That Blue Jay is Worth $32,000; the Golf Course is Worthless

Red-headed Woodpecker by thavs1 on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/people/thavs1/
This Red-headed Woodpecker in the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve might add $32,000 in value to a home's resale value.

“… researchers’ bird count-property value model suggests that the presence of less-common birds helps home prices soar.”

One of the many lies being peddled surrounding the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve land use controversy was the misconception that a golf course inherently lifted the property value.  Promoting such a touchstone issue as property value would energize even the non-golfing couch potato Fort Sheridan subdivision homeowner to support the development of a golf course. But it is not true.

The golf course community home value story is a “once upon a time” fable that took root in the last century when both golf and home value were on the growth trajectory.  In fact, we researched this assumption in depth and discovered that the value didn’t so much accrue to the golf course as it did to the open space afforded by a golf course – or any open park land.

Now we’ve unearthed a recent study conducted at Texas Tech University  and published in Urban Ecosystems that associates bird counts with increased property value. Or, as the lead in the Conservation magazine article states, “Home sellers take note: That blue jay in your backyard could add $32,000 to your asking price.” This is exciting and profitable news for the homeowners in the Town of Fort Sheridan subdivision.

Since the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve became publicly accessible, bird watchers have been flocking to this unexplored environment. The complex and diverse mix of ravines, mature trees, open grassland savanna and unique Lake Michigan bluff is compelling. Never mind the incredible vistas of which Lake County Commissioner Carol Calabresa said, “it takes my breath away.” The environment promised diverse bird species in addition to a great dog walk.

And it only got better as Lake County Forest Preserve’s excellent land management crew conducted fundamental grading, channel stabilization and planting of rye, black-eyed susan and mixed grasses. This effort simply held the soil and the property in a state of neutrality while the public policy issues were being worked out.

Yet as nature gratefully demonstrates, given the chance, even a former airfield and artillery range can recover to support a diverse ecosystem of plants and animals. And into this environment birders have been annually recording an increasing quantity and diversity of bird species. This is an environment an avian biologist declared to be “nice looking grassland habitat.” Which is only great news for Fort Sheridan subdivision homeowners concerned about property value.

In fact, Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is the go-to place for Red-headed Woodpecker eye candy (add $32,000 to your home value), a diminishing bird species that thrives by the bridge entering the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve as well as in the mature oak at the northwest corner of the Preserve near the cemetery.

And there’s the Louisiana Waterthrush that likes the ravine off the entrance bridge in the spring (add $32,028 to your home value). The purple finch ($$), breeding Bobolink ($$). In fact, the researchers’ bird count-property value model suggests that the presence of less-common birds helps home prices soar.

Now, to be clear, it’s not the birds that necessarily drive the property value.  But the bird presence is a surrogate measure for a desirable ecosystem. The kind of ecosystem which supports higher valued homes – and Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve provides this to the neighboring Town of Fort Sheridan subdivision.

During this habitat transition some Town of Fort Sheridan subdivision residents derided the remarkable emerging savanna as a weed field. Their ignorance belied the likelihood this “weed field” might be increasing their property value at a far greater clip than a golf course would.

Farmer, M.C., M.C. Wallace and M. Shiroya. 2011. Bird diversity indicates ecological value in urban home prices. Urban Ecosystems doi:10.1007/s11252-011-0209-0.

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