The Best Backyard Upgrades (That Will Earn You More, Without Breaking the Bank)

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What are some of the best backyard upgrades that give you the most bang for your buck?

In our fast-paced market here in New Jersey, there is so little inventory that then old “rules” for staging and prepping homes is less important simply because if a property is viable, it’s selling with multiple (4, 12, 30!) offers within weeks of going on the MLS. But showing how a home can best be enjoyed can help a seller get the highest price possible in the market. The backyard, especially now, is no exception.¬†
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To-Dos:

There are a few backyard items that I urge all my sellers to consider to get the most equity from their property.

1) Sod/resod or seed/reseed – Much like a good coat of paint, a lush and fertile lawn is a relatively inexpensive way to enhance a property. We are in New Jersey and many people are flocking to the suburbs to “see some green.” Weather permitting, give it to them.

2) Install a fence – Data shows that a plethora of our buyers are families (i.e., have children) or are planning to be. Nothing says “idyllic” like the idea of being able to open the door and let the kids out to play safely in a contained area in their own backyard (Of course us suburban parents know, kids will almost never use the backyard once they are about 6 – and instead, they will be at activities and sports away from the home with their friends and teams – but it give the aura of the American Dream).¬†

City-dwellers also like the idea of “letting the dog¬†out” instead of dressing¬†for a walk in the cold, hoping to have remembered to have a poo-bag in hand (don’t tell buyers, there will come a time they have to pick up poo from an entire backyard if they let the dog out!).¬†

If you already have a fence, be sure that it is in great¬†condition. Fix or replace¬†loose or missing sections. Powerwash or paint/stain as needed to be sure it is not flaking or chipped. Nothing says “this backyard is not safe for my precious child” to a buyer like a dilapidated¬†fence.

I think the best choices are those that fit the feel of the home (traditional or modern: think wood vs. vinyl) and that are attractive¬†on both sides. Most municipalities¬†require the “good side of a fence” to be on the outside. Why let the neighbors have all the fun?

You will need your property survey and a permit from the town. Most towns make the addition of a fence¬†easy(i.e., no variance needed). What they will most likely have are criteria – which usually¬†means maximum height and – as mentioned – insist that if there is a “better” side that faces out.

3) Patio vs. Deck – Depending on materials, anything can be expensive. But if there is no dedicated outdoor space, a patio can be installed quickly which keeps the cost down (depending on square footage). I know many of whom the 2000s coined “weekend warriors” who dug, tamped down dirt and laid down stone for a patio in a few days. Of course, if that is not your jam, I have never met a mason who would not be happy to do the job for you.

A patio does not usually require a permit because you are not changing or adding a space or creating a structure. Always check with your municipality tho – even if you have your cousin call so the town isn’t “on to you!”

If you already have an older or wood deck, check the structural soundness before a sale. A home inspector will for sure ding the property if there is a safety issue. 

Be sure to power-wash, re-stain and repaint. Moss can look like mold and chipped paint ages a property drastically. Both are unappealing to the marketplace especially for many buyers who are not ready to take on home-improvement projects.

Building a deck is like renovating bathrooms before a sale – it might open a lot of cans of worms and may not be the style a buyer wants. It also will need a permit and most likely immediately increase the taxes for the next owner. I would strongly advise against it.

4) New backyard furniture – If your furniture is older, worn-out or sun-bleached and it cannot be refreshed, it is better to get a few new items to “stage” the outdoor living space. There are so many inexpensive options to buy furniture (Target, Wayfair, even yard sales!) that it is worth getting something in good-great condition to highlight the space even if that means a small outdoor sofa and end table.

Outdoor pillows (weather-resistant fabric) are a great addition that can add a pop of color and make an area feel welcoming. The goal is to SHOW how the area can be used and that it is a benefit to the home not to furnish an area for a buyer’s future.

5) The age-old question: “What about a pool?” Clearly a lot depends on your climate. Floridians will have a different take than us Northerners. But in New Jersey – the truth is, even if you spend gargantuan amounts of money to heat a pool, the season is only 2-4 months out of the year. Non-Covid, kids are in school and activities to June and by September so a pool generally only gets used June-Aug.

Same rules apply though: if you already have a pool Рwhat to do with it for a sale, depends on the condition. 

If it is not in working condition then absolutely remove it, fill it in and sod or reseed. Unless you want to list the house at a bargain-basement number. Buyers are not going to want to incur unknown expenses for replacement AND then pay top dollar.

If the pool conditions need to be refreshed Рsay with a relining or new pump, it may be well worth it. That way buyers know the pool is a working part of the home and they have a choice to enhance it in time. 

If your pool area is dated including above-ground, or the aesthetics¬†scream 70’s you may have to price the house to account for that – meaning the lower end of your price range.

Any pool must have a fence. If your pool is in good condition but does not have a fence, talk to a pool specialist about what to install. I once had a home with a pool fence of rods and mesh that could be installed and removed (for aesthetic purposes). It was not nearly as expensive as a permanent fence. But then again it probably would not have stopped a determined frog from entering the pool Рso that might not be the best example. again Рcheck with a specialist or your town.

Final thoughts

All that said, COVID has taught us that our homes may serve as everything: school, office and vacation spot. If you’ve invested in your backyard, having made it “an oasis,” there will be someone who will appreciate that they can “have it all” in one property. Sellers always need to assume there will be an investment to sell for top dollar. Not all outdoor enhancements need to be done but the more that are, the easier the transition will be from selling to sold. And since “easy sales” (smooth transactions from deposits to home inspections) are hard to come by – I say do all you can to tip the scales in your favor.
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