> Precious Gardens

How investing in your garden affects your property’s value

First published in Riviera Insider Magazine, May/June 2016

Owners and buyers invest increasingly into the design of their gardens, especially those acquiring exclusive properties. It is not only the longing for inspiration and recreation, or the quest for an adequate representation of their lifestyles, that drives them. It has been common knowledge for a long time now, that individually and professionally designed gardens are a profitable investment, and that’s not only true for luxurious properties.

At the same time it is quite remarkable that the times, when ecological topics, like sustainability and biodiversity were perceived as almost an antithesis to good design, are well and truly over. The interest in issues like water consumption, soil biology, bee-friendliness or implementing correct horticultural techniques and eschewing chemicals is becoming for a growing number of sophisticated and design conscious owners a natural foundation – a functionality – on which good design only forms.

While the interest in active gardening has been a stable and growing trend in large urban regions over the past few years, especially owners and buyers of luxury properties approach garden and landscape designers in order to let them tune their gardens according to their owners’ individual needs.

Ultimately it makes a lot of sense, both design-wise and economically, when a lot of funds are invested into elegant villas with wonderful vistas, and when they are then equipped with gourmet kitchens, cottages and extensions, that people like to round off such ensembles with fine gardens that match stylistically with the house, its interiors and its owners.

A designed garden is a happy “welcome”, an introduction and completion, the ultimate frame of an all-round well conceived, successful property, which not only gains value by the passing of time, but which by these means becomes, to a certain extent, actively enriched in its substance and through this again is enhanced economically. To this corresponds the observation that sophisticated owners increasingly develop a substantial interest in plants, envision special species, colours and shapes for their gardens and ask for background information, about their stories and individual characteristics.

However, a successful garden design needs much more than placing some of the ubiquitous standard woody plants around a lawn at one’s own discretion. At its heart this is rather about what the owners would actually like to do with their garden, it is about rediscovering the functions which a garden can satisfy.

A planning that will pay off in the long run, will focus on thoughtful and exceptional arrangements of plants, it relies on attuning carefully all the materials and it will think of all ever so subtle details, but also lighting, irrigation and water features. First and foremost optical weights and harmonically designed proportions between horizontals and verticals are indispensable, and elaborated layouts featuring interesting lines of sight, with more condensed and rather open spaces, which allow for discoveries and admiration.

Of course, the balance between year-round attraction and the desired degree of ongoing maintenance is important for a successful design which will also be financially viable in the long run. With the right mixture of these factors one will give as a seller quite good criteria to a buyer to stick with a certain property.

Few measures for improving a real estate are subject to no loss of value as in fact the right investment into the greenery around the house. Experts from the USA, Australia and the UK estimate that the “recovery value” of a landscape investment is between 100% and 200% when selling a property. Conversely, only few investments into the upgrade of real estate will generate such a quickly increasing accretion like an intelligently landscaped garden. This increment can amount to as much as 20%, following the standard declaration by experts from France, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia or the US, where John A. Harris, landscape economist and valuation expert from Florida, calls 28% quite a realistic figure as well.

We all know: provided the appropriate planning, gardens become more beautiful and more impressive as they mature; so much for the design side of things. But at the same time they also furnish a property literally with growing values, simply because a matured tree would cost a lot more than a young tree, which first would have to gain the same amount of growth. And what’s more: besides water, a little tender loving care and time, there’s little left needed.

Amazingly enough, this is not a mere theoretical consideration. Buyers as well as home-builders are increasingly asking for gardens which will be attractive right from the start, which will endow a property with a sort of “grown history” and that won’t need years of maturing for this. In England, a number of years ago, this lead to offers like those of Ruskins or Glendale who successfully transplant even very large trees that can be hundreds of years old sometimes.

So, in times when even commercial large tree transplanters are busy, trees and large shrubs almost become veritable assets that could theoretically – but also quite practically – be dug up and sold.

A well conceived garden can be a very individual creation, which cannot be found elsewhere: such a garden will not only not go out of style, from a rate of return view point it’s also a quite stable and secure thing.

But how much should one invest into a garden in order to make a viable investment? That of course depends on the property’s value. Basically experts recommend to invest into private landscaping around 10% to 20% of a property’s value, whereas, depending on the location and size of a property, and more factors, like for instance a valuable plant inventory, this percentage will be closer to the lower value of the range with extremely high-end properties.

Realty experts and owners agree that a garden off the shelf, without any design, can actually harm a property’s impression and will not simply be a neutral factor, when potential buyers evaluate the property.

While especially the interiors consistently are subject to the individual taste of an observer, gardens will emotionally move people of very different cultural backgrounds and expectations. Surveys from the US showed that a well designed and maintained garden quickly delivers potential buyers the feeling they would like to live in this specific house – and this even applied if they didn’t particularly like the home’s interiors. When asked after house viewings, it was found that potential buyers remembered certain views from within the house out into the gardens much better than they could remember details like the stones on the kitchen’s floor.

Various studies have also shown recently that buyers who had previously stated that a garden and its design would have no or no significant influence on their buying decision, were not only highly attracted by a beautiful landscape design, but that gardens and their specific design were in fact crucial for a positive investment decision with this group of buyers.

When finally considering that even gardens without a design result in constant maintenance costs, one should clearly expect that investments into a landscape design should be self-evident for every property owner. Therefore experts always recommend to home-builders and buyers to allocate a good part of their budget to their garden design and to engage a professional landscape designer early on when planning or re-building, while browsing offers or shortly after buying a property.

Especially owners and buyers of luxury properties have started to develop a fine sense over the past few years for the fact that gardens are much more than just a good investment: trees and other woody plants accumulate carbon dioxide, they cool down the environment, they balance nitrogen levels, they produce a noticeable amount of oxygen, they develop biomass which enhances the soil and they provide habitats for numerous birds and insects. If nothing else, they are an important art form that has faded a little into obscurity and they are a crucial element of our culture which intuitively, successfully and sustainably affects our balanced state of mind and our enduring well-being.