A blooming fortune: Good landscaping can add thousands to your home's value

Jan McCallum didn't know it at the time, but puttering in the garden was one of the best investments she and her partner, David Fenton, ever made. A couple of years ago, the pair spent $1,500 and six weeks of their time transforming the nondescript front lawn and back yard of their Oakville, Ont., townhouse into a lush outdoor living space. They tore up the grass and planted shrubs and flowers, then finished things off with a Japanese maple they bought at a clearance sale at their local garden centre.

McCallum and Fenton, both 44, had no particular ambition other than to enjoy their garden. And so they did. "Neighbors were always telling us how beautiful it looked," McCallum says.

Last fall, however, the couple enjoyed an even more pleasant experience when they put their townhouse up for sale. It was snapped up before similar units at a premium price — all told, $40,000 more than they had paid for the home just two years before. While they undoubtedly benefited from a hot real estate market, McCallum and Fenton believe that their landscaping was a major reason why their house stood out from the crowd. "What we sold our house for was more than even the agent thought we could get for it," McCallum says, "and I credit the garden for that."

Such tales are nothing unusual. When it comes to home renovations, no other project delivers as much bang for your buck as some well-planned landscaping. Most home renos are money-losing propositions — you typically pay more for a new kitchen or bathroom than you get back when you sell your house. Landscaping, though, can actually put more money into your wallet than it takes out. A Laval University study in 2000 found that quality landscaping increased the value of a typical bungalow in a middle-class neighborhood by up to 15%.

The study calculated that simply adding a hedge boosted a home's resale value by 3.5%. On a $250,000 home that works out to an $8,750 payoff on an investment of about $350. The same study estimated that putting in a patio boosted a home's value by 12.4%. On a $250,000 home that translates into a $31,000 payoff on an investment of $3,000. You won't find profit margins like that in the stock market!

Experts we talked to believe that the right landscaping can add as much as 20% to your home's value. "For higher-end homes, it's a big feature," says landscape architect Bill Hewick of Acme Environmentals in Toronto. "It's what sets a house apart, since most people are planning to renovate when they move in anyway." An eye-catching front, in particular, can help sell your house more quickly. "A nice front yard takes a good picture," says Lydia Ingles, a sales agent with Century 21 in Newmarket, Ont. "When you're selling, it gets more calls and showings. In many cases, it can even get a better sale price."

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