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TREES MAKE PROPERTY MORE VALUABLE, SALABLE HOME BUYERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BUY HOUSES WITH SHADE TREES ON THE LOT

HOME SELLERS, take heed: Nothing stimulates good thoughts in a potential buyer about your property than a healthy dose of flora. Specifically, if you want to make your home stand out on the street rather than blend into the background, make sure there are a few healthy shade trees on the lot.

Before you guffaw, think about it: If you're like most people, given the choice of two identical houses -- same size, same amenities, same price -- but one is surrounded by mature, leafy trees and the other looked like it fell out of the sky onto a nude piece of ground -- which would you choose?

That same question was asked of more than 1,350 real estate professionals in 10 states by mortgage banker Arbor National Mortgage Inc. The respondents weren't radical environmental crusaders. The men and women queried know what sells homes, and having limbs covered with leaves is a great selling point.

"The survey confirms that trees play a role in determining property value and that the presence or absence of trees can affect a home's sellability," said Tracey Gittere, Arbor National's public relations manager.

Survey participants were asked to rate the impact trees have on property value for homes ranging in price from $60,000 to $300,000. In every category, the largest percentage of respondents agreed that trees have a strong positive impact, compared to moderate or no impact.

The top two reasons buyers like trees? No surprise: privacy and aesthetics rated tops by 76 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Nothing cuts down on nosey neighbors and their attendant noises like a 20-foot silver maple or red oak. And face it, having trees around a home is appealing; they make the home look lived in, even inviting. If, by chance, you don't have mature trees and wish to purchase them, be prepared to to pay big money for big trees.

Local real estate brokers and even new home builders agreed that, in most cases, mature timber on a parcel is very important to a sale.

"If a site has mature trees, we try to save as many as we can," said Jerry Szymanski, sales and marketing director for Essex Homes of Western New York. "Trees to most people are a plus."

Saving tall, green vegetation is a bit more expensive; it takes more time and care to clear a lot if you're trying to save things compared to flattening the land and starting from scratch. Builders figure about $2,000 additional per lot.

And people are willing to pay. "Why do people come to East Aurora? They love the big trees," said Ginny Hillegas, co-owner of Aubrey Leonard Realty in East Aurora. "But it's not just a lot; it's the overall street that we get tons of comments on."

The Arbor survey reflects Ms. Hillegas's comments. Sixty-two percent of the queried professional home sellers said the presense of healthy shade trees strong impacts a potential buyer's impression of a street or a block.

An interesting point in the Arbor survey, away from aesthetics and privacy, was the fact that 53 percent of respondents recognized the environmental -- health -- benefits of flourishing shade trees. A bit of science: Trees absorb carbon dioxide while returning oxygen to the environment. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a couple large natural air scrubbers around the house.

"As times progress and we become more health-conscious, people are realizing that the air is healthier with more trees and you're more healthier," said Susan Sinatra, broker-owner of United Sales Associates Inc. in Cheektowaga.

Of course, not everyone is a tree lover. Some people couldn't care less about aesthetics, privacy, property value, etc. Give me a building lot that's bare, flat and without leaves is their motto.

"Some people don't like trees, they don't want to have to clean out their gutters," said one local builder, requesting anonymity in order not to offend his bare-lot buyers.

As for the survey, done in time to be released while the country celebrates Earth Day and Arbor Day, Ms. Gittere said the initial query won't be the last. Arbor (Latin for tree) plans to make its survey an annual event.

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