How Natural and Constructed Terrain Sustains Value
When we think of landscaping, we tend to think of individual homes and their immediate surroundings, the outdoor environments that we cultivate. We know that elegant landscape design contributes to the appeal and market value of a home. But how do the landscapes of towns or neighborhoods support the desirability and value of individual homes?
We decided to explore this question in a series of three articles each focusing on the distinctive landscape settings of Washington residential areas that have enjoyed enduring popularity: Chevy Chase, Potomac and Great Falls.
The purpose of the series is to illuminate how the topography and natural attributes of the overall neighborhood influence desirability, attract residents and sustain value over time. And to get the most informed answers to our questions, we contacted real estate agents who live and work in these localities.
For the first article in this series, we spoke with Bren Lizzio of Evers & Co Real Estate and Maya Hyman of Compass Real Estate. Here are the questions we asked about Chevy Chase along with Bren and Maya’s answers:
Are there aesthetic qualities built into the landscapes of neighborhoods that make even a modest property valuable?
Bren Lizzio: Yes, very much so. In the older more established neighborhoods closer to the City where the housing prices are higher, there is eclectic architecture and mature landscaping, and much of it is well maintained. You’ll see a lot of small details such as interesting gates, iron fences, stone retaining walls, pavers, and walkways. I’ve seen many modest-sized properties and smaller houses with amazing backyard spaces.
Maya Hyman: When people move out of the city they are primarily looking for more land, more space to entertain and enjoy time as a family. Homes that provide those opportunities and are still close to the city are prized. That’s why prices are high in areas of Chevy Chase like Somerset and Rollingwood. The original developers in the 1900’s followed the natural topography. Trees were preserved in the development process. People are surprised when I take them in those neighborhoods because they aren’t expecting to see all this greenery and still be walking distance to downtown. When you enter the neighborhood, a quiet, peaceful feeling comes over you. You leave the hustle and bustle behind. Urban families come seeking that kind of space where they can feel safe to let their kids run around and dig in the dirt.
Is the natural setting of the neighborhood a factor in the decision to buy an individual home in it?
Bren: Absolutely. In the DC region neighborhoods can have very different looking natural settings. Buyers buying a home are also buying the neighborhood. The topography, sidewalks, trees, and plantings, they are the first impression of a neighborhood. Also, there is the prevailing architectural style. Some buyers prefer the midcentury track homes with green grassy front yards, orderly geometrical shaped shrubs, and perfect edging. Others think the same neighborhood feels boring and sterile. Most people want to live within walking distance of a park or trail and will pay a premium for that.
Maya: People want to see neighbors and feel they are part of a community. They want a quiet place where their kids can run house to house. They do NOT like neighborhoods with cut-through streets.
Does landscaping of individual homes in a neighborhood help to “sell” the overall community experience?
Maya: Landscaping is an instant indicator of the care and value that the neighbors give to their property and therefore the neighborhood.
Bren: Every property with attractive landscaping contributes to neighborhood appeal. A lot can be done with grading and landscaping to make both house and lot look better. Plantings and hardscape can enhance just about any lot to emphasize features or balance the overall picture.
For individual homes, which is more important to a buyer: front yard landscaping or backyard?
Bren: The front yard landscaping and façade is the first impression that will either draw a buyer into the house or not. Most buyers search within their price range and are not in a position to pay for unintended landscaping improvements on the front. They will look at other properties. I help my sellers understand this.
Maya: It is hard to sell a house that only has a great front yard. The proportion has to be there for the back. It’s that public/private balance that homeowners are seeking. Having a developed backyard space is highly important. It could make or break it for them.
Aside from the house, what makes one property more desirable than another?
Maya: The land to house ratio is extremely important. This is the difference between East Bethesda and Somerset. In East Bethesda, they’ve got huge infill houses that are too big for the lot. I will walk clients through a house, and they love it. It’s perfect for them. Then they open the back door and realize they can’t even find a spot for a playset. This family sized house that they love has no family sized space outdoors. Coming from that small townhome in the city with no yard, there’s got to be more for them than just a bigger house.
Bren: First impressions matter. I show sellers a photo of their front yard. If this were not your property and you were a buyer, what do you see? Wouldn’t it look better if we removed a few branches here and lowered these overgrown bushes to show more of the windows-the eyes of the house?
What are your favorite Chevy Chase neighborhoods?
Bren: I would say my favorite Chevy Chase neighborhoods are those I’ve lived in. They each have a different vibe. The quaintness of the narrow streets of Martins Additions brings neighbors closer together. The statelier homes in the Village of Chevy Chase have deeper setbacks from the street. And the Town of Chevy Chase has very pleasing topography. Many of the homes were built according to the natural contours of the land. All three neighborhoods have older homes and mature landscaping, and all three municipalities have tree protection ordinances to protect the tree canopy. And I love trees.
Maya: Somerset, where I live, and Chevy Chase Village are my favorites. I also think Rollingwood is gorgeous for its relationship to park and to the city. It is very woodsy. It’s for people who want to be right on Rock Creek Park. It has a very different feel-not urban.
The Landscapes of Neighborhoods Makes Them Feel Like Home
In speaking to our colleagues, Bren and Maya, it became clear that aspirational neighborhoods or townships share a similar mix of constructed and natural attributes in their landscapes.
1 Constructed Attributes
- the distance that homes are set back from the curb
- the way streets follow the natural contours of the landscape
- preservation of native trees during neighborhood development
- proximity to urban centers
- convenient to transportation
2 Natural Attributes
- a sense of the unexpected created by the natural contours of the landscape
- mature trees in the streetscape
- the presence of bird life
- the way natural and cultivated greenery has filled in around houses and along streetscapes
- nearness to woodlands or parks
Regarding landscapes, the topography of the neighborhood and the landscaping around individual homes complement each other in the best, most desired neighborhoods. It also seems that the outdoor areas of your home are worth investing in when the outdoor experience of the neighborhood supports it. If you would like to make the space outside your home as welcoming and beautiful as the interior of your house, contact one of our landscape architects to schedule a consultation.