces reclaim heavily sloped landscapes. When done correctly a terraced yard controls erosion and runoff, adds texture, and turns useless slopes into flat areas suitable for garden beds and walkways. Values of retaining walls vary greatly.  Conservative estimates suggest a 20’- long by 30”- high stone wall can increase a home’s value from between $1,250 and $2,000.

Enjoyment #6 – Walkways.  Walkways welcome guests to your home.  You can go whole hog and install a solid stone walkway, which ranges from $11 to $17 per sq.ft., or use pavers, $9.50-$17 per sq. ft.  To save money, lay $2-$5 per piece stepping-stones with grass in between.  If you get too fancy, you do not see a return on your investment.  Appraisers assess a lower value if your home doesn’t meet the standards of the neighborhood.

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Tell a friend – If you find these garden tips helpful and want to share them with friends, point them to this link for the High Country Garden Club.