Green Estate

In today’s battered real estate market, tiny shoots of green are not only pushing up through the ground, but also pushing property values, if not sky high, at least back up to par, especially for those preparing to sell their homes.

Curb appeal—the catnip of home buyers everywhere—can be defined as the physical, visual context which gives a house its meaning, turning it into a possible “home”.  Therefore, the elusive picture-perfect charm of a dream home consists mainly of the plants, shrubs and trees surrounding it.

The last dozen years has seen an explosion of interest not only in gardening but also in scientific research confirming the literally defined economic “interest” of plants—the specific increase in wealth stemming from home gardens and landscaped yards.

Amazingly, the positive impact of plants and gardens on wealth extends far beyond the vegetable patch.  Although by now most folks know the phenomenal savings reaped from homegrown herbs, fruits and veggies, very few people have heard of the effect gardens, shrubs and trees have on house values, ranging from a 5% to 20% increase in total property price from a well designed front and back yard.  This means that a $400,000 house can appreciate up to $480,000 with the addition of a well-designed landscape.  Sprucing up a couple of garden beds and borders, and adding a few ornamental trees doesn’t cost nearly $80,000.  Gardening pays.

Indeed,  no other “home improvement” investment comes close.  In fact, landscaping and gardening are the only expenses to exceed a 1:1 ratio of dollars spent to dollars earned.  Everything else—from new windows to refinished flooring, from sunrooms to a kitchen makeover—loses money when evaluated at resale.  Wheelbarrows full, you might say.

Whether a bower of Freudian domesticity or merely a prosaic expression of “curb appeal”, this uncommon fact is hiding in plain sight.  Returns on investment in a few decorative trees, a border of shrubs and perennials and a grape arbor or asparagus patch can return 250 to 300%—up to triple your money. Certainly, one never loses:  gardening is the fabled “sure thing”.  What other financial play comes close?  Even rare wine, much less the proverbial new rare wine cellar, doesn’t approach these increases in value.  As for new carpeting, swimming pools, patios, “great rooms”, et al, they put the “pit” in money pit.  Like a new car, their value drops about one quarter as soon as they are completed.  One should enjoy them—like the Lamborghini and the rare wine.  However, in the case of a domicile, if prospective buyers want a finished basement or the currently chic “outdoor kitchen”, they want to build them to their own scale and taste, not someone else’s.  You would do better to paper your walls with dollar bills.

Furthermore, gardens and trees not only possess a generic, universal appeal, but also pull at deep-rooted—or better put, hard-wired—evolutionary  heartstrings.  Recent research confirms that we evolved with plants at our side:  they both sheltered and nurtured us.  Spend a bit of time and money on a garden designer to help you plug into your green DNA.  You cannot go wrong.

Who knows?  After making your yard a piece of paradise, you might decide not to sell.

This entry was posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011 at 1:40 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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11 Responses to “Green Estate”

  1. Linda Brandon said:

    Hi, George. I loved the column. My question is simple (and in no way means I’m questioning your data — I just want to be able to use it with assurance that it’s from a reliable source): what is the source of the 5%-20% appreciation figure? I’d surely appreciate the information. As an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (and the group’s Coordinator in Guilford County, NC), this is the kind of data we love to be able to use, but we need to be able to cite our sources. Thanks!!

    • George said:

      Thanks for the response. Curiosity is very important. I should have footnoted or specified where I got my estimates. The short answer: many sources. Start anywhere, so Charlie Hall at Texas A & M is a good place: The University of Vermont also has done lots of research. There is some corroborating information and data at as well. Another source for summary articles about the economic benefits of plant gardens and landscapes is America in Bloom (AIB). Disclaimer: my sister – with whom I have no professional connections – is a prominent supporter of AIB.

      Other general sources are: Smart Money, who reported in 2001 a figure of 15% reported to them by Walt McDonald, then President Elect of the National Association of Realtors.

      A Gallup research project was reported in the August 2002 issue of Lawn & Landscape magazine to put the average value of landscaping and gardening at 14.87%. This same issue cited an undated Money magazine article as stating that landscaping and gardening doubles one’s investment (200%).

      The Wall Street Journal (undated) stated that landscaping alone “fully recovers, and sometimes doubles” investments by increasing real estate value (no mention of resale.)

      Money magazine (May 2003) states that “landscape design and installation… offers the best return on investment of any home improvement you can make.”

      The Miami Herald stated (undated) that “trees in your yard … according to a recent study by the US Forest Service… can increase a home’s value by three to seven percent”.

      Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers states that “A mature tree can often have an appreciated value of between $1000 and $10,000. (I just multiplied the number of trees on an average 2011 free standing home in the $400,000 range.)

