Curb Appeal Can Be Affordable

What research says about curb appeal and qualities of outdoor spaces that attract home buyers

By CASSY AOYAGI
Passionate about your impact? Or profits? Consider a new frontier—the landscape. Currently builders landscape to wrap their present – the home. If we instead understand landscapes as integral to the gift, builders can reduce costs, and substantially improve both curb appeal and ecological impact, especially during these strange times.

Let’s ask the obvious questions. What do homebuyers want in a landscape? Which landscape strategies best meet these interests? How can home builders ensure a positive impact on sales price?

What do homebuyers want in a landscape?

The simple answer? Not what builders typically provide. Most wrap homes in landscapes that feel built—not natural. Coast to coast, landscapes are boring, redundant, and shrinking. This contrasts with the importance homebuyers’ place on curb appeal and how they define it. Five landscape qualities attract buyers: ease of maintenance, abundant greenery, naturalistic forms, and support for health and lifestyle.

Ample research shows ease of maintenance as a top interest. People no longer want to spend weekends mowing! This does not mean they want less garden. When we dig deeper, we see people want to live in gardens, not work in them.

People want verdant beauty. Buyers so highly value established tree canopy and shrubs,that verdant spaces even improve neighbors’ values. They value compelling landscape design.

An abundance of studies reviewed in The Nature Fix illustrate that as consumers, employees and homebuyers, people prefer naturalistic spaces over built environments. These are more than aesthetic preferences. We are drawn to the form of spaces that support our health and wellness.

More now understand the power of nature to reduce stress, boost moods, and speed healing. Consumers spend more to avoid pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals. Homeowners in well-healed areas seek edible gardens as chic sources for chemical-free, healthy foods.

People want outdoor spaces that support how they live – or aspire to live. Green building’s niche clientele holds these qualities more dear than most. Many aspire to a Net Zero lifestyle or to optimize operational costs. These preferences don’t end at a home’s envelope.

Each of these desires was well documented prior to March 2020. We expect each to increase. As stay-at-home policies rolled out, people sought the comfort of nature, flooding beaches and hiking trails. As those closed, nurseries struggled to meet demand for edible foliage and soil. As we stayed a minimum of 6 feet away from one another, we noticed the dwindling setbacks of our homes.

What does a home price-boosting landscape look like?

While varied in aesthetic, landscapes that meet USGBC’s SITEs standards consistently look like the spaces local communities define as nature. These define our regional aesthetic preferences. They also check all the other boxes and lower upfront building costs.

SITEs landscapes deliver extraordinary value. Full of native and edible foliage, they can reduce maintenance needs by 68 percent. A SITEs landscape saves a Los Angeles homeowner with 1000 square feet more than $3500 and nearly 70 hours of garden maintenance each year – it mitigates energy and groceries expenses as well. What’s more, they gain priceless support for their health.

In LA, these verdant, varied and treeful native landscapes cost less to install than the alternatives. The common, ho-hum landscape of turf, hedges, and specimen tree costs about $9-12 per square foot. Stark, architectural gravelscapes cost about the same. In comparison, a SITEs landscape will cost $7-8/ ft2, a full $2 less/ft2 – even less after grants.

Whether or not those cost savings are passed along, homebuyers will prize the benefits of a landscape built to SITEs specifications.

How Can Home Builders Ensure They Capture This Win-Win at Sale?

Homeowners who create the desired landscape aesthetic can speed time to sale and recoup more than 200 percent of their investment. This can translate into a 10-15 percent bump in sales price. Green builders could too – although it may take helping homebuyers understand the landscapes’ ongoing value.

Testimonials from happy homeowners and walks through representative mature spaces can close deals. Clear illustrations of ongoing energy, cost and time savings can too. Many will be swayed by the landscapes’ ability to cool heat islands, refuel groundwater tables, reduce burdens on stormwater systems, and mitigate flood and fire dangers.

Last but not least, LEED provides a shorthand for illustrating all these benefits. Nearly 40 percent of the points needed for existing building certification can be earned in the landscape. Win-win all the way.

Cassy Aoyagi, a LEED and SITEs accredited practi- tioner, is president of FormLA Landscaping. She serves on the USGBC-LA Board, and LA County Planning Department’s Significant Ecological Areas Techni- cal Advisory Committee (SEATAC).