Planting a Tree in the Backyard of a Rental

37 Replies

My friend who also invests in another market in Texas suggested that we plant a tree or two in the backyard of our new rental, says it is little cost now for a good return later. Thoughts?

Really depend on your area, in Texas he is probably thinking you need a little shade somewhere.  Locate it well, and pick the right type of tree. Hopefully once established it should not be the type that needs special care or watering.

My recommendations would be something that does not drop leaves. Either you or your tenant will need to clean it up then. I have struggled getting tenants to clean up in a timely manner in the past. Additionally, in 5-10 years you may need to pay for yearly gutter cleaning or trimming depending on location, size, etc. - not a huge cost but if trying to get out of your day job, a cost none the less.

@Dylan Barnard

What are the advantages? Shade, utility savings, privacy?

What are the disadvantages? Could make the yard less functional for other uses, may require care and maintenance, cleanup of leaves?

Do you see it adding to the rentability of the house or the well-being of the tenant? If not, what is your basis for the expense?

If you have an answer for that which still has you considering the addition, here’s some other advice:

One other thing to keep in mind - a freshly planted tree will need to be watered about every day for the first month. Will you be doing that, or hoping your tenant will? I wouldn’t trust a tenant to do it. Are you willing to make the trip to do it 30 days in a row?

I just had to tell a tenant that their lawn service girdled the trunk of my young tree with their weed whacker and killed it. They were not happy about the $350 expense, and I was not happy that I bought, planted and babied it just to have it killed.

Originally posted by @Bill Crow :

@David Lee Hall, III

I actually had someone living in the house behind one of my rentals asked me if I could make our tree drop its leaves in my yard, and not in hers.

Yeah, sure, I'll talk with the tree and make sure it stops its inappropriate behavior. But you need to stop using its shade.

 

@Bill Crow

You're right about a lot of that. The basis for the expense would be more for resale value than anything I would imagine. I haven't thought through this idea all the way, as I have just heard it from a friend earlier today. But it would be slightly for rentability, but mostly for resale value. That's what I have reasoned thus far anyway.

Originally posted by @John Teachout :
Originally posted by @Bill Crow:

@David Lee Hall, III

I actually had someone living in the house behind one of my rentals asked me if I could make our tree drop its leaves in my yard, and not in hers.

Yeah, sure, I'll talk with the tree and make sure it stops its inappropriate behavior. But you need to stop using its shade.

 

 LOL. I hate to say this but I've had a neighbor make the same request to me. It was all I could do to not go totally Seinfeld on her. 

As for the tree issue, I love trees - I have a forest at my own house - but with SFH rentals they tend to be a liability the more that there are and the closer they are to the house. If you can stick to solid-needle evergreens and low-height deciduous trees not too close to the house, they can be OK. But, here are the issues with trees:

  1. They clog up the gutters, unless you have gutter guards. And pine needles get through anything;
  2. The roots infiltrate sewer lines or septic field lines;
  3. Branches fall and do damage to fences, wires, houses;
  4. Trees too close to the house give access to roofs and attics to pests and burglars;
  5. Trimming and cutting them down later is crazy expensive (figure on at/close to a grand per large tree if they have to come down);
  6. Renters suck at cutting the grass around them, either scarring them up with a weedeater or leaving the grass 10 feet high;
  7. Renters suck at cleaning up the branches and bringing them to the curb for pickup;
  8. Renters suck at cleaning up the leaves in the fall, which then smothers and kills the lawn;
  9. Any structure anywhere near the tree will have sap on it and later mildew from the sap and need frequent cleaning;
  10. Trees are a huge contributor to pollen which can aggravate people's allergies.

So there's my 10 reasons to skip the tree. My own experience with my SFHs is that you need to dummy-proof the yards, and that usually precludes trees. Not always - we try to preserve good, healthy trees in the right spots - but more times than not. One of my houses right now has a 50+ foot Southern Magnolia that is beautiful and needs to be cut to the ground and stump ground because 40 or 50 years ago it was planted in a horrible spot, has clogged my sewer lateral before badly with roots, is killing all the rest of the front lawn, growing into the gutter and onto the roof, and in general looks horrible against the house because it is right on top of it. I hate that I have to cut this tree down, but it was just planted poorly and in the long run it will either be the tree or the house. 

