We have a couple in our neighborhood who are compulsive DIYers. There is barely a weekend that goes by without them making a change to their home. It’s not just the inside of the house they like to work on either. During good weather or bad, they can be found in the garden carrying out small jobs and large. This got me to wondering “which outdoor improvements increase home value?” As a result, I spent the weekend researching not only what changes I could make but which ones would add value. This is what I discovered.
Which Outdoor Improvements Will Increase The Value Of Your Home? Some outdoor improvements will add value to almost any home. For other improvements, whether or not the value of the property increases will depend on the neighborhood, the local climate, and a range of other factors.
If you are thinking of sprucing up the outside of your house, adding some outdoor features, or landscaping around your property, take the time to read through this guide. I’ll give you the benefit of my research and share with you which improvements are most likely to add value to your home.
Outdoor Improvements Which Will Increase The Value Of Your Home
Some outdoor improvements are suitable for pretty much any home, no matter what its age, where it is located, or any current fashionable trends. Assuming, of course, that the improvement is carried out to a reasonable standard.
Many other outdoor improvements depend on where in the country you carry them out. For example, some improvements might add value in warmer climates but not cold ones, and vice-versa.
There are also improvements that add value if they are in keeping with your home and the kind of person to whom you are likely to sell. On the other hand, if an upgrade is not in keeping with the house, the neighborhood or with potential buyers, it will not improve value. It is even possible that such an “improvement” could hurt your property value. For example, a well constructed and installed children’s play area can give added value in the garden of a family home in a family-focused community. That same improvement would be worthless in the backyard of a townhouse complex aimed at young, childfree, professionals.
Finally, there are the items that could only ever add value to your home if you happen to snag a buyer who wants that exact improvement. These are items like ornate fountains, mini putting greens or giant koi ponds. You get the idea.
Getting The Best Bang For Your Buck
When you are thinking of making improvements to your home, with the intention of adding value, you need to consider how much you will be spending compared to how much value you will add. This is often referred to as your “Return On Investment” or ROI. The ROI of the improvement you are thinking of carrying out is usually expressed as a percentage. So, for example:
You spend $1,200 on a project.
Your home value increases by $5,000
The ROI = The increase in value divided by the cost or $5,000/$1200 = 417%
Why is this important?
Your return on investment is significant because it should help guide you towards the outdoor improvements that will add the most value to your home, for the smallest financial investment.
In order to help you choose the most profitable outdoor improvements, I’ve included in this guide, the ROI for the average cost of an outdoor improvement. If you are on a limited budget and have a lot of potential outdoor enhancements, this will help you decide which one is best for you.
SoIf you want to avoid wasting your hard earned money on things that are improvements, only in your eyes, and instead make upgrades to increase value, keep reading. By the time you get to the end of this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to make the right decisions over those value-adding outdoor improvements.
So, first up, let’s take a look at the improvements you can make that are as close to a guarantee of adding value as you can get in real estate.
Outdoor Improvements To(Almost) Always Increase Home Value
To begin with, there is nothing as important as a clean and tidy, well-maintained exterior to increase the value of your home. So if you are thinking of making outdoor improvements begin by taking a walk around the outside of your house and make a note of any:
- Flaking paint
- Dirty siding
- Unkempt trees, plants, flower beds, and hedges
- Bare patches the lawn
- Uneven, cracked, or stained pathways
- Out-of-date or broken door furniture
You get the idea. The improvements to value as a consequence of the more minor outdoor improvements are not necessarily in the direct value of the upgrade but in the general impression given to a potential buyer. A colorful flower bed with fresh mulch isn’t inherently valuable, but the impression it gives is worth a great deal. Whether consciously or not, people will look at your home and when they see you have gone to the trouble of planting and maintaining flower beds, keeping hedges trim, etc. they will assume you care enough to maintain your home efficiently. That is where the value lies.
So let’s take a rundown through those minor outdoor improvements.
