By Thomas Morrison | LSU Student
The low hanging branches of the majestic Live Oak tree are a staple of the Baton Rouge area and according to local experts can be a valuable asset for home owners.
The Louisiana State University campus is home to more than 1200 Live Oaks, and according to an LSU Foundation fact sheet, has been valued at $50 million. Following simple division, this means one individual Live Oak alone ought to be worth more than $41,000.
But does this value hold true for all home owners with Live Oaks in their yards? Baton Rouge real estate agent David Engle specializes in selling homes near the LSU area and says Louisiana Live Oaks are not always an asset.
"A value of a tree depends on its location and proximity to the house," Engle said. "It can actually have a negative effect (on a home's value) if a tree is too close, it could cause problems with a home's foundation."
Engle said the long roots of the Live Oak can be a problem since they grow towards water and can find cracks in a home's foundation or plumbing. "Trees need to be 15 to 20 feet away from the home, anything less would be considered too close."
Trees too close to a home can also cause damage to roofs by dropping debris onto a roof's shingles during storms. Engle said without regular maintenance, home owners can expect to repair and replace their shingles and gutters more often.
From what, then, does the value derive?
LSU professor of Urban Forestry Hallie Dozier says Live Oaks can add value to your home in a number of ways.
"Landscaping with or without Oaks can add 10 to 20 percent of value to a private home. Some home buyers look specifically for good landscaping and view it as an essential part of the package."
Engle adds neighborhoods College Town near LSU and Oaks on the Bluff in Prairieville get a major boost in "curb appeal" because of the abundance of Live Oaks in the area.
"With neighborhoods like Oaks on the Bluff, developers used oak trees in the neighborhood design," Engle said. "Those homes are now worth much more (than other homes in the area) because of the trees and their impact on the neighborhood."
For many home owners, Dozier says trees provide value in other ways. "The shade trees provide can make a home much cooler during the summer time. You can really save on your utility bills and cooling costs."
Engle and Dozier say one question they often are asked is whether someone can make a profit from cutting down a tree? Both agree it would be hard.
"For a Live Oak you would need to hire a company with special equipment to cut down a tree of that size." Engle said. "It can be expensive."
"It cost $3,500 to get an oak in my yard removed," Dozier said.
Dozier said to not expect to sell a Live Oak for its wood, as most oaks that grow freely and do not grow straight enough to make useful lumber.
LSU Arborist and alumnus Rick Humphreys says he has more than 20 years of experience apprising tree value in the area. He says a tree's value often depends on its location.
"When you look at the value of a tree, you take into consideration the total landscape package and where the tree is located. An oak tree downtown near a government building would have much more value than if you moved the tree in front of a $200,000 house," Humphreys said.
Another way a tree is appraised is by examining the health of a tree Humphreys says.
"I once appraised a tree for a couple who had decided they wanted to build a circular driveway around a Live Oak in front of their house. They were hoping to add some value to their home.
"I noticed some unusual growth near the tree that caused me to examine the tree's roots. I realized they were dead. The tree was actually in danger of falling over at any second and could have potentially harmed the house or hurt someone. At that point the tree had zero value, it was a liability."
Humphreys believes the best way to judge a tree's value is by its "fair value" or its "market value." This value comes from how much a tree can bring or how that same tree might cost someone.
Humphreys cited an example of a tree located near a Dallas interstate that needed to be moved a few years ago. It cost the city more than $100,000 to move it a short distance. Humphreys says that value would have been the tree's "fair value."