Trees add value, shade and the look of owner occupied homes.  You might contact your local urban forest folks and get recommendations on what type of trees would be smart. As for watering, you can get those tree bags that hold x gallons of water. And if it rains in the winter then now is a great time to plant. 

Also, your local utility co or city may have treebates for planting  trees.  We get 50 per tree treebates off our water-bills for each tree planted!

@Dylan Barnard Best time to plant a tree? 10 years ago. Yes, resale value. Plant two and hope one makes it. I like cedar elm as the leaves are very small. Texas native. Fall is a great time to plant. might put a plastic collar around the trunk for protection against string trimmers. I bend a metal gutter grid.

Always look at comps in the area. What do the neighbors have? Don’t over-improve. Everybody likes a lemon tree in their yard. We live in a very culturally diverse area, so I’m always thinking what has the most universal appeal. When we sold our last house, I had planted cilantro in the kitchen window. At final walk-through, the buyer said, “Where’s the cilantro?” Of course I’d quit watering it weeks earlier & it was gone. But it shows that you are selling a lifestyle. My vote is always to go with something edible!

I am a big proponent of trees. If you look at neighborhoods that people really like to live, they are full of big, mature trees. I forget the exact place I saw it but there have been several studies that show well placed trees add value to property. Yes, they have roots that can get into cracked sewers and their leave can clog gutters. They have a maintenance cost so you have to decide if the maintenance cost is more than offset by the increase value you will receive. 

Trees add value to a property if planted in a good location. I have personally planted over 50 trees in my life and had another 100 planted by someone else. Nobody loves trees more than me, haha. That being said, of the trees I have planted at rental properties, half of them have died. The reason is that tenants do not water the trees, even though they promise to care for the trees. A tree needs to be watered for at least the first couple years while the transplant takes hold, unless you are in a naturally wet climate.

The key with trees is planting the right kind and picking the right location. People have problems when they plant trees too close to houses, power lines or the road/sidewalk. Decide the purpose of the tree. If the purpose is shade, plant it in a place that will shade the house, which means knowing where the sun is in relation to the house. If the purpose is beauty, pick a small or slow growing species. 

Trees are very inexpensive to plant and you will get return more than ten fold in reduced cooling costs and added property value.

Hi Dylan!

I'm not sure where you are but if you do decide to plant one there are better tree-like options than your average magnolia, pin or post oak, cottonwood... I like to use larger variety bottle brush plants which can be left to grow to 10 to 12 ft high bushes or trimmed into trees that get just as high and our evergreen. Additionally you can get several types of large growing crepe myrtles. The newer varieties of large crepe myrtles can go anywhere from 10 to 30 ft in height and, although their deciduous, the leaves are very tiny and blow easily away. I recommend planting them in the corners near the fence line so you get as little deposits into your gutters as possible. They add beautiful color and again the new varieties are way less susceptible to pests and black sooty mildew. Both of these tree substitutes are extremely drought tolerant and take pretty much any kind of abuse once they've been established. The establishment period for both is about one growing season. If you're looking to plant soon, Houston garden center here in Houston or any of the other big box stores will have them on sale all day long.

As the other smart folks on here said you'll want to plant it wisely and make sure it's not going to create any issues with particularly your foundation or the sidewalk.

Best of luck!

Not sure about your location, but cities i have lived in have tree planting guidelines for parking strips. You might use those recommendations to help you pick good trees.  

If you are worried about roots look and see what trees are recommended for 3' parking strips, if you have power lines above look and see what trees are recommended for under power lines. 

Also contact your local urban forrest folks.  

I believe trees are well worth the effort.  Oh and for water you can set up a dimple drip system on an inexpensive timer. 

