For the past 7 consecutive years, residential architects have ranked outdoor living areas (such as patios) as the no. 1 “special function” room among consumers, according to the American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey.
Abby Nelson, a real estate agent in Orlando, Florida, with 14 years of experience echoes:
“For every single buyer, [a patio] is a huge positive. It can add such a ‘wow’ factor that it will make your house move that much quicker, that much better, that much easier, and for more.”
Yet in Remodeling Magazine’s 2018 Cost vs. Value report, backyard patios ranked dead last for ROI at resale (47.6%) among 21 popular renovation projects in 149 markets.
That makes the patio, defined as a paved outdoor area connected to a house, somewhat of a paradox in the “major home improvements” camp. Buyers love the feature to extend their living space and for entertaining purposes, but yielding full returns on the project is tricky business.
Before you go pouring down slabs of concrete just to boost your sale price, follow these tips from real estate experts and top-rated patio contractors to get the most out of this investment.
Keep patio costs down for a higher return
In general, kitchen and bath remodels that hover in the low- to mid-range recoup a higher percentage of their costs at resale than upscale overhauls do. The logic follows that patio ROI is higher for less ambitious, lower-scale projects as well. Spend less money in the first place, and it’s easier to make that money back.
The data supports this theory: Numbers from Remodeling Mag show the average returns for an elaborate, decked out 20×20 foot patio with all the bells and whistles, including a pergola, fire pit, and modular kitchen unit, to be less than 50% in most areas of the country.
South Atlantic states including Georgia, the Carolinas, West Virginia, Florida and Maryland are exceptions where the average patio ROI is 51.3%, perhaps because the weather lends itself for longer use of a home’s outdoor space.
Data from the National Association of Realtors, on the other hand, shows that the costs recovered on a much simpler 18×16 foot backyard paver patio, with a sand base and dry set over compacted gravel, is 69%. The cost is significantly lower at $7,200, with $5,000 recouped at resale.
The lesson? Invest in a basic patio space rather than all the luxury upgrades, if ROI is your top priority. Attract buyers with a feature that’s high on their wish list, then let them outfit the space to their liking once they’re the owners.
Plus, even if a fancy patio could help you command a much higher price point, the value that buyers assign to outdoor living space might not align with an appraiser’s opinion, according to Nelson.
Nelson adds buyers often just like to see that there would be enough space in the yard to add a patio at some point down line—the vision and potential for that outside retreat is a selling point. Her reasoning is that patios are a less invasive project than, for instance, a kitchen makeover; you can still comfortably live in the house while it’s under construction, so buyers are willing to take it on after the fact.
Keep in mind: Just 4% of Realtors in NAR’s Remodeling Impact Report recommended sellers add a new patio before attempting to sell, while only 2% say the project “sealed a deal” on a closed transaction.
…But don’t try to build a patio yourself
Patio installation is not for the casual home improvement TV enthusiast. In a DIY patio installation gone wrong, big issues can crop up such unlevel stones, or a mismatched mosaic of materials.
Nelson says she’s seen it all, including “patios added onto patios onto patios, next to slabs next to pavers, added onto a different type of pavers… and if you don’t do the base right, your pavers will pop up and look uneven.”
Unless you’re handy with a masonry saw, landscaping nails, and a plate compactor, leave this project to the pros.
Keep your patio proportions in line with the rest of your house
When you set out to add a patio to your outdoor living space, proportions are an important consideration. Nelson recommends applying the rule of thirds to make sure your patio plans don’t get too ambitious.
Divide your space accordingly:
- 1/3 landscaping/buffer
- 1/3 grassy area for the kids and dogs to run and play
- 1/3 patio
You want the patio to look like an original part of the house, rather than an afterthought that sticks out like a sore thumb. It will be difficult to recoup much value on an elaborate patio attached to a run-of-the-mill house.
Pick patio materials that match the style of your home and hold up to the elements
When selecting the materials for your patio, you want to consider the following factors:
- Installation difficulty
Keep in mind that materials such as brick or poured concrete can be vulnerable to cracking and erosion in harsh weather climates.
Pavers, or manufactured stones, on the other hand, can last up to 100 years because if one breaks, you can replace the individual paver.
