Outdoor upgrades that will enhance your home’s curb appeal

When thinking about investing in your home, the interior of the house often comes to mind first. But it’s just as important to pay attention to the outside of your home, especially when striving to get a good return on your investment. 

That is especially true if you’re planning to sell your home. Owners tend to focus on prepping the inside for a sale, but “staging outside is important as well,” says Brie Groves, a real estate agent with Lake & Company Real Estate, based in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood. “It’s all about buyer perception. The yard is usually the first thing that people see.”

Also, “if someone takes the time to take care of their yard, there’s a better chance that they take care of their home,” she says.

Michael Ackerman, managing broker with Capitol Hill-based TeamUp, which operates under the banner of Coldwell Banker Bain, says curb appeal is “really, really important.”

“If someone drives up and thinks, ‘That is so cute,’ that is powerful and impactful,” he says. “That’s the pot of gold.”

Seattle real estate company Zillow released a report in March noting features in recently sold homes nationwide that correlated with higher-than-expected sale prices and fewer days on the market than projected. Several of those were outside-the-home elements, including pizza ovens (homes with them sold for 3.2% more than expected) and sprinkler systems (on the market for an average of a week less than expected).  

Outdoor kitchens, pizza ovens and other additions that enhance outdoor gatherings can boost a home’s sale price, according to data from Seattle real estate company Zillow. (Getty Images)
Outdoor kitchens, pizza ovens and other additions that enhance outdoor gatherings can boost a home’s sale price, according to data from Seattle real estate company Zillow. (Getty Images)

“What we have seen during the pandemic is that a lot of these outdoor features really popped,” says Amanda Pendleton, a Zillow home trends expert. “Buyers appear to be looking for more functional outdoor space. I think we’re going to see these trends continue into 2021. You definitely want to flaunt them in your listing description.”

If you’re thinking about selling your home — whether next month, next year or next decade — there are many projects, big and small, that you can take on to showcase the areas around your home and maximize the return on your investment.

Landscaping

When it comes to outdoor staging, there is no substitute for well-groomed greenery.

“No. 1: Invest in landscaping,” Pendleton says. “It’s going to make a huge difference, especially if you’re thinking about resale.”

Keep your lawn trimmed, tidy and emerald-toned. And if your grass needs extra help, consider resodding.

“If you’ve got a patchy lawn, adding new sod [in certain areas] is an upgrade that’s low-cost, but has a lot of curb appeal,” Groves says.

The lawn may be key, but trees, shrubs and other plants on your property should receive attention, too.

“A majority of plantings in your yard should be evergreen,” says Heidi Fehr, owner of Ashworth Landscape Design Studio in Seattle. “Make sure you’re adding in shrubs and perennials.” 

If you can, add plants that highlight fall colors, she says, so that “you’re noting the passage of time.” 

Basic upkeep, such as weeding and pruning, will help with the overall appearance, Ackerman says. “Everything should look fresh — trees trimmed, bushes trimmed.”

Make sure to add mulch, as well. Ackerman says when he stages a home for sale, he recommends using a dark mulch around the yard. “It gives a particularly fresh look.”

If you’re planning to live in the home for a while longer, it’s worth considering the amount of time and effort your plantings will require to maintain. Groves recommends asking a garden professional about low-maintenance options for plants and flowers.

Installing a sprinkler system can help keep your landscaping well-watered and looking healthy. Zillow’s report found that homes with an installed sprinkler system were on the market 7.5 fewer days than expected. 

Pendleton says sprinklers may seem like a big investment up front, but potential homebuyers are very interested in those types of timesaving touches.

“At the end of the day, buyers see it as an investment that you’ve made in your yard,” she says — and as money they don’t have to spend. 

Outdoor living

Donald Baptiste, owner of Sound Point Real Estate as well as the building firm LDB Homes, recently moved into a home in Seattle’s Broadview neighborhood that he built himself. He’s in the process of adding an especially refined entrance to an outdoor living area that’s highlighted by a NanaWall accordion-folding glass door, which essentially functions as a removable wall.