For an outside improvement to increase the value of a home, it needs to be in keeping with the property. A the front garden of a suburban family home is not always the best place for a stark, modern design of garden that is heavy on the hard landscaping but light on planting. Meanwhile, the same type of garden would look fabulous in front of a modern, angular building. So, whatever you decide to do with the landscaping, the number one consideration is:
Stay In Keeping With The Property
If you have flowerbeds, dig them over and apply a good, fresh layer of mulch to keep them looking well cared for. Ensure all of your plants are well trimmed, deadheaded, and generally healthy looking. If you have any bare patches, fill them in with something colorful, and in keeping with the look of the rest of the house and garden.
For those without flowerbeds or with lots of hard landscaping, a few carefully selected and planted containers will give the front of your property a lively feel without breaking the bank.
Cut the hedges, but not so harshly they have bare patches, trim trees and rake up all of the leaves. Some people would advocate planting new trees, I however, do not. To add a tree that is impressive enough to increase the value of your home will cost you far more than any raise in the potential asking price.
Bare patches, weeds, moss, and dry brown areas on your lawn are unsightly and can give your place a generally run-down feeling. These issues are, however, relatively quick and easy to fix.
- DIY – You can spend approximately $300 on grass treatments at your local hardware store and work on the lawn yourself. This will be enough for six applications of fertilizer and weed killer, which is around a year’s worth of work. You do not have to wait that long for an improvement though. It will take a few weeks but for a low outlay and a bit of work you can have your lawn looking presentable and lift the entire look of the front of your home. It could even put as much as $1,000 onto the value of your home which is a ROI of 333%
- The Professionals – For those with less time, less will, or more money you can hire a professional lawn maintenance company. Sticking with the cost of a full year, which is six applications of fertilizer and 12 visits to mow will set you back somewhere in the region of $1,500. This option will still only add $1,000 to the value of your home, so, unless you are doing this as part of a wider landscaping project, give the professionals a miss.
- The Alternative – If you just want a quick and easy fix then consider turfing your lawn. For the same size garden as the two examples above it will cost approximately $700 which is still a healthy 143% ROI – so worth the time and effort.
Your Front Door
Many people overlook the things they see every day and your front door is one of them. Ensure a positive first impression by applying a fresh coat of paint, varnish or wood stain to the door, frame, and sills.. If this is not needed then give your door, any windows adjoining the door and the door furniture itself a good wash with hot soapy water, then dry with a soft cloth to avoid streaks.
Old, pitted, or stained mail slots, door knockers or other door furniture can be replaced relatively cheaply but will lift the entire entrance to your home. As can a new welcome mat.
Alternatively, you could replace the door altogether. An average, mid-range steel door will set you back around $1,200 and can add up to $2,000 to the value of your home. This is an ROI of 166%.
Don’t Forget The Garage Door
Exactly the same principles apply to your garage door. Make sure it is clean, well presented and in good working order. If not, replace it with a reasonable quality, mid-range door that matches the rest of the home.
Fences, Railings And Gates
The best thing you can do with a well maintained fence is clean off any loose debris and give it a new coat of paint or woodstain. Ensure any gate fixings are oiled and squeak free, and replace any missing or broken panels.
Larger Outdoor Improvements To Increase Home Value
Once you have made the best of what you already have, you may want to move onto larger outdoor improvement projects.
An Outdoor Room
The National Association Of Realtors carried out a survey and found that the number one, most attractive quality to buyers was “outdoor living space.” It ranked more highly than general curb appeal, or an open floor plan.
You can create a small outdoor oasis by doing something as simple as placing a bench or chair in among fragrant planting. Although this is a nice feature to have, it is not really what I am talking about here. For a viable outdoor room that will increase the value of your home, you will need to create something rather more substantial.
If you are a competent DIYer, then it is possible to build a decent size deck for about $2,000 for materials and a weekend or two of work. If it is done well, even a DIY deck can add up to $7,500 to the value of a home. That’s a very respectable 375% return on your investment.
