Backyard gardens add value to properties at a time when fresh and local food is in vogue.
Backyard gardens add value to properties at a time when fresh and local food is in vogue. - 
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There's an emphasis these days on locally grown foods, organic foods, non-GMO foods and just knowing where it all comes from. And how much more local does it get than a person's backyard? For today's homebuyer, it's not just about walk-in closets and 10-foot ceilings and manicured lawns. Things like vegetable gardens and backyard beehives are seen more and more as a plus.

Trish and Clinton Colmenares' home in Birmingham, Alabama, was on the market about a month, and it just sold. Three bedrooms, two and a half baths. It's on a cul-de-sac, near good schools, and it's got a big, flat, backyard. In the corner there's a 5 foot x 8 foot raised bed.

"We had peppers and carrots and greens that did very well last year," she said. "We had more than we could eat. It was amazing, this small garden put out enough for us and other people."

There's a rain barrel beside the garden. And the Colmenares' feasted on sweet, juicy blackberries from a bush they planted.

"We gave our daughter, if nothing else, the appreciation of taking crops, getting them fresh, and you get them right when they're ripe, versus a grocery store can't always do that," she said.

No one is saying this garden is what sold this house. But the Colmenares' real estate agency said people adored the garden, especially that it was already there in the middle of this big sunny yard. Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate finance at the Wharton School, said people want to make better use of their space outdoors. And they want locally grown food.

"It's not just buying local," Wachter said. "It's growing in your own backyard."

Well-designed gardens are a plus, she said, and buyers don't have to be gardeners. Part of a sale is getting buyers to imagine themselves in a house, even if they're aspiring to an ideal.

"I mean that's why real estate agents stage stuff, so you can imagine yourself in that space," Erik Knutzen, co-author of "The Urban Homestead," said. He said 10 or 15 years ago, a backyard vegetable garden or bees or chickens might have gotten homeowners in trouble with city officials enforcing strict ordinances.

"And a vegetable garden doesn't always look good," he said. But a garden can be both pretty and practical.


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