What beige does for interiors, green does for exteriors.
And in this tough home-sale environment, if the outside doesn't have the right touches of green, some buyers won't bother to look inside.
While homeowners can lay out a green carpet to entice buyers, experts say it's difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint how much extra value landscaping adds to a home.
Moreover, just as beige is preferred for interiors because a neutral decor doesn't reflect personal tastes, lavish landscaping likewise is shunned by many buyers.
Indeed, homeowners with a green thumb can expend substantial dollars that may never be recouped.
"You will not get a dollar-for-dollar return on landscaping," says real estate appraiser Joe Wallace of PF Appraisals, Chicago. "It would be a 50 percent return at best."
Consider a home in a neighborhood where all the houses are similar. "If they are selling for $300,000, but one home really stands out because of landscaping, it may be [appraised at] $305,000," Wallace speculates. He estimates that landscaping can add up to 2 percent to an appraisal.
Residential appraisal forms don't even have line items to note landscaping, or brick walks and other "hard" enhancements to landscaping.
However, appraisers will note these items to explain an adjustment to the price of comparable properties, says Wallace.
A big reason costs pale in comparison to what buyers will spend for greenery is that many people aren't attuned to landscaping expense.
"People know a lot more about what a granite countertop costs," states Wallace, adding that buyers do value brick pathways and other "hardscapes" features.
Anyway, garden enthusiasts probably don't look for a financial payback, but other more intangible benefits from a lush yard.
In his 30 years offering homeowner insurance, Tom Kropp, broker-owner of the Kropp Insurance Agency in Morton Grove, says he can't remember a client asking for separate or enhanced coverage for landscaping, the way some people inquire about coverage for jewelry or other valuables.
The standard homeowner policy does offer coverage for trees, shrubs and other plants, reports Len Murphy of the Property Loss Research Bureau in Downers Grove. But it's limited to $500 per item, with an overall limit up to 5 percent of the liability limit for the dwelling.
Furthermore, homeowners can collect only if damage is caused by certain perils, such as lightning or fire but not wind.
Homeowners can take a deduction on their income taxes for damaged trees or bushes, within limits.
Sue Hales, an IRS spokeswoman in Chicago, says losses are figured by taking the cost of removal and replanting and then deducting certain amounts (See IRS Publication 17).
One financial benefit to strategically placed trees and shrubs is lower energy bills. Sometimes, shade and wind protection provided by neighboring trees can improve energy efficiency, too.
In fact, landscaping on a block plays an important role in neighborhood values.
Kathleen Wolf, a researcher with the University of Washington, recently compiled the findings of several landscaping studies and found that the mature trees that line upper-income neighborhoods boost values by 10 to 15 percent.
Landscaping just a bit better than the neighbor's can make your home a stand-out.
"Lots of times, every house has the same $10,000 package of bushes and plantings. When someone who really knows what they are doing puts in plantings that change color, with something for every season, you can really tell," concludes Gail Niermeyer, of Coldwell Banker Residential in Naperville.
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