Buying a House Near Big, Stately Trees: Great Investment or Structural Risk?

Top real estate agent Martin Luna understands why some buyers love a house with large, lush trees nearby. His yard has trees, too.

“That’s one of the things that attracted me to this area,” says Luna, an agent for 24 years who serves Asheville, North Carolina, along with neighboring Madison and Henderson counties.

“I’m surrounded by trees. I don’t see my neighbors in the back until wintertime, when all the leaves are gone.”

Whether the oak, maple, or evergreens of the Northeast or the fruit, pine, and palm trees of other parts of the country, large trees add a dreamy element to a front or back yard. Plenty of shade for grownups and kids to lay about on a summer day, perhaps a spot for a bird feeder or a swing…

But trees need care and maintenance, too, or you could wind up with a limb on the roof or roots too close to your foundation. Before you mentally string up that hammock, here are a few things to consider when you’re weighing if you should buy a house near trees.

A house near trees you can buy.
Source: (jessica3166/ Shutterstock)

Why you’ll love living near big trees

Trees add more than ambiance to a yard and neighborhood, although that’s the first plus that springs to mind. (No wonder poet Robert Frost mused, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches,” imagining climbing one tree until it dipped to set him down.)

They also:

  • Boost home value:
    The U.S. Forest Service says that healthy, mature trees add an average of 10% to a property’s value.One University of Washington study provides more of a range, stating that large trees in yards along streets can increase a home’s value from 3% to 15%. According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, a mature tree can have an appraised value of $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of tree.
  • Enhance your curb appeal:
    Whether you accent a trunk with a flower bed ringed with stacked stones, or set up a cozy lounge chair by some blossoming dogwoods or crabapples, trees enhance your home’s curb appeal. Not sure of the right tree for your yard?The Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit conservation and education organization founded in 1972, has a searchable “Best Tree Finder” online with questions about your property and climate. For more general guidelines, the agents in HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Q3 2019 Report recommend these types of trees by region for adding the most value and marketability:

    • Northeast: Oak, maple, evergreens, flowering
    • Southeast: Palm, oak, maple, magnolia, crepe myrtle
    • Midwest: Oak, maple, pine, flowering, pear
    • Southwest: Oak, maple, fruit, palm
    • Pacific Northwest: fruit, maple, palm, evergreen
  • Save energy:
    Homes nationwide cumulatively use 7% less energy for heating and cooling because of trees in urban and community areas, an annual savings of about $7.8 billion, according to a 2017 USDA Forest Service study. That’s an average energy savings of $455 per year per for each hectare (about 2.47 acres) of tree cover (not to mention the carbon dioxide emissions that trees absorb).
  • Block noise, wind, and neighbors:
    A buffer of trees that’s 100 feet wide can reduce noise along a busy roadway by 5 to 8 decibels, according to the National Agroforestry Center. Although your home may not have that large a footprint, trees on your property still can shield your home from strong winter winds, neighborhood noise, and nosy passersby. Evergreens such as Norway spruce and Leyland cypress are especially good for privacy, HGTV says.
Leaves near a house with trees you can buy.
Source: (Seth Doyle/ Unsplash)

Big trees call for lots of TLC and maintenance

A healthy tree is an investment that pays big dividends in property values and environmental benefits if you care for it well, says the International Society of Arboriculture, a nonprofit association and credentialing organization serving the tree care industry.

If your tree is more than 3 to 5 years old, regular care can help it thrive for decades — and avoid potentially dangerous and expensive problems, like exposed roots, weak branches, and decay. The nonprofit Sacramento Tree Foundation, founded in 1982 in Sacramento, California, to plant and care for shade trees countywide, recommends that homeowners establish a regular care schedule for trees.

Although some trees might need specific care that others might not (such as treatment for particular pests), a good preventative maintenance program includes:

Inspections from a licensed arborist

You should have your trees inspected at least once a year to assess leaf size, twig growth, and other health factors.

Mark Hughes, a certified arborist for about 15 years with Arborist Aboard, Inc., in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area, charges $80 to $150 for an onsite visit and consultation, depending on a tree’s age and size. “It’s like going to a doctor and getting all your bloodwork done,” he said.

Find an arborist in your area through an online directory such as HomeAdvisor.com.

Mulch over the root system

Apply mulch about one to two inches away from the base of the tree) to reduce weeds and environmental stress.

Soil management

Fertilize for proper nutrients and check that the drainage is good (the roots aren’t overly dry or saturated).

Pruning to remove dead or diseased branches and improve the overall structure

A tree’s height and size affect this cost, says TreeRemoval.com, an online network of tree trimming services. Trees that are up to 30 feet high, such as dogwood trees and Russian olive trees, can cost from $75 to $450 to trim. Trimming a crabapple or similar tree about 30 to 60 feet tall costs about $150 to $875. For exceptionally tall trees, such as pine or red oak, expect to pay about $200 to $1,000.

