Upgrading Your Outdoor Space

The lines of demarcation between indoor-outdoor living continue to blur as more homeowners gravitate into backyard spaces to whip up dinner for friends, light a small bonfire, enjoy outdoor statuary,  or put in a few hours of work while sitting on a shaded patio.

Last year, families facing suspended summer plans and orders to shelter in place raced to turn their backyards into mini-vacation and hobby hubs with inflatable pools, freshly dug vegetable gardens, and trampolines and swing sets to engage restless children.

Now, they’re leveling up these same spaces with more permanent features that combine purpose with pleasure and celebrate a return to entertaining. A hankering for homemade pizza doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re looking to recoup costs in the future.

These bigger upgrades to outdoor spaces are great for immediate personal enjoyment, but also offer potential for good return on investment when it comes time to sell the home. Spacious decks and in-ground pools will always appeal to certain home buyers. Yet smaller projects like fire pits, gazebos, and specialty gardens can be just as impactful and financially rewarding. Studies have shown that a Zen garden can increase a home’s value by 1.5 percent, while listings mentioning an outdoor kitchen can sell for 2.2 percent more than similar homes.

Costs to build a basic wood-fired brick oven hover around $1,000 (portable options, like the squat pizza cooker from Bertello run about $300 and up). According to a Zillow survey of 1.4 million homes sold in 2020, properties with an outdoor pizza oven can sell for 3.4 percent more than expected, though any major outdoor cooking features, like a kitchen, smoker and patio bar also automatically boost a property’s desirability.

Motivated homeowners are also dialing Father Nature’s number for custom swimming pools with add-ons like a tanning shelf, which sits nine to 12 inches deep in the water and provides space for lounge chairs or for children to sit and play. And customers want fountains, too, especially those that mask noise from the street and neighborhood and can be voice operated via smart devices like Google Home. “The goal is to connect our families and if their space isn’t intimate, they won’t have intimate conversations,” Mr. McCurry said.

Fire features can spark more than just flames with homeowners, according to a 2018 Remodeling Impact Outdoors study provided by the National Association of Realtors. Dr. Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the group, said the trends — of embracing private, individual outdoor space — have only been reinforced with Covid. These days, homeowners are keen on outdoor fireplaces that are easy to use, and feature automatic ignitions.

Simple and transportable fire pit vessels online can run as little as $50. But the average cost for a custom-designed fireplace starts around $3,000, according to HomeAdvisor, and can skyrocket to $20,000 or more depending on the size and materials used.

Especially during the pandemic, consumers have been using fire pits for three- or four-season entertaining, and apparently are willing to pay for it. In a Zillow study exploring home features that sell, properties listing outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and free-standing chiminea fireplaces can sell 2.8 days quicker, and for 1.6 percent more than similar homes.

Though the house requires interior work, the couple is focusing on the outdoor spaces first. This month, they will break ground on a new “mountain patio” encompassing the fire pit, which doubles as a barbecue. They’ve allotted $35,000 for the design and installation, and to plant a privacy border of trees to block views of a nearby property.

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