For those who are not proficient or confident enough with a tool belt to embark on this kind of project, you can expect to pay an average of $10,000 for a professional install. This will add about $10,000 in value to your home but there is more than just the dollar value to consider.
When buyers are looking for homes, they are going to be drawn more to the houses with a deck than to those without one. Our psychology is such that we would rather pay more for a home with a deck than less for a home without one and then go to the trouble of having the deck installed ourselves. Therefore, that beautiful deck could be the difference between a quick sale at list price or you dropping your house price after six weeks because you haven’t had an offer yet,
Not as popular as they once were, a patio can still be a viable option for creating an outdoor room, as long as it is done well. Laying some slabs and leaving it at that will do nothing to increase the value of your home.
A poured concrete area can be installed for as little as $4,000. Using planters to bring color to the patio and furnishing it with outdoor chairs, tables and cushions will show prospective buyers how they could be enjoying the space. This could add up to $5,000 of value to the property.
If you have an existing outside entertainment area, there is a fabulous way of using it to create further value. You can buy new garden furniture, or even just new cushions and other accessories, and by carefully staging your outdoor room you’ll add instant value to your home.
And the best part?
You can take all of your new purchases with you to enjoy in your new home!
When you have your landscaping tidied, and your exterior spic and span, you could enhance all of your hard work with some exterior lighting. One or two carefully placed uplights can create a beautiful feature for a minimal cost.
Thanks to today’s modern LEDs both the installation and running costs of garden lighting has decreased dramatically. An LED can last for up to 50,000 which means that at 8 hours a night your bulb could last over 16 years before it needs to be replaced.
Outdoor lighting also gives a luxurious feel to any outdoor room. Soft lights around a seating area can make an outdoor room usable through the evening and brighter spot lamps over the bar-b-que area means a homeowner can enjoy grilling well past dinner time.
Improvements That May Or May Not Add Value
There are plenty of outdoor improvements that can add value to your home, depending on where you live, the neighborhood in which you live, or the type of home you own. Here are some of the enhancements you can make outside of your property that could increase the value of a property. However, the possibility of or amount of increase will hinge on the detail.
“Low Maintenance” or “Water Wise” Gardens
In some areas of the country, a low maintenance, or water wise garden is an attractive feature for would-be buyers. Entire neighborhoods are transitioning from maintenance intensive, lush lawns and thirsty flower beds to gravel, stonework, and drought resistant planting.
Planters and other kinds of containers can be filled with pebbles, stones and “feature rocks” with one or two succulents or decorative grasses. Meanwhile, lawns can be replaced with a combination of stonework, interspersed with low growing plants.
Replacing Gravel Driveways
Many rural properties have gravel or unpaved driveways and this is considered the norm. However, in more urban, or suburban areas a gravel driveway can be a turn off for some buyers who will not want to deal with the maintenance.
Paving a driveway will cost somewhere in the area of $6 per square foot, while covering the drive with asphalt costs an average of $3 per square foot. If you have a high-end home with a gravel driveway that you want to replace, it is advisable to go with the extra cost and go with paving. An asphalt drive might even decrease the value of your property. Meanwhile, for most suburban family homes, a well laid asphalt driveway would be an enhancement over rough gravel or an unpaved area for vehicles.
Play Areas And Equipment
If you have a homemade wooden treehouse that hasn’t seen any use since you now grown kids were little, then the best thing you can possibly do is remove it. Do not try to revamp, repaint or otherwise improve it in any way as a feature. Any old or degrading items in your garden should go, but this is especially true if you have a family home as would-be buyers will see them as hazards to be dealt with. The same goes for any roughly placed play equipment, faded plastic slides, and sand pits etc. These items will only make your garden look untidy and unloved so they should be locked away or disposed of.
