Sean McIllwain, Mod Boulder Real Estate

Sean McIllwain, Mod Boulder Real Estate

BOULDER – It’s no secret that the City of Boulder has always appreciated the value of green. (I’ll pause while you insert your favorite pot joke here.) And that’s not the only green that comes to mind – with Boulder’s home values increasing at a historic pace, the other green that’s a hot topic in Boulder is money. But let me be clear: the green I’m referring to is the natural world, and Mother Nature’s beautiful gifts that surround our city. 

Boulder’s appreciation of nature has been a longstanding one. Just after the turn of the 20th century, in 1908, Boulder residents hired Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., a renowned landscape architect and son of the legendary designer of New York’s Central Park. Olmstead’s task was to consult with our city on how best to plan it, even though Boulder was at the time a small town of just 10,000 residents. Among Olmstead’s planning recommendations: burying wires underground and keeping the height of streetlights below tree level.

As development and industrialization tend to do, word spread about Boulder’s natural beauty and its allure, and businesses began setting up shop. Because of this growth, the population increased accordingly.
It was at this juncture where Boulder could have stoked the growth, encouraging developers to build new housing and commercial spaces at a breakneck pace. However, in true Boulder style, the city chose a different direction, and continued its preservationist trend over the following decades.  

In order to protect the beauty of our beloved Flatirons, the city drew a (blue) line across the surrounding mountains in 1959, above which no sewer or water services would be provided. In 1967, a 0.4 percent sales tax was introduced, allowing for the establishment of a fund to purchase open space around the city, which stonewalled developers, obstructed major roadways, and most importantly, preserved the natural beauty. Not long after, new housing initiatives were limited to just two percent per year. These days, Boulder County manages more than 104,000 acres of scenic, protected open space. While Boulder has a reputation for being a cultural bubble, at least it’s a bucolic one, with the towering Rocky Mountains to the west and the rolling plains to the east.

This celebration of nature has trickled down to how Boulder’s residents design their own homes, adding extra value by honoring Mother Nature. With Boulder’s 300 days of sunshine, outdoor spaces can be a usable and valuable asset. Small homes can take advantage of decks, patios, and yards as places for refuge and relaxation, all the while adding value to their home. 

Compared to the cost of popping the top or adding rooms, homeowners may find that similar results can be achieved for much less by rethinking outdoor spaces. Consider breaking up larger spaces into smaller areas, like decks with a grilling area, a cozy fire pit space, a water feature to attract birds, or separate dining area with a curtained pergola. Think consistency between your home’s architecture and your outdoor spaces, and don’t overlook the value of great landscaping. Sure, it’s not often considered by appraisers, but buyers are almost always emotionally drawn to inviting outdoor spaces.

From our city’s protective reverence for Mother Nature to your own backyard oasis, honoring the beauty of Boulder’s incredible landscape is an integral part of living here.

By Sean McIllwain, Mod Boulder Real Estate. Sean is the current president of Historic Boulder and the founding broker at Mod Boulder Real Estate. Call 720.252.6051, e-mail or visit