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Park City Home: Backyard Boosters

From hot tubs to she-sheds, here’s what’s helping sellers in today’s real estate market

A modern patio, seen at night.

If a person’s home is their castle, the backyard is their kingdom. Whether that’s a tidy patch of lawn or a few rambling acres, making it a usable part of your day-to-day can add greatly to your home’s livability. And in resale terms, it can seriously impact how much a property sells for, and how quickly. We spoke with Amanda Pendleton, lifestyle expert at real estate marketplace Zillow, about the features that are attracting offers.

Life has moved outside
According to Pendleton, there are a couple of reasons people are using their yards as extensions of their indoor spaces. “The average home is getting smaller, especially in the coastal metro areas. And all the advances in technology make it just as comfy to be outdoors as inside.” In addition to the traditional entertainment essentials — grills, decks, comfy seating, all of which have become more attractive — that includes video displays with surround sound, lights that double as wine coolers, and radiant-heated patios.

Fire and water
Speaking of heat, Pendleton says that the popularity of fireplaces and fire pits, two of the biggest lures in real estate listings, is rising at a meteoric rate. “Real estate listings that mention them sell for 18 percent more than homes that don’t have those features,” she says. “That is up over 8 percent from our 2018 analysis.”

Outdoor kitchens might seem impractical, but from a homebuyer’s point of view, they appear to be irresistible. “Homes that list built-in outdoor kitchens sell for 24 percent more than similar homes without that feature. They are one of the biggest items that sell houses,” says Pendleton. She says the biggest premiums are realized in climates where you can fire up that grill year-round.

Similarly, how much a pool adds to a property’s value depends on location. In a warm climate, a house with a pool commands a 3 percent sales premium, although it sits on the market about seven days longer than a pool-free home.

Hot tubs, on the other hand, are an asset that pays off almost everywhere. Zillow saw homes with hot tubs in their listings command an 11 percent premium, which is up 2.5 percent over the previous year. Having said that, Pendleton says Zillow doesn’t have a return-on-investment analysis on hot tubs. Bottom line: “Put one in because you want to enjoy it, not simply for investment. But if you’ve got one, make sure you mention it in your listing.”

Finished spaces
If you’ve ever watched a home improvement show, you know that pergolas are part of a renovator’s vernacular. “We think it’s one of those HGTV trends that comes from shows like ‘Fixer Upper,’” says Pendleton. “Overhead structures like pergolas are really, really popular and are associated with hot-selling homes. Properties with a pergola in the listing sold 11 days faster than homes without them.”

And what about the much ballyhooed she-shed? While Pendleton says Zillow has yet to break down the statistics on gender-specific structures, that type of useable space is extremely sought-after. “Buyers value space that can be used as an extra room, whether for an art studio or an Airbnb.” She continues, “The words ‘shed’ or ‘garage studio’ in a listing result in a sale 8 days faster and for 27 percent more than similar listings without those words.” Simply put, people want a finished space that’s separate from the main home.

Decks, patios, lighting
Additional outdoor living space attracts buyers in every market. “In denser urban spaces, our data shows that properties with rooftop decks and balconies command 17 percent more than the expected sales price,” cites Pendleton. In warmer climates, covered porches and patios are coveted. And in communities where land is at a premium, a deck or patio is shorthand for more square footage. “It’s always a bonus to have outdoor space.”

Likewise, any lighting that enhances outdoor living is a plus, with listings that include that information seeing a 19 percent sales premium. “Look for indoor lighting trends to move outdoors,” says Pendleton, “especially the idea of having several light sources.” That means string lights or chandeliers, path lights, hurricanes, and table lamps, all designed to enhance livability. “Look for solar-powered lighting to lead the way.”

Landscaping
As recently as several years ago, a dream backyard would typically feature a velvety lawn and lush flowerbeds. That’s changing. “A big home design trend for 2020 is sustainability. When we think about landscaping, xeriscaping is going to become a lot more prevalent, and not only in areas prone to drought,” says Pendleton. “People still want gardens and water features, but people are starting to think about their footprint.”
Xeriscaping features that appeal to buyers: low-maintenance lawns, minimal turf grass, and more space-cover such as moss-and-paver pathways, and pebbled meditation areas. Expect hedges, trees, and vertical gardens to replace manufactured fences.

Depending on where you live, aspects of rural life can make a property stand out from the pack. “Things like chicken coops and bee hives speak to the idea of replacing grass with something more sustainable,” says Pendleton. And if waking up at dawn to feed the chickens isn’t quite your jam, a drought-resistant lawn still ticks the earth-friendly box. 


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