If you are thinking of renovating some good quality, play equipment then a clean, a fresh coat of paint or stain and the replacement of any chipped or broken fixings is a cost effective way of making an improvement. By creating an “outdoor playroom,” you can help buyers imagine their own children playing in the yard.
With fire pits, there are a lot of considerations when it comes to deciding whether or not this is an outdoor improvement to increase home value:
- Local Climate – Are you going to be able to enjoy the fire pit for a large proportion of the year or is it only going to be a viable amenity for a couple of months?
- Are you thinking of a literal pit dug into the ground, an inexpensive metal dish from a local home store in which you place wood or coals, a gas hook up a fire pit that lights at the touch of a button, or a stonestucture?
- How big is the fire pit in relation to the rest of your garden?
- Where abouts in your yard will the fire pit go?
As you can see, fire pits may increase your homes value, then again they may help place a big cross in the “no thank you very much” column.
An Outdoor Kitchen
Plenty of home owners view their back yard as an extension of their house. As such outdoor kitchens have become an increasingly popular and sought after feature in recent years.
However, to be a valuable addition to your home the outdoor kitchen must be constructed with good quality materials and be of reasonable craftsmanship. This does not come cheap. An outdoor kitchen can cost anywhere between $12,000 and upwards of $25,000 depending on the cabinets, cooktops, grills and other items you choose.
For this reason, an affordable outdoor kitchen of a decent standard can give you a return on your investment of 200% but could equally lose you money. If your only motivation for its construction was to increase your home value, be very careful to minimize your costs on an outdoor kitchen.
A Sprinkler System
This is the kind of upgrade that house buyers love because it is often something we would like to have, but rarely want to pay for and install ourselves. However, the cost of a buried sprinkler system can be around $3,000 and you are unlikely to increase your homes value by this amount.
On the flip side of this, you can use the sprinkler as an additional money saving feature item and highlight the fact that you can save up to 40% on the cost of watering your garden with a sprinkler system.
Improvements That Do Not Increase Home Value
There are plenty of outdoor improvements that will not add any value to your home, and in some cases may even damage it.
You might want to build a miniature version of the Gardens of Versailles in your backyard, but how many other people are going to see it as the stellar feature that you do? The same goes for Japanese Zen gardens, Moroccan retreats, or any other theme you might think of. In exactly the same way that very personal home improvements inside the house can be off-putting, so too can very individual landscaping decisions.
Especially in the gardens of family homes, ponds can raise serious safety concerns for parents and, although they may not negatively affect the price of a property, they will not add any value to a home either.
A Swimming Pool
An existing swimming pool can be a selling point but you should not instal one with the intention of increasing your homes value. One estimate says that homeowners might recoup 40% of the cost of installing a swimming pool when they come to sell but other estimates put that as low as 7%. That means that if you spend $75,000 to put a pool in your garden, you might increase your homes value by as much as $30,000 but the increase might be as little as $5,250. Either way that is a big financial loss.
For this reason, you should only install a swimming pool if you plan to enjoy it yourself and any increase to your houses value is incidental.
Creating your own sports court might seem like a winning idea to you but most people will see it as an eyesore where the garden should be. This will not add value to your home it will just add up to costs in the eyes of the buyer.
Fruit Trees, Vegetable Gardens
What might be a valuable asset to you is just as likely to be seen as a maintenance nightmare to others.
Other Things To Consider
Before you decide to go ahead and make outdoor improvements take into account the current value of your home, and the local real estate market. If you have a home that is currently valued at $250,000, you are unlikely to recoup $50,000 worth of outdoor improvements. This is especially true if your home is already at the top end of the price range in your neighborhood.
On the other hand, spending $75,000 on outdoor improvements to a million dollar home will be much more likely to yield a reasonably high return on your investment.
In addition, don’t forget to check into your local by-laws, city ordinances and the rules of the Homeowners Association if you are part of one. You may not be allowed to build certain structures or instal features such as a fire pit or a sprinkler system without permits or approvals.
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.