First impressions are hard to undo, and the first impression homebuyers get is from your yard and landscaping.
But there are do’s and don’ts for landscape and garden improvements. Some changes will boost your home values while others will decrease it, as listed in the slide show below.
Some Landscaping Helps Home Value, Some Doesn’t
One Virginia Cooperative Extension survey found that landscape expenditures — especially large ones — “significantly increase perceived home value.” That leads to a higher selling price than homes with minimal landscaping. Bigger landscaping spending means a bigger return, according to the study.
The Appraisal Institute, America’s biggest association of real estate appraisers, advises homeowners that “improving their property’s landscaping can result in a significant return on investment when selling the home.”
But not all landscaping investments are created equal. Consider these numbers from the 2018 Modeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features by the National Association of Realtors:
- Lawn care services return 267% of the investment, That’s the No. 1 landscaping item, yielding the most money on the investment.
- Landscape maintenance and tree care are a break-even proposition, returning 100% of the investment.
- On the other hand, a new pool is far underwater when it comes to return on investment. According to NAR, it may bring joy, but recovers just 43% of the average $57,500 cost of installation.
So when you have a limited budget for improving your exterior and want the most bang for your buck, which features do you choose? The research found which lawn, garden, and landscape items help your home value, and which don’t return the investment, or decrease value.
1. A well-maintained lawn
Leading the way among exterior improvements is a well-kept lawn. It’s a no-brainer: quick, relatively inexpensive, and returns the most on your investment. Lawns remain a favorite of homebuyers. According to real estate agents, a well-kept expanse of grass pleases buyers. It improves a property’s look, offers a play area for children, and gives the adults a sense that they will enjoy a relaxed lifestyle.
A recent study estimates that lawn care service of about $268 adds about $1,200 in value — a 352% ROI. So if you don’t take care of the lawn before you list, you’re leaving money on the table. The same study found that almost 91% of real estate agents recommend basic yard care service as the top curb appeal project to tackle before selling.
2. Shrubs and trees
Almost anything you buy falls in value. Trees are an exception. Mature trees enhance property values. The mere presence of tall trees improves property values throughout a neighborhood by 3% to 15%, according to the University of Washington. Installing mature trees is costly. So if you’re looking for a tree that already has some size, but still fits in the back of a truck, go for a 15-gallon pot. It will hold a tree about 8 feet tall, for a reasonable price — $50-$150, depending on the variety.
3. Tidy garden
Remove perennial weeds. For some buyers, they’re a red flag issue that signals problems. A tidy lawn leaves the buyer with the impression that they’re looking at a landscape that is easy to maintain.
4. Landscaped pathway
If you have a prospective buyer, where are they certain to tread? Up the walkway to your front door. Pay attention to that pathway. Repair cracks that will spoil the first impression. Try designing a pathway that will create anticipation — ideally, have it winding with plants or a small hedge on each side. Use a pressure washer to scrub away any built-up dirt or slime.
Outdoor lighting options are available within the limits of any homeowner’s budget. Buyers appreciate that a well-lit yard can provide a layer of security.
Lighting hardware has changed in recent years, with solar-powered and LED lighting products adding alternatives to traditional hard-wired lighting. They show off your garden at night, silhouette your trees, keep everyone safe from tripping and keep burglars away.
6. Fresh mulch
Need something that will turn a dull yard fresh, economically, and quickly? Go mulch.
Adding fresh mulch is second only to routine lawn care at returning your expense at sale. Spending $340 on mulch recoups about 126% upon closing. Incorporating mulch around shrubs and garden plants to help reduce evaporation, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, and prevent erosion. Adding organic matter and aerating soil can improve its ability to hold water.
7. All-season deck/outdoor kitchen
One of the trendiest items is one of the most expensive — a permanent, built-in deck for entertainment and cooking. In effect, it increases the usable square footage of the house. It returns an estimated 83% of the amount spent. That may sound like a losing proposition, but an outdoor kitchen space keeps your house on the shortlist of expanding group buyers. Properly finish and weather-proof the space for your climate so it will last for years to come. That means building in a firepit in cold climes and making sure there are good shade and air circulation in warmer ones.
For smaller houses, Romana King, director of content for the Canadian real estate website Zolo.ca, recommended creating an all-season outdoor space, particularly one that can lend itself to outdoor dining. She said sales figures show that well-planned and executed outdoor spaces contribute 10% to 15% of a property’s value. SmartMoney.com has a similar estimate. It says a dining area, dry-laid patio, a patch of gravel, a covered patio, or an above-grade deck raise the value of your home by 12.4%.
8. Pop of color through container plants, garden bed
Even without spending thousands of dollars, a few hundred spent on an expanse of colorful flowers and eye-catching plants will return your investment. One increasingly popular option is to add potted plants. They’ll dress up your porch and other entryways where buyers are sure to see them.
Flower beds define spaces and are a quick way to brighten up (or even cover-up) areas where you’ve had less luck with other plants.
Generally speaking, annual plants — which have one or (rarely) two growing seasons — will be the less expensive option. Perennials, which return every year, tend to cost more but grow in size to fill out your landscape.
Your local garden center will guide you toward plants that suit your area. Opt for natives where possible. They require less maintenance because they’re naturally suited to your climate.
9. Automated irrigation system
Many of today’s buyers love landscaping but don’t have the time or inclination to devote the time it traditionally takes to maintain it. Expect to pay at least $3,000 for a fully automated irrigation system, but buyers will love it.
