Do you plan to sell your house in 3 years? 5 years? 8 years?
Many homeowners have a sense of when they are likely to make their next move. It may be due to kids completing school and moving out, retirement or any number of factors.
If this applies to you, then making strategic improvements to your property now is a great idea for two reasons:
- Despite “experts” who promise that new kitchens and baths will return more than the cost of the improvements, there are no real studies that show this. We have written about this previously and the key difficulty is that there is no objective way to determine the increase in value. All the studies we see depend on mere opinions and subjective estimates of perceived value increases.
- By making improvements now, you can enjoy them for a few years. This non-financial return is valuable. We all go on vacations, right? The money spent on the week in Mexico or the Mediterranean cruise does not pay you back in dollars and cents. It drains your bank account. The payback comes from the experience and the relational connections you have with the people traveling with you. Likewise, you can derive a lot of enjoyment from using the improvements you make to your property now. It’s an intangible, but real value.
It’s natural for owners to think largely in terms of interior improvements: remodel the kitchen or finish the basement. But many overlook the potential value increase offered by exterior projects … plants, shrubs, trees, decks, patios, gazebos, hot tubs, outdoor kitchens, water features, balconies, or pink flamingos. Ok, scratch the flamingos.
One advantage offered by exterior improvements is that they get more valuable with time when the right kind of hardscape is supplemented with properly selected flowering plants, shrubs and trees. Interior improvements tend to become dated; today’s “on trend” décor goes out of style and mechanical systems wear out. In contrast, living plants get bigger and more valuable with time.
You can buy a 4-foot tall Baby Blue Eyes Spruce for $300. Five years from now, it will be 10 to 12 feet tall and six feet in diameter. It would cost thousands of dollars to have that five-year-old tree transplanted to your yard.
Here are some key tips for making the most of exterior projects:
- Start with a Professional Plan: A landscape architect or master gardener can develop a master plan for your yard. These professionals will find out your likes and dislikes and how you want to use your outdoor spaces and come up with a blueprint. They are not overly expensive, and their expertise is well worth the money.
For example, you may like Red Twig Dogwoods as they can soften a fence line. The fence in question, however, might not have the right sun exposure or adequate moisture to handle these plants. Trumpet vine may be a better choice. Pros know this stuff.
With a master plan, you know that anything you do today will fulfill a long term objective if the overall plan is going to take two or three years to implement. Everything you do has a purpose and fits in with a bigger picture.
- Make Rooms in Your Yard: Even a smallish yard can have three or more “rooms”. A deck off the back of the house is one room and it adds to the living space of the home. From the deck, have a path that leads to a side yard that is not visible from the deck and create a small patio there with pavers. Create a different path from the deck with stepping stones that leads to a love seat and side table under a large tree in another corner of the yard. You can go there to read or you go to the isolated patio for a quiet conversation with a friend even when a lot of people are enjoying the deck.
- Trees, Shrubs and Flowering Plants Offer Lots of Bang for the Buck: Living plants are to outdoor improvements as paint is to indoor improvements. Paint is relatively cheap and, if you do the painting yourself, you can get a big impact for a small amount of money. Ditto for plants. You can spend $15 to $45 per plant and maybe a couple hundred dollars for small trees and plant them yourself. They make a big immediate impact and create an even bigger impression as they mature.
- Spend Wisely on Hardscape: Decks, patios, gazebos, water features and outdoor kitchens can add functionality and pizzazz. However, you can easily overspend on these items. You have to keep costs in line with the overall value of your house.
It’s not smart to spend $200,000 on a custom water feature with an embedded hot tub next to a stunning outdoor kitchen if your house is worth $500,000. It creates a problem with an appraisal issue known as “conformity”. These outdoor facilities are so outside of the norm for the neighborhood that they provide little value for which a buyer is willing (or able) to pay. On the other hand, that same trio of improvements on a property worth two million dollars can make a lot of sense.
Smaller can often be better. A modest water feature, sans hot tub, and a simple outdoor kitchen might be done for $25,000 and the $500k buyer will appreciate it … and pay for it.
Decks are another great example where bigger is not always better. You can build a plain rectangular 500 square foot deck with rails on all sides off the main exit from the back of the house. Instead, spend half as much and build a 250 square foot deck and give it some architectural interest with partial rails on an octagon-shaped extension at one end and open seating along the other end and you will have spent half the money and have a much more visually appealing feature.
- Don’t Neglect Lighting: Well-placed landscape lighting adds charm and ambiance. Include some in your landscaping projects. When you sell the house, tell agents with interested buyers to do a second showing of your home at twilight. Buyers will fall in love and open up their wallets to give you the price you deserve for your efforts.