How Native Landscape Affects Neighborhood Appeal in Potomac
Surrounds works in many different sorts of neighborhoods. The types of projects we undertake in places like Potomac, Great Falls or McLean can be quite expansive due to lot size and the natural landscape setting of the various communities. Projects in these communities are significantly different in terms of scale from what we may do in a Chevy Chase, Bethesda or Arlington setting. And yet, whether lots are large are small, a desirable community, one that consistently draws homebuyers has more to offer.
What are the characteristics of a landscape that cause builders to decide to develop it for residential communities? Some developers obviously are indifferent to the land and will push everything down, scrape it flat to make the transition easy and cost-effective. They strip the character out of it, build their houses, maximize the square footage and leave restoration of the landscape to the new owners.
So, what is the draw of a neighborhood that makes it valuable-not just in dollars and sense-but makes it valuable because it is a place that people want to be? The native landscape itself has characteristics that attract and inspire.
The first installment in our series about what makes a desirable, high-value neighborhood focused on Chevy Chase. For this second installment in the series, we spoke with two realtors who live and work in Potomac: Gitika Kaul of Wydler Brothers Real Estate and Jill Schwartz of The Jill Schwartz Group. Here is what we learned from Jill and Gitika:
Are there aesthetic attributes built into the landscape (topography) of a neighborhood that add value?
Gitika Kaul: People love the mature trees in Potomac. There are times when I drive down the road and feel like I am in the country and yet I am minutes away from an urban center. The trees are a huge driver of interest in the Potomac area. That also brings birds. In my backyard, I have a lot of birds that you won’t see even five miles away.
Jill Schwartz: One hundred percent yes. When a home is just built, and there is no landscaping, it’s incomplete. What adds value is the landscaping. But also, the landscape of the neighborhood is important. In neighborhoods like Burning Tree and Burning Tree Estates, the appeal is the natural quality of the landscape. When you drive through it, you get the feeling of being in a tree dominant area. The tree stock is significantly taller, their shape and structure more natural looking.
Constructed elements: shape/size of lots, the position of the house on the lot-how do these affect desirability?
Gitika: The size of lots is a big differentiator between the homes in Potomac and Bethesda or Chevy Chase. You get way more land for your money. It is not hard to find a quarter acre lot there-whereas that would be a challenge in Chevy Chase. That allows people to feel like they are not on top of each other. Also, there are many flat lots in Potomac. Buyers look for that because when the lot is sloped, they see it as land that is not usable, and there can be potential drainage issues if the slope is toward the house. Even if it is a smaller lot, if there is a backyard space that a family can enjoy with their children, it’s going to be a winner.
Jill: The placement of a house on the lot really matters because that determines the exposure to natural light and views. Even if people cover it all up with window treatments for privacy, the natural light coming into the home is preferred.
Is the natural setting and greenscape of a neighborhood a factor in the decision to buy an individual home in it?
Gitika: When someone drives down the street, and they see beautiful trees and nicely manicured lawns, and the neighborhood just feels like home-that absolutely plays a role in people’s home buying decision.
Jill: The landscape of the neighborhood absolutely does matter. What are your views when you look out your windows? Do you see the house next door or do you see greenery? Some people want a more natural type area where they feel like they are in the woods. No sidewalks. Others might find that messy. They prefer planned communities. In a community like Avenel (on the border of Bethesda and Potomac), the HOA controls landscaping. It is incredibly manicured. The mulch gets spread like clock-work on a seasonal schedule. By the first day of spring, all their flowers at all their entrances are in bloom and pristine. The same is true of individual homes. Nothing is overgrown. You drive through there and don’t see a leaf on the ground as you would in Burning Tree. Buyers looking there or in Glen Echo and Cabin John are all about nature. They don’t want their land manicured. Both types of neighborhoods, the “managed” and the “freestyle,” have their appeal and their particular buyers. It’s individual preference–and people are very strong about their preference. I very rarely find someone who is okay with both.
From your observations of how buyers react, what makes a great neighborhood?
Gitika: I think people like to have neighbors nearby-unless you are going for the large estate style home in Potomac. And frankly, we see less of that. Today’s buyer is looking for a smaller house. People value community.
Jill: One of the first things I do with a new buyer is to drive them through a neighborhood so they can get a feel for it. Before we even look at a house, we look at neighborhoods. I can tell after an hour drive what their inclination will be. Some people don’t like to see street parking. Some people don’t like the absence of sidewalks. Some people like a lot of privacy where the house is hidden from the street. Others want a feeling of security and feel like they have to see their neighbor’s homes. Some like new construction in an older neighborhood where the builder has preserved all the mature trees. Some people don’t want the trees near the house because they are petrified that lighting will strike one and it will fall on their house.
Does the landscaping of individual homes in a neighborhood help to “sell” the overall community experience?
Gitika: Certainly, a home that has better landscaping will be more appealing to buyers. It speaks to why we like to list homes in the spring and summer because that’s when the landscaping is the nicest. Often at Wydler Brothers, if we know we are going to be listing a house next year, we will go ahead and take those photos before it gets cold.
Jill: I’ve seen a home sell at a higher price, that is exactly the same as a nearby house, because of the landscaping and hardscaping.
For individual homes, which is more important to a buyer: front yard landscaping or backyard?
Gitika: I would say the backyard is the most important. People are very particular about having a backyard space because it is private and you can do whatever you want with it. You can entertain. Your children are safe within the confines of your fenced yard.
Jill: I think it’s a combination. The challenge with Potomac is that you plant these beautiful gardens that become breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the deer. Something interesting that is developing partially in reaction to that is people are investing in shared organic gardens that are not at their private residence. A company called Up Top Acres manages rooftop farms around the DC area, and they’ve established a 20,000 square foot community growing space at Pike & Rose.
What are your favorite Potomac neighborhoods? Why do you like living there?
Gitika: Anything around Potomac Village is the best because today’s homeowner wants walkability. It has a small town feel back there, but you are really close to so much including access to highways. That’s where everybody wants to be. That’s where properties are moving fastest. I like Potomac because, in this urban hustle and bustle, it’s a quiet enclave that gives you that peaceful feeling of getting away from the chaos. And it is still very amenity rich.
Jill: I live in Bethesda now, but I have lived in both places. The High Gate community (Potomac) has some of the larger two to five acre lots and it is all about landscaping. I have a special listing there on Red Barn Lane. The grounds are just take-your-breath-away spectacular. It’s so relaxing and not too far from the city, but you feel like you are in the country.
The Landscape of the Neighborhood Makes the Homeowner Feel at Home
Conservation-oriented redevelopment of older neighborhoods preserves the established landscapes but replaces aging housing stock with new. That captures the complete package that buyers seek. A development that cleared the existing landscape would take 15 to 20 years to fill in and become a complete neighborhood.
Potomac offers a range of “managed” and “freestyle” landscape styles in various communities. Each type of landscape speaks to a particular type of homeowner. It also seems that the individual homeowner is comfortable in a neighborhood setting that is a stylistic match for the way they prefer the landscaping at their own home.
If you’d like to talk about how to style your front or backyard to be more in keeping with your style and the style of your community, or if you’d like to resolve the challenges of a sloping lot beautifully, contact one of our landscape architects for a consultation.