As a homebuyer, the type of property you choose can have a big influence on how you spend your time - especially if you pick a place with a large lot. If you have a hectic career or a large family, you may wish to avoid a place with lots of greenery - one that could make you a slave to all that pruning, clipping, fertilizing and watering.
In his 30 years as a time-management consultant, Maynard Rolston spent long hours at the office and traveling for work. If he had worked less, he might have opted for a home with a lovely lawn and impressive flower beds. But he settled for a townhouse with a tiny yard, located in a subdivision where all the upkeep is done in exchange for a monthly maintenance fee.
"I'm not that guy with the green thumb," Rolston said. "I refuse to sacrifice my precious time to yard work."
Rolston, author of "Time Management is an Oxymoron," knows that in today's economy, time is a valuable commodity, not to be trifled with.
"You have to face the reality that there are many trade-offs to a big home - even if you hire a landscaping crew to care for the place," he said.
Of course, there are also pluses to owning a large property. Gardening can be a satisfying and money-saving experience. And a fair number of people take pride in showing off well-tended grounds to family and friends.
Here are a few tips for homebuyers wrestling with the issue of yard size:
-- Recognize the commuting penalties linked to a large yard.
Alan Pisarski, author of the book "Commuting in America," said the average commute is now 25.5 minutes each way. And although average commuting time has stayed constant for several years, many people are still willing to accept a punishing daily drive to live in an outer-tier area where they can own lots of land.
In areas with high housing costs, some people must move to the distant suburbs to become homeowners. To obtain a property of any size, they're willing to accept what Pisarski calls "a killer commute." But others could afford to live closer to their jobs if they simply settled for a smaller place.
One way to grasp the reality of a long commute is to test-drive it during rush hour.
"People go out and buy a house on a Sunday afternoon. Then after moving in, they're hit with the painful reality of how bad their commute really is," Pisarski said.
-- Check into labor costs for yard maintenance.
For years, Rolston has advised business executives that the key to saving time is delegation. Yet when it comes to yard work, delegation doesn't always save as many hours as people assume.
"The trick is to find landscape people who are reliable and trustworthy. But that's not always as easy as it sounds. And supervising your yard crew can also take time," Rolston said.
In addition, hiring contractors can also be expensive - depending on the labor pool in your area and how many months per year you will need help.
If you hanker for a large suburban property and expect to hire yard help, Rolston urges you to ask local residents how much they pay for upkeep.
"Don't buy that huge property until you get the full picture," he said.
-- Think realistically about your need for a big yard.
Do you have happy memories of childhood hours playing in your backyard? And do you aspire to ownership of a place where your kids could do the same?
Such a dream is understandable. But as Rolston said, you need to recognize that your kids' lives are probably very different. Were there two working parents in your family? Were you involved in as many organized athletic teams as your kids? Did you spend as many hours playing video games?
After thinking through these differences, Rolston said, some homebuyers realize that ownership of a home with a large yard isn't warranted, given the limited time their children spend outside.
-- Hold out for a big yard if that's what you truly want.
Before committing to a home with labor-intensive grounds, Rolston said, it's wise to do as Benjamin Franklin did when making a major decision. Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the center and list the pros and cons on each side.
Some homebuyers, including very busy ones, still find that the joys of life in a country setting outweigh the costs in commuting time and keeping up large grounds.
"There are folks who find it absolutely relaxing to put on headphones and jump on a riding mower. That's the way they manage stress. If you're one of these people, buying a place with lots of green space could be totally worth it. So go for that big yard," Rolston said.
Ellen James Martin, a former real estate editor at The Baltimore Sun, gives advice for anyone buying, selling or financing a home.