This must be a geographical thing as I have never heard of this before. Sure we have some people who like trees on our small properties and many who dont. I have never heard of someone planting a oak, maple etc for value add.

With that said, I own a exterior cleaning business. We clean anything outside around a

Home or building - roofs, siding, pavers, concrete, windows, decks, dumpster pads, parking garages etc. Any large tree that is in close proximity to a home or building will without a doubt cause you more maintenance and repairs year after year. Oak trees are the worst tree for a property as they are continually dropping stuff all year long and their branches are self shedding.

I see nothing but liability and maintenance with trees near a building/house.

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :

Trees add value to a property if planted in a good location. I have personally planted over 50 trees in my life and had another 100 planted by someone else. Nobody loves trees more than me, haha. That being said, of the trees I have planted at rental properties, half of them have died. The reason is that tenants do not water the trees, even though they promise to care for the trees. A tree needs to be watered for at least the first couple years while the transplant takes hold, unless you are in a naturally wet climate.

The key with trees is planting the right kind and picking the right location. People have problems when they plant trees too close to houses, power lines or the road/sidewalk. Decide the purpose of the tree. If the purpose is shade, plant it in a place that will shade the house, which means knowing where the sun is in relation to the house. If the purpose is beauty, pick a small or slow growing species. 

Trees are very inexpensive to plant and you will get return more than ten fold in reduced cooling costs and added property value.

The Heart of A Tree
Henry Cuyler Bunner

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants cool shade and tender rain
the seed and bud of days to be
in years that fade and flush again.

He plants to glory of the plain
he plants to forest heritage
the harvest of the coming idea
the joy that unborn eyes shall see
these things he plants
who plants a tree.

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants in sap and leaf and wood
in love of home and loyalty
and far cast thought of civic good

God’s blessing on the neighborhood
who in the hollow of His hand
holds all the growth of all our land
a nation’s growth from sea to sea
stirs in his heart who plants a tree.”

@Dylan Barnard I’ve owned property in three states (Ohio, TN, and NC) and I have had my fair share of issues with trees, so I cannot understand under almost any circumstances why you’d willingly plant a tree.

Here’s a brief summary of issues I have had with trees:

1. Buyer backed out due to tree being to close to home. Got quote of 3k to remove. Ended up not removing but still a pain

2. Neighbor tree branch fall on my property. No major damage, cost 90 bucks to have cut up and removed, but still troublesome

3. Another tree near a roof, causing issues.

Long story short, I wouldn’t plant one.

Make sure you think about where you plant it and what species you get.  Can you find a native species of tree?  Don't plant it right next to the house or over sewer pipes.  Think about where to position it to give some shade in the backyard, but leave some sunny spots.  Think about how quickly it will grow and how long it will live.  Some live longer than others...and not in reference to someone who posted about a landscaper girdling the tree :(

Originally posted by @Caleb Heimsoth :

2. Neighbor tree branch fall on my property. No major damage, cost 90 bucks to have cut up and removed, but still troublesome

Caleb,

I'm just curious if you got the neighbor to pay you back that $90. It's usually the responsibility of the tree's "owner" if it causes damage or falls on your property. 

 

@Kristyn Grimes I did not, and I did not ask. The location of the tree was near the property line and the property was in a neighborhood of rentals, meaning the actual owner didn’t live there. The tree being near the property line would make it easy to argue over without getting a survey done, which isn’t worth it, due to how cheap it was for me to remove it.

Free eBook from BiggerPockets!

Ultimate Beginner's Guide Book Cover

Join BiggerPockets and get The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing for FREE - read by more than 100,000 people - AND get exclusive real estate investing tips, tricks and techniques delivered straight to your inbox twice weekly!

  • Actionable advice for getting started,
  • Discover the 10 Most Lucrative Real Estate Niches,
  • Learn how to get started with or without money,
  • Explore Real-Life Strategies for Building Wealth,
  • And a LOT more.

We hate spam just as much as you