It’s not “just” the garden

As agents, we are often asked what adds value to a property? The answers to this are of course too numerous to list, but one staple answer is that an attractive and nicely-laid out garden can do great things for a property, not least when it goes on the market.

This is by no means unique to South Africa; international research has pointed to the considerable value that a garden can add to a property. In the United States, one study suggested that an appealing garden could add between 6% and 11% to the value of a property. Another study in the United Kingdom found that gardens could elevate property values by up to 20%.

In our experience, gardens may play an even greater role in South Africa. Our real estate ideal as a society has traditionally stressed space and an outdoor lifestyle. We want room for our kids to play, and a venue for that most South African of social affairs, the braai. As the garden is one of the first sights of the property that a prospective buyer will have, it frames his or her overall impression – which feeds into what he or she may be willing to offer for it.

A blooming, healthy garden is an asset. A poorly maintained one, by contrast, can be a liability. It raises questions about the care that the current owners have shown towards the property as a whole, and it probably indicates that the buyers will need to have it rehabilitated.

So is a first-class garden a good property investment?

In principle, yes, but with some important caveats. Gardens can be expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Buying a property with a complex and immaculately laid-out garden implies that a great deal of attention will need to be devoted to its upkeep. It is not uncommon for buyers to be entranced by the beauty of an existing garden and failing to appreciate the work and expense required to keep it in that state. Doing so is really something for a committed and skilled gardener.

For many buyers, a better option is a simpler landscaping scheme: a neat and grassy lawn, a couple of trees and shrubs, and flowerbeds planted with a small selection of species. Avoiding complexity reduces the time and costs of maintenance, while retaining the garden as a welcoming and attractive part of the property.

Some simple, rustic garden furniture – a bench or an outdoor suite of table and chairs under an oak tree, for example – can be both functional and aesthetically appealing. They indicate that the garden is a space with a purpose and is part of the household’s routine. Once again, maintenance is a must, as garden furniture (and for that matter garden ornaments) takes the hard knocks of the weather.

The weather itself is increasingly playing a role in choices around gardens. Water scarcity over the past few years has highlighted the need to conserve this resource, and since household gardening imposes some of the greatest demands on our municipal water supplies, we need to be as sparing as possible. It seems clear that in most of the country – not least in the Western Cape – the old habits of a liberal daily watering from a hosepipe or sprinkler need to change.

Fortunately, some innovative solutions are in sight. These include maximising the use of so-called “grey water” and, more importantly, gardens designed around plants with reduced water needs. “Desert garden” schemes have become enormously attractive to many, using stone and paving as a basis, along with rock and pebble beds, and drought-resistant succulents in their many forms – not least the majestic Kokerbome!

Such garden arrangements are not only beautiful, but low maintenance and environmentally sustainable. And they are likely to entice ever more buyer-interest in future.

By Denis Quayle

Principal Harcourts Maynard Burgoyne