COVID-19 caused homeowners to focus on ways to relax and entertain at home. And as everyone grew weary of spending time indoors, backyards have become more important than ever, with homeowners looking for ways to make these spaces more livable.
“Backyard improvements increase your entertaining square footage says Jenny Usaj, employing broker and co-owner of Usaj Realty, a real estate brokerage in Denver, CO. “While not technically heated or cooled to be calculated livable square feet, backyard ‘living rooms’ are certainly a great addition,” she adds.
But with so many different backyard ideas and projects to choose from, it can difficult to know which ones will provide the biggest bang for your buck. These are nine backyard improvements that add value to your home.
1. Outdoor fire pit
The beauty of an outdoor fire pit is that it allows you to be comfortable in your backyard when the weather turns cool or downright cold.
“One of the hottest improvements a homeowner can add to their backyard is an outdoor fire pit installation - that is oftentimes gas powered - with stone décor walls and patio tile,” explains Jason Gelios, a realtor at Community Choice Realty in Detroit, MI.
If you spend $6,000 to $8,000 on a custom outdoor fire pit, Gelios says the ROI when you sell the home is roughly 60-70percent. “This can be huge, because a homeowner could enjoy the comfort and ambience of an outdoor fire pit but not lose all their money when they decide to sell,” Gelios says.
And if you don’t want to spend that much, Bill Golden, a realtor/associate broker at RE/MAX Around Atlanta, GA, has another option. “At my own home, we were going to build a fire pit, but decided to experiment by using a pre-made fire pit, and liked it so much that it became our permanent solution,” he says. Regardless of which type of fire pit you choose, Golden believes it is certainly a worthwhile backyard project. “The added value of a fire pit helps a potential buyer see that this home has the room and amenities in place to enjoy it across varying seasons.”
- Keep reading: How to build a fire pit
2. Privacy fence
How much time homeowners spend in their backyards depends not only on physical comfort, but also the level of solitude and isolation afforded from neighbors. As the poet David Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” However, if you don’t have the budget (or the will) to put up a full-length fence, David Charette, licensed interior designer and founder of Britto Charette in Miami, FL, offers two alternative solutions. First, he recommends using greenery. “Potted plants and trellises can provide privacy – and also add color to your backyard.” In fact, even if your only backyard space is a balcony, Charette says plants and trellises will work well.
“You can also use decorative fencing - create layers of privacy using decorative panels made of wrought iron, stone, or wood, combined with fabrics and greenery,” he recommends.
- Keep reading: 15 stylish fence ideas for your backyard
3. Outdoor kitchen
To Patrick Garrett, a broker/owner in Birmingham, AL, an outdoor kitchen is the first backyard improvement that comes to mind when deciding what will add value. “A fabulous outdoor kitchen can really make a home stand out against its competition.” However, he warns that not all outdoor spaces are created equal. “To get the biggest ROI, you will want to ensure the outdoor kitchen space is truly functional, and one that can be used at least three out of four seasons,” Garrett advises.
So, what does this entail? “A ceiling fan to enjoy a cool breeze on hot summer days, and a fireplace or fire pit to warm up during those cool fall evenings,” he says. In addition, Garrett recommends that the outdoor kitchen have plenty of counter space for prepping food and party supplies. “It should also have a nearby sink for washing hands, and of course a space and electrical connection to hang a television for that big game event,” he says.
A deck can increase your livable outdoor space, and that’s why broker Ted Karagannis, of Warburg Realty in New York City, recommends it. In fact, he really likes tiered or multi-level decks. “Creating wooden platforms for different level decks is a fantastic way to bring interest in creating exciting environments, and will add much value to your backyard experience,” he says.
But before you build a deck (or have one built), there are a few steps you need to take first. “It’s vital that you check with your local ordinances to see what’s required by the local municipality’s code to build a deck,” advises Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. “Second, be sure to have a professional engineer the deck to ensure that the joists are properly spaced, and that the number of supports/footings is correct.”
A pool is a significant investment, and Golden says the added value varies greatly – but is increasing. “In the past, there were as many people specifically looking for a pool as there were people who wouldn't buy a house with a pool,” he explains. But the pandemic changed that equation. “People are spending way more time at home now, and that has increased the demand for pools.” Golden says there are around five pools being installed in his neighborhood right now since they’re in such demand.
“Part of the value quotient here - as with many such improvements - is how long you plan on staying in your home.” He admits that you’re not doing to get a dollar-for-dollar ROI. “But, if you get to enjoy it for many years and it's a selling point when you put your home on the market, it can definitely be worth the investment.”
6. Pergola/shade structure
This is another backyard improvement that can add value and usable space. “If a home has a large backyard, but there are no shaded areas for sitting and enjoying a cool summer breeze after a long day’s work, a pergola could be a great option,” Garrett explains. “There are many value-add options with a pergola, such as adding electrical outlets or building a fire pit in the center for enjoyment during those intimate conversations on cool days.” In fact, Garrett says some homeowners even add a roof, lights, and a ceiling fan to increase functionality.
Usaj agrees, adding that an outdoor pergola with furniture and a rug does wonders in enhancing a standard outdoor space. “Creating a sense of place within your backyard for entertaining will increase your home value as this is an amenity many people are looking for as they continue to work from home and entertain friends and family.”
In fact, that’s why Golden says he built a shade structure in his own backyard. “We have a large deck adjoining our backyard pool, but it's in direct sun for much of the day,” he explains. “Building a shade structure not only gave us a way to better enjoy our outdoor space, but for relatively little money it created another outdoor room, which definitely adds value to the home.”
7. Spruced-up landscape
Never underestimate the importance of landscaping – even in the backyard – as it relates to curb appeal. “Many times, when I go to show a home with bad landscaping or no landscaping, my buyers are turned off by the whole property,” reveals Gelios. “Homeowners can spruce up their landscaping with low maintenance plants and shrubs to increase the curb appeal.” So, what does he recommend? “Concrete walkways, a medium sized tree and flowering shrubs can set you back around $6-7,000 but gain a return on investment of 80-85 percent.” And as a bonus, you’ll enjoy this beautified space while you’re living there.
Karagannis also believes that sprucing up your landscape can improve your home’s value.
“Planting perennials is very important, as perennials will reappear year after year and will be a constant reminder of the different seasons of the year,” he explains. “Annuals are also very important for bringing added color and will remain flowering from early spring into fall, and each year you have the opportunity to change the selection.”
8. Herb garden
In addition to adding plants to your backyard to beautify your landscape, Karagannis believes there’s something else you can plant that would be appealing to buyers. “It’s also great to create an herb and vegetable garden, especially now that many of us are cooking three meals a day from our homes,” he says. “There is nothing more satisfying than growing your own herbs and vegetables and being able to handpick your spices, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. to complete your fine meals.”
9. Screened-in porch
One person who has always been a huge advocate of screened-in porches is Golden, and he’s glad the market has finally caught up. “Buyers tell me all the time that they want some sort of ‘outdoor room,’ which is how a screened porch functions,” he says. “They can run from a simple screened structure to an elaborate room like one of my recent listings had, including a fireplace, heater, and hidden TV.” He recommends consulting with a realtor familiar with your area to determine what makes the most sense for your home. “This is another scenario in which the ROI is hard to calculate, but since it is more of an extension of your home than other backyard updates, you are likely to see a great ROI.”