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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.

Read the next Article: Growing Beets

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