Travertine pavers are an eco-friendly and highly durable option that come in a wide variety of styles—you can get Silver, Tuscany Scabas, or Mediterranean Walnut Patterned Tumbled Travertine at less than $7 per square foot at Home Depot.
Concrete pavers are another affordable option offered in an array of tones, shapes, and sizes.
Keep in mind the era and design of your home and try to emulate that style in your patio. Think about:
- Brick pavers for colonial homes
- Stone pavers for Victorians
- Concrete pavers for contemporary-style homes
- Poured or stamped concrete for craftsman’s
If your home is brick, you might use concrete or stone that complements or mimics the colors in the brick. If you have a rough textured brick, then pick a concrete texture or paver that has a smooth finish to create contrast.
Make your existing patio look like new
Already have a patio space to work with? Don’t underestimate the value of sweat equity and a little elbow grease to get it in shipshape for showings. The work you put in here (or lack thereof) can mean the difference between your patio being a value add or an eyesore.
1. Power wash your patio
First step: give it a good power wash to clean off all the dirt and debris. You’re working with sturdy stones or concrete here, so you can’t do too much damage.
You will need a zero-degree power washer nozzle for cleaning hard stains and sealant off of concrete. Rather than buy a pressure washer for a single cleaning, you can rent one from Home Depot—the 3500-4000 PSI Pressure Washer comes recommended for heavy duty projects like a large surface area patio.
2. Reseal your concrete or pavers
Once your patio is 100% dry from the power wash, it needs to be resealed. Sealant blocks the pores in concrete and keeps it from absorbing water and salts. About every 3 years, your patio is due for a new coat of sealant to protect it from discoloration, cracks, and crumbling.
3. Wipe down all your outdoor furniture
Furniture covered with mildew, cobwebs, stains, and dirt will only serve to gross buyers out. If you’ll have furniture out during showings, first freshen it up using the right cleaning solution for the material. Better Homes and Gardens, a trusted home improvement brand since 1922, offers this handy guide for what solutions are safe to use on different items. Here’s a quick summary:
- Wood and wicker: Hose it down, and use a mild, oil-base soap and warm water to wipe off grime.
- Metal, iron, and aluminum: Use metal polishing paste or white vinegar/water mixture.
- Glass: Spray on vinegar or glass cleaning solution.
- Plastic: Apply mix of 3 tablespoons dishwasher detergent and 1 gallon warm water.
Help buyers see the ‘Joy’ in your patio with vignette staging techniques
Patios represent rare moments of recreation and relaxation, so it’s no wonder they rank high on home buyers’ wish lists.
That’s also why patios get such a high “Joy Score” (9.7 out of 10) from the National Association of Realtors, which measures the amount of enjoyment homeowners get out of a remodeling project.
But buyers will want to envision how they can use the patio space to entertain guests, unwind with family, or sip a cold glass of lemonade on a summer’s day.
“You could have all this great space but if they (the buyers) don’t know where they would put the furniture, or how they would use the space… I think the outdoor staging takes the patio to the next level,” says Nelson.
Staging is most effective if you can create vignettes, or small scenes that set a focus or mood for a space.
With a patio, the possibilities here are endless. You could arrange the space with cushioned seating and end tables where buyers can imagine sitting and reading that book, or entertaining friends.
Alternatively, you might inspire the image of dinner outside with a classic patio table and chairs, dressed up with a simple vase and fresh flowers, or place settings and wine glasses suitable for the outdoors.
Getting the most value out of your patio investment
A patio doesn’t get as much traffic as spaces like the kitchen and family room. Yet an outdoor oasis reminds buyers of summer barbecues or roasting marshmallows around the firepit.
Have you ever spent a lazy afternoon or evening with friends out on the patio, only to look back and think, “That was a terrible time!”
Like any major home remodeling project, you aren’t guaranteed to recoup all the money you spent on a patio at resale. However, you can expect the addition of usable outdoor living space to help you fetch more money for your home if you made smart construction decisions and took good care of it during your course of ownership.
“It’s something that buyers definitely love,” says Nelson. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a buyer that’s like, ‘Oh it has that extra feature we really don’t want’—which could happen with a pool.”