A backyard is just a backyard—until you turn it into something more. Outdoor living spaces are gaining in popularity and have potential to increase a home’s value and saleability. And there is almost no end to the number of uses they can serve for your family. We asked experts for creative ideas to make the great outdoors a selling point for your home—whether you’re putting it on the market in five years, or next month.

Taking the Long View

If you’re not planning on selling in the near future, you might be willing to make an investment in your home that will make it more functional for your family, as well as improve its future value. According to Jiggs Dunn, a real estate agent with Prudential Alliance, outdoor living spaces are gaining in popularity because families really spend a lot of time using them. “I have an outdoor fireplace and we use it more than I would have expected. The winters here are getting milder, and people are spending more time at home with their kids. It’s like having an outdoor family room.” Outdoor spaces can be simple or elaborate, including amenities such as an outdoor kitchen, television, pool, water feature and more.

When thinking about upgrades to the backyard, John Jacobsen of Liquid Assets recommends taking the natural surroundings into account. “Walls, fireplaces and steps will look great if made from indigenous fieldstone boulders from Missouri,” he says. Keep utility in mind, as well, Jacobsen notes. “Outdoor kitchens with a pergola for shade are a great way to extend the usefulness of your backyard area.” He also adds that a landscaped waterfall is one of the most-requested features, providing great ‘bang for your buck’ by creating a beautiful and serene transition into a pool with a ‘tan shelf’ that allows guests to take a dip without getting completely wet.

To take the outdoors inside, John White of Sunshine Rooms recommends an enclosed glass structure such as a solarium, greenhouse or conservatory. “A lot of people are using greenhouses on higher-end homes for a combination living space,” he says. A recent survey by Builder Magazine showed that solariums and sunrooms are the third-most requested amenity in homes in excess of $250,000, he notes. “Homes that have a properly designed solarium sell faster and for more money.”

And doing it properly is key, White notes. Details are important, such as using materials that match the house and making sure it’s heated and cooled for added utility. “There are two things that we hear often—we always recommend an HVAC, but a lot of people end up not getting it to save money. We hear from a lot of people who wish they’d gotten that to begin with, and end up going back to do it later. The other thing is that people wish they would have made the room bigger.” In the end, he says, adding a sun-filled room is a lifestyle change. “You can sit outside in a thunderstorm and watch the rain come down. And the light helps reduce stress. A lot of studies have been done on the health benefits of light.”

In the Here and Now

If you’re already planning to sell your home, a large investment might not be the most practical route. “Everybody who buys a home wants to make it their own,” says Jim Graeler of Chesterfield Valley Nursery. “If they spend the money, they might not get it back if the new homeowner wants to do something different.” Often, a ‘mini-makeover’ is just what a seller needs, he says. Improving curb appeal is the first landscaping concern, and can often include pulling out overgrown plants to make room for new pieces. Other recommendations include:

• Adding a good trim on flower beds to create clear lines, as well as adding a fresh coat of mulch.

• Power washing existing walkways, or reapplying grout or sand to a patio.

• Open up the landscape to let in more light and air, removing plants that detract from the home.

Preparing the outdoors of a home for a sale is similar to preparing for a job interview, says Bill Minford of Sherwood’s Forest. “Do what you can to make the best presentation. First impressions are big, and if your house looks shabby on the outside, it’s not going to give a good feeling inside.” He recommends blowing any leaves off the yard, cutting the grass and adding annuals that are appropriate to the season for a pop of color. That might include begonias or petunias in spring or summer, and mums or ornamental kale in the fall.

If your backyard lacks seating areas, that might be a good place for a minor investment, says Peggy Pond of Amini’s Home Rugs and Game Room. She says ‘chat groups’ that include a table that’s taller than a coffee table but shorter than a dining table are gaining in popularity because they’re so versatile. Fire pits are another way to add ambiance and atmosphere, she says, adding that even if you’re not ready to get a new set of furniture that might not fit into your new home, replacing cushions on existing furniture goes a long way toward sprucing things up.

“New outdoor lighting fixtures or indoor accent lighting is another great way to enhance an already beautiful home,” Pond says. “The outdoor living concept is here to stay and customers place a lot of importance in the look and functionality of their outdoor spaces.”

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