A suburban home with a landscaped yard and a rainbow above it.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Shutterstock

For homeowners, joy can trump ROI when choosing outdoor projects 

In a new report, the outdoor projects that rank highest on the "joy scale" tend to have lower recovery costs, suggesting that ROI isn't always a top concern.

March 17, 2023
3 minutes

Key points:

  • NAR's Renovation Impact Report looked at homeowners' motivations for tackling outdoor home improvement projects.
  • Agents estimated resale recovery costs, and "standard lawn care service" came out on top in terms of offering the most bang for the buck.
  • More people are placing value on spending time outside, leading to a rise in outdoor projects.

Curb appeal matters, and some homeowners can't wait to get their hands in the dirt — while others have no love for trowels or pruning shears. What brings a homeowner the most joy and what improves their resale value can be two very different things.

A survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) found that while lawn care and landscape maintenance got the most bang for the buck, installing an in-ground pool and landscape lighting brought homeowners the most joy.

NAR and NALP's Remodeling Impact Report also noted that lawn care and landscaping had the added benefit of being less expensive than the other projects in the survey. For example, $415 spent on lawn care added $900 to a home's resale value, while $4,800 spent on landscaping added $5,000 in value.

On a scale of 1-10, those two projects each resulted in a "joy score" of 9.4. But a new pool and landscape lighting maxed out the scale, each boasting a perfect joy score of 10, even though they didn't recover as much of the overall cost when it came to selling a home. $6,800 spent on lighting added $4,000 to the price of the home, while a $90,000 pool only added $50,000.

Outdoor improvements have increased in importance, particularly since the start of the pandemic, said Jessica Lautz, NAR deputy chief economist and vice president of research.

"Homeowners have embraced their outdoor spaces — transforming them into oases with pools, patios, plants and greenery. These outdoor features are embraced by the homeowner and can also attract buyers if the owner wants to sell," Lautz said.

Lautz said deciding between projects that bring joy versus those with the highest ROI is a common tradeoff for homeowners. 

"A pool is a feature that some people love while others don't like jumping in the water. It may not return the highest value if the owner sells, but it will no doubt provide happiness and relaxation among owners who put one in their outdoor space," Lautz said.

Other outdoor projects that did well in cost recovery, according to the report, include an overall landscape upgrade (providing 100% of recovery cost), an outdoor kitchen (100%) and a new patio (95%). Adding a fire feature on a patio only recovered 56% of the project cost, but it had a high joy score of 9.7, suggesting that spending cool evenings around a warm fire is worth the investment for many.

The survey found that many homeowners are directly involved in the outdoor projects, with 40% doing the entire project themselves and another 23% that either did some of the work or bought the materials themselves.

While most of the Realtors surveyed recommended completing basic outdoor improvements before putting a house up for sale, Lautz said homeowners tend to take on projects because they simply feel it's time for a change or want to improve livability.

"It is more common for owners to take on outdoor projects after they recently move into a new home and want to customize their space," Lautz said.

Joy isn't the only benefit of a nice yard, said Britt Wood, CEO of the NALP. "Healthy outdoor living and green spaces help the environment, increase home values, make communities more desirable, and improve people's mental and physical health," he said.

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