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10 outdoor ideas for boosting the value of your home

Photo courtesy of Zillow

Spring is the season to get head outdoors and enjoy the smell of freshly cut lawns and blooming flowers. As many homeowners get ready to spend their time and hard-earned cash on improving their landscaping for a fresh start, it's also a great time to think about which outdoor projects provide the best return on investment (ROI).

There are many outdoor features that can help owners enjoy living in their homes, but not all of them will add value for all future buyers. For example, swimming pools might be fun for families who aren't afraid of consistent maintenance and added costs, but they could send some buyers running. Investing in curb appeal, however, almost always pays off.

"First impressions are everything," said Jessica Lautz, managing director of survey research and communications with the National Association of Realtors (NAR). "Even in landscaping, we want to attract the homebuyer."

These days, that initial impression often comes in the form of an online listing photo. According to a recent NAR report, viewing homes online is the first step for buyers, with the vast majority of people saying that photos were the most important part of their online research. If a home doesn't have the most well-kept and well-photographed exterior on the block, online shoppers could be more likely to move on the next online listing.

Another part of keeping up with the Joneses, of course, is understanding the outdoor trends that are popular in a particular area.

"In Miami, homeowners want to live outdoors equally as they live indoors," said landscape architect Deena Bell Llewellyn, president of Bell Landscape Architecture and president-elect of the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. In South Florida, where she works, Llewellyn said homeowners are looking to open their homes completely so that the line between interior and exterior is erased.

"Landscape architects really get into the 'hardscape' design for the exteriors," she said. "Specific things clients really want are outdoor kitchens -- very sophisticated outdoor kitchens that might have the same types of appliances they have indoors, outdoor televisions with full sound, and lighting outdoors and outdoor fireplaces or conversation pits that act as part of an outdoor living room."

Thinking of taking the plunge on an outdoor improvement this year? Check out these 10 projects that could add value to your home today and in the future.

Seed your lawn

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"Make sure your landscape is alive and well and clean," said Jessica Lautz, managing director of survey research and communications with the National Association of Realtors.

Even if you're not aiming to sell, a vibrant, healthy lawn might have a greater impact than you expect on your overall happiness with your outdoor spaces. Plus, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) estimates that seeding 1,000 square feet of lawn space would cost only $120. The group expects an investment that size could recover $500 in value -- that amounts to a whopping 417 percent ROI.

Set up a standard lawn care program

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According to the National Assocation of Realtors' 2016 Remodeling Impact Report on outdoor features, a standard lawn care program, consisting of six applications of fertilizer and weed control on 5,000 square feet of lawn space, had the highest appeal to homebuyers.

At a NALP-estimated cost of $330, NAR expects a standard lawn care program to recover $1,000 in value, or a 303 percent ROI.

Sod your lawn

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Similar to seeding your lawn, sodding 1,000 square feet of lawn space is a relatively low-cost investment. The NALP estimates the cost at $700, and the NAR estimates that sodding your lawn could recover $1,000 -- a 143 percent ROI.

Refreshing your lawn might not feel like the most significant update you can make, but Lautz said it's worth considering.

"One of the really striking findings [of the 2016 Remodeling Impact Report] was that low-cost improvements to your outdoors really reap rewards."

Build a wooden deck

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Not only does building a new wooden deck add significant value, it's one of the projects with the highest "joy scores" in a recent consumer survey conducted by HouseLogic, the NAR's homeowner resource site. A new wooden deck came in with a joy score of 9.7 out of 10, and 77 percent of consumers said they have had a greater desire to be at home since completing the project.

At an NALP-estimated cost of $9,450, the NAR estimates homeowners would recover $10,000 on this project, or a 106 percent ROI.

Make small landscaping changes for big curb appeal

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Curb appeal is all about little outdoor details.

"Landscaping should be up there with repairing things you know are broken within your home and making sure your paint colors are neutral and up-to-date," Lautz said.

Unsurprisingly, realtors recommend that sellers improve their curb appeal before listing a home for sale. An overall landscape upgrade, according to the NAR's 2016 Remodeling Impact Report, involves installing a front walkway of natural flagstone, adding two stone planters, five flowering shrubs, one deciduous tree (one that sheds its leaves every year) and mulching with landscaping bark.

The NALP estimates that all of this will cost a total of $4,750, and the NAR estimates a potential recovery of $5,000 -- a 105 percent ROI.

Put in a new patio

Photo courtesy of D.A. Horchner / Design Workshop Inc.

As with adding a new deck, a patio addition is one of the highest-ranking projects for consumer joy, with a score of 9.6 out of 10, according to HouseLogic. Eighty-two percent of consumers also reported a greater desire to be at home since completing their project.

The NALP estimates that this could cost approximately $6,400, and the NAR estimates a potential recovery of $6,525, a 102 percent ROI.

Improve your softscaping

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As opposed to hardscaping, which involves building structures like decks, pools or outdoor kitchens, "softscaping" covers the living elements of your lawn. For the purposes of the NAR's 2016 Remodeling Impact Report, softscaping entails planting five trees, 25 shrubs, 60 perennials, natural edging and boulder accents (assuming no extra work is needed for grading or irrigation).

The NALP estimates that this could cost approximately $7,000; NAR estimates the project could recover exactly the same amount, a 100 percent ROI.

Build an outdoor fire pit

Photo courtesy of David Livingston

While curb appeal is an important factor in selling a home, not every homeowner undertaking a landscaping project is working to help their home sell immediately. Tackling projects that you'll enjoy today and help you get more use out of your outdoor spaces could still be the right decision, assuming they don't break the bank.

For example, NALP estimates that adding a fire pit could cost $4,500, while NAR estimates the project might only recover $3,500. However, that 78 percent ROI could still feel pretty good if you're also getting a lot of use and enjoyment out of a fire pit while you still own the house.

Build an outdoor fireplace

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Alternatively, if a fireplace is more your speed, NALP estimates an outdoor fireplace would cost $13,300, and the NAR estimates the project could recover around $8,000 for a 60 percent ROI.

According to the 2017 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects, most landscape architects surveyed expect high consumer demand for fire pits and fireplaces this year.

Install a swimming pool

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In certain real estate markets, having a swimming pool is a must if you want to keep up with the neighbors. In South Florida, for example, there's "hardly any residential project that doesn't include a swimming pool or water feature," said landscape architect Deena Bell Llewellyn, president of Bell Landscape Architecture.

Depending on where you live, and what is common for homes in your area, installing or upgrading a swimming pool might have a greater ROI than in other areas.

In its 2016 Remodeling Impact Report, NALP estimates a new pool would cost $50,000. NAR estimates the average homeowner can expect to recover $25,000 at the sale of their home, for a 50 percent ROI.

"Pools are projects that are personal, so absolutely do them," Lautz said.

Don't avoid a project that you can afford and will make you happy just because it might not boost a home's sale price years down the road. However, if you're planning a project in order to help your home sell, a new pool is probably not the best use of your money.

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