Public spaces can add to the resale value of your co-op or condo’s apartments. In fact, gardens equal green, in more ways than one. Few building amenities increase market value like common garden space. A decade ago, a landscaped courtyard, ordinary rear yard, or outdoor space reached via the basement fetched a mere ten percent or more to the price of units. These days, however, brokers bring potential buyers to the garden before showing the apartment. And now is the best time to start planning for a spring planting.
Landscaping adds appeal to buyers while improving the quality of life for residents. Last summer, Dahlia Newman, senior vice president of the Corcoran Group, appeared on TV’s NY1 News Fortune Business Report, stating that having any outdoor space added 10 to 15 percent to the selling price and up to 30 percent and more if landscaped. Months later, Newman amended that: “In this market, a garden can now increase sales by 35 percent and more if landscaped; a recent sale was 50 percent higher. Gardens are not only for health but also for mental health. If they get direction, involved owners can create a special place by themselves or turn to professionals.”
These are phenomenal returns. With such figures, any board member that turns up his or her nose at landscaping should step down. Brokers are not speaking of elaborate rooftop gardens with these statistics, but of spaces commonly found behind residential buildings, alleyways, cement-topped service and laundry rooms, and ledges, and atop cisterns. Anywhere a planter can be placed and water from a garden hose nozzle can reach is fair game for plants.
Transforming a bare cemented area and offering residents a tranquil garden and views from some windows is welcome. A garden is a year-round source of enjoyment that always brings compliments. Prospective owners see outdoor spaces as another benefit to daily living. A garden is a destination within the building to unwind without leaving home, feel a breeze, relax with a refreshing drink, or watch snowflakes drop. A garden is great for fostering resident input. Post or distribute flyers or add to your newsletter or website and ask for favorite flowers, herbs, or color combinations while asking for donations for the Garden Club’s nursery visit.
Your first step is to create a garden committee. The first meeting should ensure easy access, check insurance coverage, and take measurements to create a diagram. Where are the drains, faucet, or water source, and where is the electricity to add subdued lighting? Explore the entire space. Envision all possible views from varied positions, and take care not to block elaborate brickwork, a glimpse of the stars, or a neighbor’s lovely backyard tree.
Don’t ignore the entrance of your building. Plant annual flowers in street tree beds, place planters on the steps or either side of the entrance, or install a shelf for a flower box above the door. Curb appeal reflects the people within.
Your committee can decide on an initial planting, a budget, and anticipated uses. Will furniture reflect your building’s era? Split up the enjoyable tasks of getting bids on planters, drainage material, soil-less mixes, and plants at the local nursery or online. You can also hire a garden designer or landscape architect. A place to sit – a teak bench, cast-aluminum café set, or Adirondack chair – is vital for envisioning places for plants. Invest in quality and low-maintenance for long-term enjoyment.
After the initial committee report to the board, funds can be allocated from the existing budget (i.e., supplies), taken from reserves, or a small initial assessment made to launch the garden. A wish list for donations such as a birdbath, wall fountain, or a gazing ball can be posted.
Invest in perennials for seasonal beauty. Add different annuals that, planted in May, will add plenty of color through fall. Check out what’s available in your local nursery and gain inspiration from New York City’s botanical and community gardens.
Communicate with brokers. When a unit comes up for sale, it’s in your interest to offer clear, impressive digital shots for the broker’s website. It’s showtime! Even if your building has a potential space planned for a little oasis, the brokers will be thrilled to show it. When open houses are scheduled, ask a couple of board members to be available to lead prospects on a building tour. Their feedback may offer invaluable research for what you are planning.
Finally, you must consider house rules governing use of your garden. Like many other aspects of living with others, consideration and communication are fundamental. The following rules have been successful:
Garden. The garden is open year-round. The backyard garden and sidewalk planters are landscaped and managed by the volunteer Garden Club in which all residents are encouraged to participate (put a note of interest on the bulletin board or speak with the superintendent). Although the board of directors may determine an annual landscaping budget, most plants are acquired with donations. No specific hours are set for use of the garden. Check the bulletin board for announcements.
Garden parties. If a resident plans on having a gathering of more than ten people they are to notify the superintendent, post the date and time on the bulletin board, and fill out an event form. The first resident to notify the super books that date. Any resident can use the garden during any party. The noise level must diminish after midnight and the garden must be cleaned promptly.
Barbara Hobens Feldt, the author of Garden Your City, has been an officer on her co-op’s board of directors for ten years.