The ROI of Landscape Design in Northern Virginia & DC
Can you get a return on investment for improvements to your landscape? It depends on how you define the term “return on investment” (aka ROI).
Some homeowners in our area, will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate interiors and build additions to their homes. Sometimes these additions and renovations will equal up to 50% of the original purchase price. Generally, we expect to see an increase in market value from well done improvements that result in a better, more desirable home.
But what about improvements that add finished space and desirable amenities to the outdoor areas of a home? What are they worth to a potential buyer? First we asked our own clients. It was immediately apparent that the currency of ROI is not measured in dollars. Here’s one response:
Will I get the money out of it when I sell? No. Will I enjoy living here for the next decade? Yeah. And that is really the point. We decided not to buy a beach home, but rather make our place here be just the kind of place we want to be year round. And that’s what we have. The next decade of sitting by the outdoor fireplace or the koi pond…. Hanging out back there with friends and family, parties and this and that. That kind of stuff is great. Surrounds client, McLean Virginia
Well, they’re happy clients. They like us. But we wanted to dig a little deeper so we turned to three top real estate agents who live and work in the Northern Virginia-Washington DC area. We asked for their expert opinion based on their years of selling homes. We spoke with:
How much do your home-buying clients care about landscaping in valuing a house?
STEVE WYDLER. Almost without exception there is some desire to have outdoor functionality. Sometimes it’s just privacy, but most of the time people want some place to entertain outside.
KATHERINE BUCKLEY. I happen to love gardening and pay close attention to landscaping. So I am biased. But in my experience, I have seen that it matters–even to buyers that have little interest in gardening. It creates a first impression. Walking to the front door of a house with beautiful landscaping gives buyers a good feeling that they carry with them into the house.
THEO ADAMSTEIN. I think it makes a big difference. I’ve always felt that first impression, when someone comes upon a house, is the same as when you open the front door and walk in. I think you have a positive reaction or it is a disappointment.
Are there expectations for finished outdoor space in the rear yard at particular price point? Say, $2M plus?
STEVE. In the last couple of years, I’ve had clients that want a pool or a lot that would easily support a pool. When you get into that 2 to 3 million dollar range the landscape factor moves from a nice to have to a must have.
KATHERINE. Absolutely, and they should. It is rare to find a house in that price range where the yard is out of sync with the value of the house. I think most people really love outdoor space and expect it in a house priced above $2M. They definitely want hardscaping. Honestly, it’s expected.
THEO. I think that the larger the property, the more there would be an expectation of a nice outdoor dining area, a grill, an outdoor fire pit—a pool maybe.
Front or back yard landscaping—which matters most to your clients?
STEVE. Between the two, the back yard is more important. But it is important to have consistency in the whole home inside and out.
KATHERINE. If buyers don’t like the front yard, they may never get to the back yard. I listed a house that had almost no landscaping, and buyers could not get past the way it looked from the street. If I’d been able to get people to the front door they’d have been surprised at how much space and how nice it was on the inside. It eventually sold, but for less than what the owners wanted.
THEO. The rear yard is critical because it is an extension of the house. With most homes, and with renovations, these days the intention is usually to make a stronger connection between the inside and the outside. It’s the back that is going to improve the experience of living in the house.
Beautiful house on blah lot or blah house on beautiful lot—which would you rather have to sell?
STEVE. If you have the best landscaping in the world but the house isn’t maintained and nothing is updated, you are going to have a tough sell. I’d rather have an updated house because a buyer could probably do landscaping over a period of time in a phased approach.
KATHERINE. I’ve sold both: One in Cleveland Park sold for $2M and one in Northwest DC that sold for $1M. The Cleveland Park property had a kitchen with huge windows overlooking a gorgeous yard. Those windows made it very bright and pulled the outside in. The house in Northwest had great space inside and out (10,000sf lot), but didn’t have a good connection to its spacious outdoor areas.
THEO. If the inside of the house is terrific and makes for a pleasant surprise, I think that would make up for a poor impression outside.
How would you advise a homeowner who plans to invest $300-500k on a major landscaping project?
STEVE. A lot of people put that type of money into their landscape and hardscape projects. If you are going to enjoy it for ten or fifteen years before selling—then yeah. As long as your project is in keeping with the scale of the home and community, it should help you command a premium on the price and be easier to sell down the road. Also, if you put in some terraced walls and beautiful patios with an outdoor fireplace and such, you’ve added something that wasn’t there that takes the property forward. Anyone walking into the house is going to see value in that.
KATHERINE. Any landscaping investment should be guided by what the however will enjoy. The best landscaping is soothing and creates a good feeling.
THEO. I’ve always thought that if something is well designed and well done one ultimately gets money back. But I think with landscaping it’s less so than with improvements to the home. Either way, it’s not likely they will get their money back dollar for dollar. You do it because that’s how you want to live.
So, that concludes our inquiry into the ROI of landscape design. You may not have gotten the answer you’d hoped for, but you did get honest answers from all three of our real estate professionals.
We’ll close now with another quote from one of our clients:
You understand that every day of enjoyment is worth x dollars that you may not get back in a hard return but you get it back in some capacity. I think that’s the only way to look at it. You just say that your kids are going to enjoy growing up in this place and their friends are going to come around and have fun when they visit. Surrounds client, Vienna Virginia
Thanks for reading and, if you liked this, please pass it around on your social media channel of choice. And if you’d care to hear our totally biased opinion on the real estate value of landscape design, contact one of our landscape architects.