There are some hidden values to property that you'd be forgiven for missing on your latest flat-hunting foray. Those pretty shrubs planted on the third level podium will add roughly 10 per cent to the value of your dream apartment if you can see them from the flat. Those seeking refuge higher up needing binoculars to enjoy the greenery, could ask for a discount. That is, unless there's a sea view. 'The view generally adds 15 per cent to the value of a property,' said Gareth Williams, who should know. He has spent more than 30 years in the local property market as chief executive of Knight Frank, chairman and chief executive of Vigers Hong Kong, and a stint in the Rating and Valuation Department of the Hong Kong government. He is now managing director at property consultancy Gareth Williams & Associates. Most Hongkongers are already resigned to the notion of paying more for an apartment with a sea view, but will they pay more for one with a nice landscaped design? If you want a new apartment you might not have a choice because the quality of landscape design in most new mass market residential developments has improved. Local landscape architects say that good landscape design (where architecture and the environment are considered together) is becoming increasingly important to property developers in the mass market. For many people, this is a refreshing advance for a city more famous for its speed of building residential high rises than the character of the buildings and the land around them. 'Developers are making quite an effort now because they say designed landscape adds value,' said Barry Wilson, director of Initiatives, a landscape design consultancy and a member of the Association of Landscape Consultants. At the luxury end, however, the view has been coming up roses for some time. Beautiful landscape design, pools, clubhouses and other amenities are expected. Pacific Century Premium Developments is one luxury property developer which understands the importance of landscape design, using it to define the various phases of residences within the firm's Bel-Air development. 'The whole Bel-Air development appeals to niche clients. Therefore it is important that the landscape reflects that. For example, Bel-Air on the Peak has a much more European feel to it, compared with Bel-Air 8, which is modern,' said Wendy Gan Kim-see, executive director of Pacific Century Premium Developments. Even at the mass-market level, there is good and bad landscape design. Good landscapes should enhance the development and blend with the overall design. It can take a soft form, in the case of shrubs and flowers; or hard form, such as benches and furniture. In general, more hard features than soft features means more money was spent. What differentiates landscape design at the low, middle and high ends 'is the amount of space allocated to green open space, the quality of landscape architectural design and the quality of materials', said Peter Austin, a director with environmental consultancy ERM and secretary of the Association of Landscape Consultants. Luxury properties, however, are called that for a reason. Homebuyers expect thematic and comprehensive landscapes. For example, fronting Bel-Air is a 600,000 sqft water park and pier bordering a sculpture garden, and a cycling and jogging track. Expectations for landscape design vary according to a customer's price point, and understanding target clients is of the utmost importance to developers. They know that a luxury high-rise without the requisite investment in quality landscapes and pools will be at a disadvantage. Owners do not explicitly pay for these things. A mass-market high-rise with landscaping and pool will afford a higher price because these are not a given at this level. Pools remain expensive options for mass market homebuyers due to high maintenance costs. The cost to maintain residential landscape designs barely make a splash on developers' balance sheets, especially when compared to a building's maintenance costs. In fact, 'green open space is excellent value for money', Mr Austin said. The benefit to developers whose buildings are well-designed inside and outside, is the immediate impact felt by potential buyers. Basically, developers have learned to use landscape design as a marketing tool. This phenomenon happens wherever properties are bought off-plan. The landscape provides the only clue to what living there might be like. Ms Gan added that 'while not the first factor for consideration, landscaping gives an overall feel that might work on a buyer's subconscious that he might not even be aware of'. She cited location, the interior and exterior design, the view and the facilities as topping the wish lists of property buyers. Therefore, when planning a new residence, developers must balance the desires of the buyers. 'Development is not just selling one apartment, but a whole lifestyle. Landscaping, services in the clubhouse and activities for residents are important too,' Ms Gan said. In general, developers, architects and Hong Kong homebuyers had traditionally viewed landscaping as 'icing on the cake', said Mr Wilson, with the importance placed on greenery bordering on 'insignificant'. 'The apartment-owning public doesn't pay attention, [they] lack full awareness of the opportunities it can afford,' Mr Wilson observed. They commonly value 'landscaping' for the knowledge that it adds value and not because of any possible lifestyle improvement, although he believes this is changing with greater environmental awareness. Mr Austin disagreed: 'Hong Kong people care deeply about the benefits of residential green open space and developers know this,' he said. Sadly, expectations for the mass market are not always delivered by developers. But it is also not entirely their fault. To a certain extent their hands are tied by outdated government ordinances. Even if the mass market was to demand more landscape design, developers face a space problem. Where do you put it? 'If you have a plot ratio of eight for a site, there's not much room for trees. What needs to be done? Plot ratios should be reduced,' said Mr Williams, pointing out the tree-lined boulevards in the New Territories as an example of low plot ratios that resulted in more greening. There's an easier solution to improve residential landscape design. Mr Wilson suggests that landscape architects should be more involved in the early design and master planning of a new building, instead of being considered after the fact. This idea has paid off in the luxury sector. Ms Gan said landscape designers worked hand-in-hand with the architect in the preparation of the initial designs for projects. If all else fails, having friends in high places is another way to get the view you could never afford.