When Judy and Larry Plegge were ready to downsize from their single-family home of 32 years, they were clear on what they didn't want. No stairs. No yard work. No buildings blocking their view.
They got none of that when they bought a fifth-floor condominium at The Preserve of Palatine. Instead, they got trees. The complex borders the Margreth Riemer Reservoir and its 91 acres of forest, water and open space. "From our balcony we see two ponds, and the trees are to the right," said Judy Plegge. "One of the ponds we can't see as well. It depends on how much rain we get. During the big rain in August, it was almost to the point where they are connected."
Another Preserve homeowner, Pat Prochilo, frequently walks through the woods.
"There is always something you didn't see the day before, a different kind of shrub or animal or bird," she said. "I go there and time stands still a little bit."
For many homeowners, living in the midst of lush forest is a huge attraction. Trees are lovely to look at, and they're good for people and the environment. But buyers don't have to drive several counties away to find a piece of woodland. A number of new housing communities in the Chicago area are touting amenities by Mother Nature
The Preserve, an R. Franczyk & Associates development,has 94 condominiums in two towers, priced from $309,900.
"We always like to be in downtown areas, close to the Metra, which is important," said the Preserve's sales manager Katie O'Brien. "We were very happy to find this property. It's like having the best of both worlds, an urban feeling and being in the middle of nature."
"Intuitively, there is a perception of quality and maturity associated with communities that have a lot of trees," said Dan Lambe, vice president for programs at the National Arbor Day Foundation in Lincoln, Neb. "There are also many kinds of economic benefits and savings that go beyond the beauty and the songbirds."
He named a few: Trees remove globe-warming carbon dioxide from the air. They cut heating and air conditioning costs, boost property values and decrease selling time.
"Often in rural communities, you don't have to drive too far to tell which way is north," he said. "That's the side where the windbreak trees are planted."
Trees have a romantic appeal, said developer Ted Mazola of New West Realty.
"They symbolize peace, harmony, longevity, strength -- the types of things we strive for in our daily lives," he said. "And when it comes to property values, money does grow on trees. It's been estimated that having trees makes a property about 15 percent more valuable."
Living near the woods also can be good for a homeowner's mental well-being. Mind, a London-based mental health agency, calls it ecotherapy.
In a research study conducted by the agency earlier this year, 71 percent of the participants said they felt less depressed after taking a walk in a country park, while 45 percent felt less depressed after walking through an indoor shopping center. Ninety percent had increased self-esteem after the country walk.
"It becomes a sanctuary when you move into a community where there is preservation of trees and wetland," said Janey Amidei, vice president of sales and marketing for Kirk Homes. "You don't have to get into the car to go to the health club. You've got this natural beauty, and you can push the baby in the stroller or ride your bike or just walk."
A decade or two ago, developers routinely cut down all the trees, mowed down the corn field, prairie and savanna and flattened the land with giant earth movers before erecting subdivisions and locating streets. Today they are more likely to build around the trees and plant more trees rather than tear through them, said Lambe.
"One reason is that many developers genuinely have an environmental conscience," he said. "Another is that smarter developers are realizing that most homeowners aren't interested in cookie-cutter neighborhoods, especially when there is an option of healthy, mature trees nearby."
New West is building Thatcher Woods, a community of 60 condominiums in two towers and 18 town homes surrounded by Thatcher Woods Forest Preserves in Melrose Park. The 300-acre natural area includes flood plain forest, upland forest, savanna and prairie, and it straddles the Des Plaines River. Depending on the floor, balconies and patios peer into the woods or over the trees. Units are priced from $419,900.