Trend report: Backyard boosters |

Trend report: Backyard boosters

From hot tubs to she-sheds, here's what's helping sellers in today’s market

Bob Payne
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Gray shed with terrace and wooden garden furniture
Shed with terrace and garden furniture

If a person’s home is their castle, the backyard is their kingdom. Whether that’s a tidy patch of lawn or a few rambling acres, making it a usable part of your day-to-day can add greatly to your home’s livability. And in resale terms, it can impact how much a property sells for and how quickly. We spoke with Amanda Pendleton, lifestyle expert at real estate marketplace Zillow, about the features that are attracting offers.

Life has moved outside

According to Pendleton, there are a couple of reasons people are using their yards as extensions of their indoor spaces. “The average home is getting smaller, especially in the coastal metro areas,” Pendleton said. “And all the advances in technology make it just as comfy to be outdoors as inside.”

In addition to the traditional entertainment essentials — grills, decks, comfy seating, all of which have become more attractive — these tech additions include video displays with surround sound, lights that double as wine coolers and radiant-heated patios.

Fire and water

Speaking of heat, Pendleton says the popularity of fireplaces and fire pits, two of the biggest lures in real estate listings, is rising at a meteoric rate. “Real estate listings that mention them sell for 18% more than homes that don’t have them,” she says. “That’s up over 8% from 2018.”

Outdoor kitchens might seem impractical, but from a homebuyer’s point of view, they’re irresistible. “Homes that list built-in outdoor kitchens sell for 24% more than similar homes without that feature. They are one of the biggest items that sell houses,” says Pendleton, adding the biggest premiums come in climates where you can fire up that grill year-round.

Coast to coast, backyards have become extensions of indoor living spaces

Similarly, while pools might not be a must-have amenity in a mountain town like Steamboat Springs, hot tubs are assets that pay off almost everywhere. Zillow saw homes with hot tubs in their listings command an 11% premium, up 2.5% over the previous year (but Zillow doesn’t have a return-on-investment analysis on hot tubs). Bottom line: “Put one in because you want to enjoy it, not simply for investment,” Pendleton said. “But if you’ve got one, make sure you mention it in your listing.”

Finished spaces 

If you’ve ever watched a home improvement show, you know that pergolas are part of a renovator’s vernacular. “We think it’s one of those HGTV trends that comes from shows like ‘Fixer Upper,’” says Pendleton. “Overhead structures like pergolas are really popular and are associated with hot-selling homes. Properties with a pergola in the listing sold 11 days faster than homes without them.”

And what about the much ballyhooed she-shed? While Zillow has yet to break down the statistics on gender-specific structures, that type of useable space is sought-after. “Buyers value space that can be used as an extra room, whether for an art studio or an Airbnb,” she says. “The words ‘shed’ or ‘garage studio’ in a listing result in a sale eight days faster and for 27% more than similar listings without those words.” Simply put, people want a finished space that’s separate from the main home. 

Decks, patios, lighting 

Additional outdoor living space attracts buyers in every market. “In denser urban spaces, properties with rooftop decks and balconies command 17% more than the expected sales price,” says Pendleton. In warmer climates, covered porches and patios are coveted. And in communities where land is at a premium, a deck or patio is shorthand for more square footage. “It’s always a bonus to have outdoor space,” she says.

Lighting that enhances outdoor living is also a plus, with listings that include that information seeing a 19% sales premium. “Look for indoor lighting trends to move outdoors,” says Pendleton, “especially the idea of having several light sources.” That means string lights or chandeliers, path lights, hurricanes and table lamps, all designed to enhance livability. “Look for solar-powered lighting to lead the way.” 


Dream backyards used to feature velvety lawns and lush flowerbeds. That’s changing. “A big home design trend for 2020 is sustainability. Xeriscaping is becoming a lot more prevalent, and not only in areas prone to drought,” says Pendleton. “People still want gardens and water features. They’re starting to think about their footprint.” 

Xeriscaping features that appeal to buyers: low-maintenance lawns, minimal turf grass, and more space-cover such as moss-and-paver pathways

Xeriscaping features that appeal to buyers: low-maintenance lawns, minimal turf grass and more space-cover such as moss-and-paver pathways and pebbled meditation areas. Expect hedges, trees and vertical gardens to replace manufactured fences.

Aspects of rural life can also make a property stand out from the pack. “Things like chicken coops and bee hives speak to the idea of replacing grass with something more sustainable,” says Pendleton. And if waking up at dawn to feed the chickens isn’t quite your jam, a drought-resistant lawn still ticks the earth-friendly box. 

Tips from a local landscape expert

Want more outdoor space advice for your Steamboat home? For that we tapped Peter Casavecchia, owner of Nature’s Design Steamboat, who’s been creating landscapes for more than 30 years — from colonials in Arlington, Virginia, to laying rocks for a rock star — the late Joe Cocker — in the Rocky Mountains. Here are a few of his hints for making your outdoor space shine. 

Peter and Jen Casavecchia, owners of Nature’s Design Steamboat.

Patios, waterfalls, stone walls, large lush lawns with vibrant perennial beds are all what makes a good landscape great, right? I’ve spent years creating water features for people, and as much as I love them, over-the-top features are being replaced with water conserving, smaller lawns and xeric landscapes that require less maintenance and offer just as much enjoyment. Spending time outdoors is what it’s all about, and with our short summers, creating a longer window of enjoyment is crucial. 

Fire pits, whether natural or gas, are a favorite way to do this, with many options and customizations available. Covered outdoor space is also a great way to maximize a deck or patio area. Why be inside? Add some overhead heat and a pass-through window or an outdoor kitchen with a built-in grill, pizza oven and a flat screen TV.

An even more practical addition is a greenhouse and raised beds set up with a drip system. This extends our short growing season (59 days) and raised beds offer a less backbreaking option to gardening and thwart weeds. Try using a galvanized water trough or build your own with untreated lumber.

Self-contained water fountains are a great way to let the sound of trickling water mask road noise or a noisy neighbor; they’re also soothing and pretty. To conserve water, make it pond-less and put it in a shaded area to lessen evaporation. Tired of your old walkway or patio? Stack it around a landscape bed as a small wall or put a contrasting-colored flagstone down as a border to liven things up. Re-do it with brick pavers or dimensional natural stone for a new look.

Re-purposing what you have, adding a fire or water feature, building a garden or greenhouse and enhancing your patio with outdoor lights will add value and enjoyment — and make your honey-do list all but disappear. 

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