How sellers can — and should — improve curb appeal

by Emily Mack

The vast majority of Realtors — 92% — suggest that sellers improve the “curb appeal” of a home before listing, according to new research. But how exactly should sellers go about that?

A recent report from by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features, examines the process of updating a home’s outdoor exterior, from project cost to cost recovery, with an emphasis on the consumer experience.

It’s a hot topic coming out of the pandemic, a time when homeowners began to use outdoor spaces in new ways. Nearly all landscape professionals saw increased demand for contracting outdoor features during the pandemic, while 79% said that those outdoor project scopes increased in size. The addition of pools, a new patio and overall landscape maintenance were the most popular requests.

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Americans use their homes for daily living, relaxation and entertainment,” Dr. Jessica Lautz, NAR’s deputy chief economist and vice president of research, said in the report. And it’s a trend that appears to be sticking. “Homeowners have embraced their outdoor spaces — transforming them into oases with pools, patios, plants and greenery.”

Each of the features Lautz listed can help attract buyers when the time comes, but the Remodeling Impact Report focused on 11 specific outdoor additions, offering the typical cost each: in-ground pool addition ($90,000), new wood deck ($16,900), outdoor kitchen ($15,000), new patio ($10,500), fire feature ($9,000), overall landscape upgrade ($9,000), landscape lighting ($6,800), irrigation system installation ($6,000), landscape maintenance ($4,800), tree care ($2,875) and standard lawn care service ($415).

From there, Realtor respondents provided estimates for cost recovery at closing time. Notably, standard lawn care service — the least expensive project — was reported to earn the highest cost recovery (217%). Lawn care was followed by landscape maintenance (104%), an overall landscape upgrade (100%) and an outdoor kitchen (100%). Meanwhile, in-ground pools and fire features showed the lowest cost recovery, 56%, faring just slightly worse than landscape lighting (59%).

And those findings may surprise homeowners. Within the report, the outdoor additions were also ranked with a “Joy Score” which determined homesellers’ overall satisfaction with each investment on a scale of 1-10. Based on thousands of respondent sellers’ feedback, all 11 project types earned a Joy Score of at least 9 with the pricey in-ground pool and landscape lighting add-ons earning a solid 10.

Despite that, very few Realtors recommend adding a pool in order to sell: just 1%. In general, they recommend the less expensive curb appeal updates for sellers: landscape maintenance, standard lawn care service and tree care.

“It’s no surprise that nearly all Realtors® and most homeowners place a high value on the curb appeal of a well-maintained yard,” NALP CEO Britt Wood concluded from the report. “Healthy outdoor living and green spaces help the environment, increase home values, make communities more desirable and improve people’s mental and physical health.”

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