Room to grow

A tree tends to wind up too close to a house because whoever planted it originally overlooked or misunderstood how much space it needs to mature. It’s not just the height to consider but the tree’s roots and canopy, or the spread of its branches, arborists say.

For each inch of the trunk’s diameter measured 4.5 feet above the ground, a tree’s roots extend up to a foot and a half away, according to Todd’s Marietta Tree Service, an insured tree care and removal company serving the Northwest Atlanta, Georgia, area for roughly 15 years. That means a tree with a trunk that’s six inches in diameter at that height has roots about nine feet away in any direction.

As for the canopy, if your type of tree has an average mature canopy size of 20 feet in diameter, it should have plenty of space if it’s at least 10 feet (or half the canopy size) away from a building, the tree service notes.

The Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Guide recommends that small trees (30 feet tall or less) should be a minimum of 8 to 10 feet from the wall of a one-story building. For medium trees (30 feet to 70 feet), increase that minimum to 15 feet. For large trees (70 feet above or higher), think at least 20 feet away.

A tree near a house that you can buy.
Source: (David Vig/ Unsplash)

When is a tree too close for comfort?

A tree’s branches touching the roof could cause shingle damage, but that’s more of a maintenance issue than a reason to remove it. “It doesn’t mean it’s a danger to your house,” Hughes says. “It just means you need to do your general maintenance pruning.”

However, if a home’s foundation or tile floors show cracks, or windows are tough to open near a tree, that could indicate roots causing structural issues that should be addressed, he adds. Have a professional inspect the tree as well as the house to get to the source of the problem.

Regardless of where a tree sits on your property, your own comfort level also determines whether a tall tree makes you nervous. “Every tree, regardless of age or species, presents at least a low risk,” Hughes said. “Sometimes 6 feet [away from a house] is too close, and 60 feet is too close.”

Luna says he’s shown houses to clients from Puerto Rico, who have relocated because of hurricane damage. “They don’t want to be near a tree,” he says.

Will buying a house near trees impact my homeowner’s insurance?

A standard homeowners’ insurance policy includes coverage for personal belongings — including trees, plants, and shrubs — damaged because of a fire, hurricane, or other insured disaster. Such coverage allows for up to about $500 per item, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), which offers data-driven research on the insurance industry.

Even without a tree in your yard, a standard homeowners’ insurance policy covers any damage to your home or a related structure, such as a detached garage, if lightning, wind, or hail causes a tree or branches to hit it, the III says.

Just the fact of living near a large tree shouldn’t raise your rates unless you’ve filed a claim in the past for tree damage — or unless an individual insurance company determines the tree is a risk.

“Sometimes people call me: ‘My insurance company wants this out,’” Hughes said. “Sometimes it’s a good call, and other times it’s just a knee-jerk reaction.”

A tree stump near a house you can buy.
Source: (Mongkhon Pookpun/ Shutterstock)

What if the house I want to buy has a dead or sick tree in the yard that needs to be removed?

A tree with a thin canopy, a cavity in the trunk, or lots of loose bark could signal trouble down the line, arborists say. If a tree is leaning with exposed roots on the opposite side, it’s an “imminent” hazard that can fall at any time, according to the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Other warning signs the tree foundation says indicate a tree has problems include:

  • Splits in large branches
  • Multiple trunks, which are prone to splitting
  • Mushrooms or conks, or bracket fungi, on trunks or on roots at the tree base
  • Cracks in the trunk (not the bark itself)
  • Broken branches
  • Dead branches larger than two inches in diameter

Your real estate agent can help arrange for an arborist to inspect the tree and, if need be, negotiate for its removal.

“If somebody is concerned about the trees, I try to negotiate and put it in writing that it has to be removed,” he said. “I’ve done that numerous times.”

If a tree has an issue, sellers tend to agree to remove it, Luna said. However, he’s also worked with buyers who arrange for a tree’s removal once their financing is approved so that the seller doesn’t incur the expense.

The cost of removing a tree varies depending on the tree’s size and how close it is to a house, playset, or other structures. Hughes charges about $500 to remove a tree that’s 12 inches in diameter around the trunk and not close to anything. Removing the same size tree that hangs over a screened room in a backyard, for instance, costs about $1,500.

Ultimately, whether you’ve had your fill of raking leaves or think the benefits of buying a house near trees offset the responsibility is up to you. If you have any lingering concerns, talk to your real estate agent or a tree care professional so that you don’t feel left out on a limb.

Header Image Source: (Matthew Henry/ Burst)

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