      Money magazine (again undated) states that “Landscaping can bring a recovery value of 100 to 200% at selling time – versus- kitchen remodeling … 75 to 125%… bathroom remodeling 20 to 120%… and a sunny pool a 20 to 50% recovery rate.” Meaning – on average – the only investment to meet or exceed a 1: 1 ratio of dollar spent to dollar recovered is landscaping.

      The Gallup organization (undated) again: “Landscaping can add between 7 and 15 percent to a home’s value”. Since this article appeared at least 5 years ago, the range has obviously risen to at 15 to 20%, if not higher.

      Here is a Clemson University research article which is undated, but whose data has likely originated before 2008: “Homes with ‘excellent’ landscaping can expect a sale price of about 6 to 7% higher than the equivalent home with ‘good’ landscaping, while improving landscaping from ‘average’ to ‘good’ can result in a 4 to 5 percent increase”. Why the author left it to the imagination to conclude what “average” to “excellent” would do to “sale” value, I do not know. But it is safe to assume it could be in the 15% range, pre real estate market collapse of 2008 – 2011 and plunging.

      These are just a few of my sources. Thanks again for posting.

  2. Linda Pastorino said:

    I would normally agree with your comments above, and do see that properties that are well landscaped and even gardened fall into a different category as far as selling quicker and or having more curb appeal. I myself thing gardens add even more than you describe. However, I would dissagree is when an appraiser comes to avaluate a home (as did mine recently) and didn’t add a penny on it for any of the things you mentioned above. I think there is a fine line to landscaping and then some one like myself who has an advanced garden with 19 zone irregation system etc. My garden is only a third done on two acres yet I have ornamental fencing and a many rare plant collections, garden tours etc. Two appraisers I had here could give a hoot. As well the mortgage company when I was borrowing to add the addition also didn’t give a hoot. I think if one compares an unlandscaped place with something that has care involved like mine, it doesn’t fall within the scope of the Fanny Mae guidlines for value added in the clear sense. Similarly hardscaping which adds sex appeal to a property and perceived esthetic value and actually costs tons of money, does not pay off when one compares dollars to added value. It does help as far as eye candy and perceived value to a viewer that appreciates those things. Where did you get the figures you spoke of ? I would loved to have these for my own purposes next time when I have to fight about it!

    • George said:

      Very interesting response – thank you! I have heard that “hardscape” can be a “hard sell”. The reason I did not discuss it is because I was fairly certain that – like patio additions and outdoor kitchens – hardscape is specifically subjective: their beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. If you and the beholder are similar, you may be safe – but the range of human variation is so great the odds are low this will happen. Your “path” may well be another’s “so what?”. On the other hand, gardens and “soft” landscaping is site specific – or should be in the hands of a good designer – and this appeal is generic and universal. Thus, my position. As for the data, there is even more Canadian data – from Quebec, I think. Also, Mississippi State and Tennessee State. I’ll try to post more later. Thanks again.

  3. Ray N said:

    I had spent ten years landscaping our last home with unusual trees, fruit trees, flowering shrubs and tons of perennials. It sold 4 hours after listing and broke the dollar per square foot record for the county. People got angry because we didn’t open it up for a bidding war.

    • George said:

      I forgot to bring up resale time – thanks! It is fairly stunning. Lawn & Landscape from August 2002 state that 99% of real estate professionals told them that “
      landscaping enhances a property’s ‘sales appeal’, increasing the actual speed of the sale.” This is what I was getting at with the importance of “curb appeal”. I know folks who have been house hunting and told me they wouldn’t even get out of the agents’ car in many instances! Sounds like you got everything just right. Thanks again.

  4. Kathy SPAGNOLA said:

    Well said and beautifully written.
    I plan on forwarded this to all my clients!
    Thank you,
    Kathy SPAGNOLA,
    kGS Landscape Designs, LLC

    • George said:

      Thank you, Kathy. Please mention “” as your source, if you do not mind. I would appreciate it. I’m glad you enjoyed my article. Good luck with your business.

  5. George said:

    My personal favorite study was from 1999 – that would be two years before 9/11 that it was published – by Alex X. Niemiera of Virginia Tech. Averaging level of detail of types of plants, shrubs and trees; ages; effects on sale appreciation and then resale – this fellow spent many years on this project. It can be found at:

    I took only one liberty in my reporting on my blog of what I found in his data: the strong suggestion that if gardening and landscaping had a 10-15% premium effect then (mid 90’s), then it should have a greater effect now. Check it out.

  6. bob burroughs said:

    Your tour at Fordhook a couple of weeks ago was
    You should write a blog.
    Oh yeah, I guess you do.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Bob. Glad you enjoyed the post. Did you like “paper your walls with dollar bills”? It’s my favorite part. A triple entender. Plus, the effect would look “stressed”, which is still fashionable. Thanks again and happy gardening!

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