Today’s sprinkler systems aren’t the “dumb” ones your dad had. They can be equipped with sensors that sniff the air and the water levels in your landscape and water only when needed.
10. Professional landscape design
A professional landscape design will help your lawn climb beyond the competition in the market. There are several levels of help. If you know what you’re doing and just need to document it, there are many software options and apps. Beyond that, local garden centers often have experienced advisers who can offer a quick sketch. A step up from there is landscape designers, who can prepare a detailed plan and often can do the installation as well. And although the services of the two can overlap, certified landscape architects usually go beyond designers, and can provide top-tier plans and installation help.
10 Lawn, Landscape Features That Hurt Home Value
1. Artificial grass
Artificial grass offers the ultimate in low maintenance. Lay it down once and you can forget it until it wears out. But it frightens off many potential buyers, particularly those with children who want an area to play. With a replacement cost averaging $3.50 per square foot, many buyers prefer to avoid it. One estimate found that sellers could be looking at a 5% reduction in the sale value if a garden has artificial grass.
2. Outdoor water features
Large water features could pull down your property value by also be negatively affecting your property value by $2,500-$10,000, depending on the size and how it is “plumbed” into the garden. While they are great for attracting bees, birds, and butterflies, some buyers see water features as more work to maintain and would want to have it removed if they purchased the house.
3. Unkempt garden
An untended garden that hasn’t been given any TLC could knock 1 to 2% off your asking price.
And go big: According to the Virginia Extension survey, a big and showy garden has the most return, while putting in a couple of scrawny plants actually hurts home value.
An unkempt garden will turn off those who don’t want to do much work, especially first-time buyers and young families.
4. Broken fence panels, cracked walls
Good fences make good property values. We appreciate that they set boundaries for children, keep our animals in, keep other animals out. They offer privacy and seclusion. They’re also pricey to build, repair, or replace, which is why most house-hunters look for a property with an unbroken fence. In fact, research has shown that broken fence panels or cracked walls can remove $1,000 from the value of your house.
So if you’re looking to sell your house, fix that fence. First.
5. Swimming pools, hot tubs
You may think that when someone sees your pool, they will conjure up splashing children, lazy afternoons, and happy summer memories. Let that idea floatie away. No matter how many great summer days you spent around a pool, many buyers see only maintenance headaches, additional insurance requirements, and constant worry about safety. Many buyers won’t even look at a home with a pool.
Overall, the return on pools is also quite low at 43%.
However, that advice flips around for luxury homes that sit on large properties. They tend to do well with pools.
So do homes in certain price ranges and areas of the country, such as Florida, Arizona, California, and Texas, where a pool can be an expected amenity.
But know what you’re getting into. This is a hefty investment: Installing an 18 x 36 ft. in-ground pool that’s about 3 to 7 feet deep costs about $58,000, including the standard filtration system. For an estimated 43% ROI, it’s not worth taking on just to sell your house. Plus, you may eliminate some buyers who aren’t “pool people” or who don’t want to deal with the maintenance.
6. Sports court
Think your daughter may be tennis’ next Coco Gauff? Or a Steph Curry 3-point specialist? Custom building a tennis or basketball court may suit your needs and your child’s, but it’s unlikely to enhance your property’s value. Specialized patches of asphalt where the buyer expects a beautiful expanse of yard will get more boos than standing O’s from buyers.
7. Big concrete patio
A little concrete is good. But a lot feels more industrial than homey. A broad expanse of concrete creates a parking-lot type of yard where rain collects in puddles. It can look unsightly, become a heat producer, while also posing a safety hazard to friends and family.
8. Fruit trees
Figs? Yum. Cherries? Love them. Apples? More than one a day. But tending to a fragrant orchard isn’t everyone’s idea of Eden. They attract insects, need constant pruning, and highly productive trees give you an extra chore: How do you get rid of all that fruit?
Many potential homebuyers would rather prowl the farmers market than prune the tree. So while you may be up to the task of maintaining the trees and harvesting their bounty, most others won’t. If you don’t plan to stay in a house long enough to reap the fruits of your landscaping choice, do a gut check and decide whether it’s right to let out your inner Johnny Appleseed. From an economic standpoint, you’re better of to opt for ornamental trees instead.
9. Old-outdated garden decor, furniture
An old picnic table rotting in the backyard could put a splinter in your home’s value. According to Housebeautiful.com, it costs about $4,000 to upgrade outdated garden decor and furniture, and you’re unlikely to recoup the cost at the time of sale. Garden furniture, often used only seasonally and subject to the rigors of harsh weather, can fall into disrepair more quickly than the furniture kept comfortably inside.
A worthwhile compromise: Do your best to spruce up what you have. You can often refresh garden furniture by giving the fabric coverings a good washdown and adding a lick of paint or stain to the wooden areas.
10. Highly personalized niche landscape design
We get it. You love gnomes. And over the years you’ve collected a couple hundred of them that, in your view, fetchingly peek out from every niche.
Your friends and family tolerate, or even encourage, your quirky tastes. But homebuyers are a more cold-hearted lot. Too-personal touches are a turnoff. New York City real estate professional told GoBankringRates.com he advises against “too-personal touches.”
“They can be a turnoff to buyers who might want to develop the yard with their own style,” he said.