There is no denying the appeal of living in a lush, leafy suburb.
A “leafy” reputation, whether provided by the shady canopy of a tree-lined street or a striking elm towering in a backyard, can lift a home’s prestige and add to the property’s desirability.
It is no coincidence that a drive down the streets of Toorak or Canterbury in Melbourne, throughout Sydney’s upper north shore or around Canberra’s embassies in Yarralumla, reveals both high-end homes and lush canopies.
So why is it the leafy suburbs have the best reputations, and what value can something as simple as a tree add to a home?
Why we like trees
For Cameron Deal of Infolio Property Advisors, a striking canopy of plane trees adorning his street was one of the reasons he bought his property.
He says while it is hard to determine in dollars how much trees add to a property’s value, it is widely understood that trees and affluent suburbs go together.
“It depends on the nature of the street and what else is around it, but I’d argue that trees can add a margin of up to 10 per cent on a home,” he says.
Paul Osborne of Secret Agent says United States studies have shown that home buyers gravitate to certain property types, based on instinct. Greenery and scattered trees mean a lush environment which, over millions of years of evolution, promises water and a food source.
Other elements that appeal to our inner caveman are homes built at a height, which appeases a need for safety and security. It is the reason homes on the high side of a street often sell better than those on the lower side.
Unsurprisingly, a water view is always a selling point, based on our physical dependence on water.
Osborne says studies have also shown that trees planted on or around a home boost its value.
“The most expensive streets are often those with heavy tree canopy,” he says.
The University of Vermont found that a 10 per cent increase in tree canopy can lead to about a 12 per cent decrease in the crime rate.
“The overall landscape can have an impact on how people feel, just like playing classical music at train stations has shown a decreased crime rate, it could be that by making a neighbourhood greener, the overall area becomes safer.”
In Melbourne, Bruce and Rosalyn McDonald have just sold their Canterbury home for more than $2 million. The area is known for its plane trees, oaks and elms.
Rosalyn McDonald says the property was on the market for about two months. Visitors were wowed by the greenery as they walked through the front gate, and a well-landscaped garden and thriving trees add to the overall feel of the house.
“Having a glass of wine on the verandah and looking out over the garden was one of our favourite things about the house,” she says.
Beyond leafy suburbs
While it is the leafy suburbs where trees are interwoven with dollar values, architects are designing higher-density projects with tree cover in mind.
Sarah Buckeridge of Hayball Architects says the 118-unit Bravo apartment project in Carlton is in an urban area, but is designed to incorporate aspects of a rainforest. “It’s what you might expect when you walk in the front gate of a home and into the front garden,” she says.
The design includes vertical landscaping, with wisteria trained along wires across two storeys.
“It adds value to the development as a point of difference,” she says.
Architects have long recognised the psychological impact of the treescape of a property. Bates Smart Architects designed the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, which has taken out a number of architectural and design awards this year. The building’s master-planning began under a gum tree in Royal Park next to the old hospital. Its influence can be seen across the building’s facade, which blends from red to green, like a gumleaf. Lead architectural designer Kristen Whittle says the design used a “park in building” approach, especially in the inpatient unit.
“We wanted to bring the attributes of a tree canopy into the IPU rooms through a range of features, led by our sunshade design,” he says. “A tree canopy is both a place of safety from the sun and a place of respite.”
Despite the desirability of good tree cover, home owners often clash with neighbours and local councils over the trees on or around their property.
David Walker of Ray White Turramurra, on Sydney’s tree-lined north shore, says many vendors sell to escape problems with trees. “It can be hard to get a council to let you take out a big liquid amber or a gum. It can interfere with people’s long-term plans to extend or knock down and rebuild,” he says.
“It can be nice to look out over trees but you wouldn’t believe how many people sell because they’re sick of cleaning leaves out of the pool.”
Most councils impose steep penalties for residents who remove trees without permission, particularly in areas where it is a common problem, such as near an ocean view.
“I’ve seen plenty of examples where a tree gets a mysterious disease overnight,” he says.
“It’s the trees in the middle of a yard or blocking a view that end up mysteriously poisoned.”