Market For Developers: Homebuyers Want View Of Woods, Not Large
University of Michigan News Service, June 29,
Ann Arbor, Mich.-People prefer a view of the woods over a manicured
lawn, a new University of Michigan study found, suggesting a potentially
huge untapped real estate market for conservation developments.
The U-M study debunks a myth that people want big homes and big
lots and suggests residential alternatives that could be hugely
popular if marketed properly, said Rachel Kaplan, professor of
environment and behavior at the School of Natural Resources and
Kaplan co-authored the study with her husband Stephen Kaplan,
a U-M professor with joint appointments in electrical engineering
and computer science and psychology, and Maureen Austin, assistant
professor of environmental science and outdoor studies at Alaska
The study also showed that misuse and misunderstanding of the
term "open space" fuels the myth that people prefer
The scientists surveyed residents in 18 subdivisions in Livingston
County's Hamburg Township, Mich., the fastest growing county in
the state. Some of the subdivisions were conventional, meaning
large lots and homes, others were "conservation" developments,
a concept developed by Rhode Island-based environmental planner,
Randall Arendt. These residential communities preserve the most
valuable natural features of the subdivision as a communally-owned
resource and site the homes on smaller lots which take advantage
of the nature views.
The majority of residents in both conventional and conservation
subdivisions said that a "nature view from home" of
wooded areas was their top priority in a home site, but the view
of the woods was largely unavailable in the conventional developments,
Rachel Kaplan said.
Yet, those same conventional subdivisions had more of what planners
call "open space" than their conservation community
"The most significant thing that came out of this study
is that the myth that big homes on big lots are what is most important
to people and therefore everything that happens is market driven
is wrong," Stephen Kaplan said. "To finally show that
this is not preferred by the people who live there is the last
blow. While people who own big houses on big lots like them, even
they placed a much higher priority on having a nature view from
Part of the problem stems from confusion caused by the term "open
space" as used by planners, and misunderstanding of the term
by developers and homebuyers, the study concluded. One can have
acres of open space, Rachel Kaplan said, but no preserved natural
features. A lawn is not a natural feature, Kaplan said.
Part of the solution is to properly define open space and use
more accurate terminology altogether, they said. For example,
planners could use the term "conservation ordinance"
rather than the misleading "open space ordinance" for
areas marked for preservation from development.