This artist’s rendering shows the outdoor space that Donald Baptiste is adding to his Seattle home. It will feature a NanaWall accordion-folding glass door, which essentially functions as a removable wall connecting the space to the home’s interior. (Courtesy of Click Architects)
This artist’s rendering shows the outdoor space that Donald Baptiste is adding to his Seattle home. It will feature a NanaWall accordion-folding glass door, which essentially functions as a removable wall connecting the space to the home’s interior. (Courtesy of Click Architects)

“You’re bringing the outside in and the inside out,” Baptiste says of the system, which allows for almost zero separation between the interior and the exterior. “You’ve just increased the value of your home now because you’ve added additional living space.”

His glass door leads to an area that is covered and features a smokeless, wood-burning Solo Stove.

“I’m essentially trying to create an oasis in the city,” Baptiste says.

While Baptiste’s project is larger in scale and cost — “What I’m doing requires a lot of lumber, some engineering” — there are simpler ways for homeowners to make their own oases in the backyard, he says.

Outdoor canopies, like those available at big-box stores like Home Depot, can create a similarly comfortable atmosphere, he says. Building a patio with pavers and a fire pit “would take literally a weekend, if you have the right people.”

Outdoor spaces that allow people to relax and have guests over while socially distanced have become hugely popular amid the pandemic, Groves says. 

“Right now, outdoor space is a big thing,” she says. “Patio spaces with a fire pit and outdoor kitchens are becoming very popular.”

Pendleton agrees that outdoor kitchens have become an appealing addition, drawing an average home sale price of 2.2% more than was expected, according to Zillow’s data. Outdoor pizza ovens are particularly hot right now; having one correlates to an average of 3.4% over the expected home sale price, she says. 

Sheds and small cottages are also popular additions these days.

“You can attribute this to the fact that people are getting pretty creative with home offices,” Pendleton says. “Buyers [who plan to work from home] may spend a little more for that kind of feature.” 

Whatever is in your outdoor living space, enhance it with plenty of lights. 

“Lighting can add safety as well as ambience to your outdoor space,” Groves says.

A pop of color outside can make a big difference in the appearance of a home. Broker Melissa Clark says that when she was helping to sell this home in West Seattle with a bold yellow front door, “Everybody who came through would talk to me about the door color.” (Courtesy of Melissa ClarK)
A pop of color outside can make a big difference in the appearance of a home. Broker Melissa Clark says that when she was helping to sell this home in West Seattle with a bold yellow front door, “Everybody who came through would talk to me about the door color.” (Courtesy of Melissa ClarK)

Home exteriors

When you’re planning your curb-appeal projects, don’t forget the house itself. The exterior is the first part of your house that potential buyers will see. 

Start by creating a welcoming entry area outside, Fehr says. She urges homeowners to make sure there are no trip hazards, and that the walkway isn’t obstructed by overgrown bushes.

Adding “a nice pop of color,” such as with potted plants, can make a big difference, according to Melissa Clark, a broker who works with Ackerman at TeamUp. 

The front door itself merits special attention. Not all doors should be painted, she says, but “in the cases where it can, something really unique, bright or cheerful brings in people on an emotional level.” 

A combination Clark especially likes is something red or yellow against a white or neutral house. In one house she worked on, her team painted the front door and two other exterior doors bright yellow, and it made a big impression on potential buyers. “Everybody who came through would talk to me about the door color,” she says.

The overall color of the house matters, as well. Fehr reminds her clients that their homes’ exterior hues serve as a background for their plantings. 

“I find really deep [house] colors just make gardens pop,” she says. “Your house walls are the backdrop to that stage.”

Ackerman advises making sure the outside of the house is washed and that windows are clean inside and out. Walkways should be power washed, he adds: “Power washing gives an instantaneous fresh look.”

Ackerman says most buyers get their first glimpse of a potential home via gorgeous, perfectly lit photos online. It can make a big impression when they discover that a home is just as attractive in person. 

“If it meets or exceeds expectations, they get really motivated [to buy],” he says.

Clark emphasizes that it doesn’t require a great deal of money to have a big impact on a home’s appearance. 

“Most of these things are really quite reasonable, in terms of cost,” Clark says. “And the return on investment is vast.”

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