Jul 09, 2010

Will Trees Improve Your Home's Value and Livability?

The National Association of Realtors recently reminded its members that each tree a person plants around a home can add an estimated $630 to the home's value. (That's according to a 2002 study by the USDA Forest Service.) And trees can save on energy costs, too. The U.S. Department of Energy says that, due to shading of the home in summer and protecting it from winds and weather in winter, well-planted trees can save homeowners between $100 and $250 a year.

Personally, what I like best about trees is the pleasant view they create out the window, with filtered light and sneak peaks into the lives of birds, squirrels, and occasionally the cats who chase them.

So if you've got the space to plant some trees, here's the best news of all: Buying a tree doesn't have to break the bank. By joining the Arbor Day Foundation, you become eligible to receive ten free trees, specially selected to grow well in your geographic area. 

But before you start planting, a few cautions apply. For starters, it's important to do your research on how fast your chosen tree will grow -- sometimes it's faster than you think -- and what that will mean for both your own property and any neighboring ones. In some common interest developments, for example, the rules forbid you to block another neighbor's view.

Also check on whether the particular species of tree's roots are known for invading, say, concrete plumbing pipes. And you might want to avoid trees with special needs, like the Coast live oak in my back yard, which can't be watered all summer -- meaning nothing else in my yard can be, either.

Tree placement is another important consideration. For example, a tree that loses its leaves  shouldn't be put too close to the house if you don't want to be cleaning out the gutters frequently. And if you plant a tree near your property line, and the trunk grows over the boundary, the law says that your neighbor will then own part of the tree. Even if the trunk doesn't grow this wide, realize that other tree issues -- falling leaves, ownership of overhanging fruit, and dropped limbs -- are a common source of neighbor disputes. To help forestall or deal with these, see the free "Trees and Neighbors FAQ" on Nolo's website, or buy the excellent, plain-English reference, Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise, by Cora Jordan and Emily Doskow (Nolo).