Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rating the Top 15 Outdoor Home Improvements (Part 2)

Making improvements to your back yard is a huge trend that just keeps growing among homeowners, with $6.2 billion yearly invested in outdoor additions and enhancements. But when it comes to adding fun and functional elements to your yard, is it always worth the time, money and aggravation?

In part one of this blog we listed the first seven renovations or projects for homeowners, along with a rating based on the pros, the cons, practicality, enjoyment of use, costs and return on value. Here are the final eight:

8. Outdoor bar
Backyard bars take the outdoor kitchen trend one step further, and can be a huge hit with friends and neighbors at functions. Like many popular outdoor improvements, there are a host of options from simple pop-up DIY kits that are little more than a counter to sit at, to fully functioning professional-grade bars with running water, sink(s), refrigeration, a beer tap, and music, and electrical for music and television. Since those more elaborate bars are a serious investment that may cost you ten thousand dollars or more, it’s important to plan and build do them right, like you would any indoor bar. Make sure the bar height and spacing, stool height, layout of appliances and access to serve drinks behind the bar, etc. are all correct. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure your new bar is protected from the elements, with a canopy or roof of some sort and allowances for rain and cold weather.

Rating: B

9. Swimming pool
Adding a swimming pool to your property isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, as there are huge costs, upkeep and even liability issues to be weighed. Consider the average cost of a swimming pool is well over $40,000 now, and could easily be double that for custom or more elaborate pools, and maintenance could easily cost $2-300 per month or more in chemicals, cleanings, utility costs, etc. Most pool liners need to be replaced every 15 or 20 years, and it could cost $500 each season just to open and close it. Additionally, there are liability issues that may reflect in your insurance premiums, and you’ll want to install a safety fence around your pool. However, that huge investment could all be worth it when your family has a place to slash, play, and keep cool all summer – which could really be three seasons in the Sacramento region. Pools don’t necessarily add value to a home (not near what they cost to install and upkeep, anyway), and some potential buyers might be not want a home with a pool. But if you plan to stay in the home long term, your family will never regret it.

Rating: C+

10. Outdoor kitchen
Outdoor kitchens and entertaining areas are a home improvement trend that keeps getting more popular among buyers and designers, with no signs of retracting. In fact, having a fully functioning cooking space, range, refrigerator, high-end grill (of course!) is more valued by homeowners than ever. Outdoor kitchens are getting bigger, with more features like sinks, garbage disposals, gas hook ups, and ovens. Likewise, the outdoor living experience is expanding with covered dining, lounge, and recreation areas for the family that offer three seasons or more of enjoying dinners and barbecues in the backyard. Simple outdoor kitchens may cost you around $3,000, with more intensive setups running $15,000 or more, but they still offer one of the highest ROIs of any outdoor improvement.

Rating: A

11. Sport court
Are you a family who really enjoys sports and is considering adding a court or playing surface to your yard? Tennis courts, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, etc. are a great way to encourage athletics among your kids, and give them and their friends and the neighborhood kids a safe, fun place to play and hang out. But with the cost of adding a good quality court pretty high, including lighting, etc., it usually doesn’t make sense from an investment standpoint. It won’t add a lot of tangible value to your home, takes up land that might better used as lawn or garden area, and could even be seen as a liability issue for some potential future homebuyers. But if you have enough space and you know your kids will use it, try adding a universal sport court that allows you to play several sports or activities easily.

Rating: C

12. Hot tub
Did you know that there are about 6.6 million hot tubs in U.S.? Now what percentage of those would you guess get regular use and are maintained correctly? Probably not an encouraging number. Hot tubs take a huge commitment to maintain properly, with balancing PH and chemicals, monthly filter cleanings, and draining and refilling four times a year. That can add up quickly, as well as the bump to energy bills you’ll see. Considering their price tag of $5,000 - $20,000 to purchase a hot tub and get it professional installed, they rarely make sense as an addition that improves your home’s value. So for those homeowners that really do love hot tubs and use and maintain them conscientiously, consider getting a model that will be easy to transport to your next home when you move instead of being left with the buyer.

Rating: C-

13.  Fire pit
When you envision your family enjoying your yard, what do you see? For many people, it will be visions of the whole family sitting around a crackling fire in the backyard on a cool night, mom and dad sipping wine while the kids roast marshmallows, as everyone watches the stars. There is no doubt that fire pits and fireplaces are one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors at home. The good news is that there are plenty of options to install them, including portable fire pits for only about $100, DIY models that can be buried or set in your yard, and more decorative models, built with stonework and seating can be had for 1-2 thousand dollars. Larger fireplaces integrate cooking into the outdoor experience, with a larger price tag to match. No matter how much you spend and how elaborate the fire pit design, it will probably be a good investment, considering that fire pits and fireplaces ranked third as the most popular outdoor living features on the landscape architecture survey, and surveys of buyers and homeowners reveal that they add value to a home.

Rating: A-

14. Outdoor audio system
Nothing adds ambience and fun to a barbecue, party or event than great music, and homeowners have plenty of audio options outdoors. While some choose just to place their portable music player outside for the event, the sound quality and reach just isn’t there, and it may even require unsightly and impractical extension cords. Instead, homeowners who want to invest in their entertainment – and improve their home’s value – are setting up specially designed outdoor music systems. From DIY outdoor audio kits for a couple hundred dollars to advanced systems that could run a few thousand dollars, there are plenty of options. There are even good quality speakers that are designed to look like rocks or blend in with the landscape, and can project clearly for up to 30 feet. The key to any system is running the wiring correctly, and protecting the system from the elements. To ensure that your investment pays dividends when it’s time to sell the house, make sure that all wiring and hook ups are universal or easily converted to other sound systems, so the technology won’t become outdated.

Rating: B-

15. Shade trees
This may seem like an after-thought on a list of such grand (and sometimes expensive) outdoor home improvements, but in fact, plating shade trees can significantly increase the value of a property. Shade trees aren’t only beautiful to look at, adding color in the fall and blossoms in the spring, but most importantly, they shield your home from the strongest of rays in the sizzling summer months, protecting that side of the house, making it enjoyable again outdoors, and lowering the temperature of rooms in the midday sun’s path. Even better, shade trees are very cheap and easy to plant yourself when they’re young, or if you wanted a more mature tree that will provide instant relief, some SMUD and other agencies often will plant free shade trees for you to help with energy bills! 

Rating: A+


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