Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees, but Costs Can
WASHINGTON – When Sandy Tassell and her husband moved here from Seattle last year, they were certain of one thing: They needed to live in a place with a bunch of big trees.They eventually found such a spot, an oversize, wooded lot in close-in Silver Spring, Md. “We tell our friends that we bought a forest … and it happened to come with a house in it,” she said. “That is how much we value trees.”Tassel said they stretched far beyond their original budget – by six figures – to buy the property, and that amount was also the difference between the house they bought and comparable houses they looked at in other close-in neighborhoods without the oaks and the pears. “It’s an amenity. You can put in granite countertops and paint, but you can’t just grow 200-year-old trees.”But unlike upgraded kitchens and bathrooms, trees resist financial appraisal.Richard Haase, a real estate appraiser with MAI Millennium Real Estate Advisors in McLean, Va., said that when evaluating a property, he doesn’t assign a specific value to each tree. Instead, the presence of a particularly beautiful spread of boughs would likely bump the property’s value to the higher end of the range for comparable houses. Of course, trees can also detract from a property’s value if they’re dying or pose a hazard.Mark Derowitsch, a spokesman for the National Arbor Day Foundation in Lincoln, Neb., said a healthy tree provides substantial savings on energy bills. Studies have shown that well-placed shade trees can cut air-conditioning costs 15 percent to 30 percent. They can help break the effect of winter winds and reduce heating costs as much as 20 percent.But most people give little thought to the monetary value of their woody wonders, unless they’re damaged, said Lew Bloch, a consulting arborist and landscape architect in Maryland.When that happens, Bloch said, there are three methods commonly used to determine what the lost or injured tree was worth.• Cost to replace. This works only when the tree is of a size that can be easily replaced. Basically, it just covers the cost of going to the nursery to buy a new plant and installing it, minus some adjustments for the tree’s location and condition. A mature Japanese maple, for example, which could be small enough to be transplanted, can be worth $15,000.• Trunk formula. This method is used for trees that can’t be replaced. A complex formula starts with the cost of replacing the largest locally available plant and adjusts it for the size difference, the condition and location of the appraised tree. Don’t back into your neighbor’s oak: A mature, 100-year-old specimen might be worth $30,000.• Cost of cure. This method applies when it would be impossible to replicate the original landscaping. Under this system, the expenses are tallied to bring a damaged tree as close to its original condition as possible.Other approaches are used to assign dollar figures to trees with commercial value, such as for timber or fruit.But, for many, all this talk of formulas misses the point. Trees are “priceless,” Derowitsch said. “It’s like asking someone to put a dollar value on their best friend.”
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