What's an edible landscape worth?

Gardeners interested in sustainable edible plants travel from all over Florida to learn from the Vidovics’ garden. If the Seminole pumpkin vines sprawled across the front yard don’t tell them they’ve arrived, this sign at the end of their driveway does.
Gardeners interested in sustainable edible plants travel from all over Florida to learn from the Vidovics’ garden. If the Seminole pumpkin vines sprawled across the front yard don’t tell them they’ve arrived, this sign at the end of their driveway does.
Published July 17, 2015

When it comes to food, just about every day's a holiday in Kalina and Ruby Vidovic's yard. But the two little girls really go nuts when glossy yellow starfruit and red Jamaican cherries light up their trees like Christmas.

"When the starfruit are ripe, Ruby (17 months) screams and points," says mom Tanja Vidovic.

She and her husband, Jared, both 33, grow almost all of their family's groceries in their half-acre yard — smack-dab in the middle of Tampa. Because they don't use commercial fertilizers or pesticides, Ruby and Kalina, 5, can safely graze on arugula and pigeon peas, strawberries and blueberries, daylilies and spiderwort. Tanja hopes that will be a big selling point for their home.

Yup, after five years of turning their yard into a self-perpetuating pantry, the couple plan to move.

The Vidovics' urban homestead has become a tourist attraction of sorts for edible gardeners, a crowd that has been growing by the millions nationally since 2007, according to the Garden Writers Association's annual surveys.

Tanja's done everything she can to boost those numbers; she's a one-woman, all-volunteer crusade for sustainable edible gardening. A City of Tampa firefighter, she hosts 30 to 60 garden tours a year. Her Tampa Gardening Swap Facebook group has more than 2,500 members, and she has launched civic initiatives, including planting orchards in Tampa parks.

But with daughter No. 3 on the way, she and Jared say it will soon be time to find a new home. They've fallen in love with charming Safety Harbor in North Pinellas.

First, though, they have to sell. They've struggled with putting a dollar value on a property minutes from Interstate 275 and the University of South Florida that comes with a chicken coop, rabbit hutch, 200 fruit trees and scores of perennial vegetables.

"If you're going to do the whole urban homesteading thing, you're all set here," Tanja says. "We're on the river, so you can fish. We have a well, so you have water. We have enough fruits and vegetables that you could live off the land."

Their three-bedroom, three-bath circa 1966 home is on the market at a "make me move" price of $375,000. That's high because the family isn't ready to vacate the premises. A few months from now, they'll be happy with $300,000-plus.

"It's hard to price," Tanja says. "There's nothing comparable."

And there are so many factors to consider. What's the value of knowing exactly what you and your family are eating? The dollar savings in groceries? The convenience and environmental benefits of harvesting dinner from the back yard? Heck, Tanja even grows her own luffa plant sponges and washcloths!

Unfortunately, for most home sellers today, those answers don't matter, says Jeff Daniels, a 25-year Tampa Bay Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and a longtime board member for the Florida and Greater Tampa associations of Realtors.

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In short, since the housing bubble collapse, home appraisals for mortgage lenders often fall short of what sellers expect to receive and what buyers are willing to pay, Daniels says. And banks won't approve loans for more than the appraised value.

"An edible landscape is so subjective and appraisers are not giving value to subjective scenarios. I'm sorry to say I don't think they would give a dime for it," he says. "I hear it all the time from other agents: 'The deal fell apart because the appraisal came in short.' It's so frustrating."

For someone paying cash or with private financing, that won't matter. But 95 percent of home mortgages involve finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and they're doing everything possible to hold down prices, Daniels says. They're aided by post-bubble changes in the law regarding how lenders contract with appraisers.

But the Vidovics have another great selling point, he notes. Their waterfront property is not in a flood zone, and that's a bonus for buyers who want to be on the water but can't afford the rapidly increasing cost of flood insurance. Rates can now go up 15 percent a year, indefinitely, for a primary residence.

"That will have a significant effect on the values of properties," Daniels says.

If someone were to buy the house for its river view and chop down the edible forest, would Tanja and Jared sell?

"I would cry!" Tanja says.

But, if there are no other options, yeah, she says, they'll sell.

First, they'll create a new holiday.

"I'll host a 'Come Dig Up a Fruit Tree and Take It Home Day'! "