By Amy Moeller | June 22, 2015 | Home & Real Estate
Local experts discuss how outdoor sanctuaries provide owners with peace of mind—and a smart investment.
The sweltering heat of the summer has arrived. To find out how to make outdoor spaces more enjoyable in the midst of the dog days, Capitol File assembled a panel of experts—real estate agents Rick Hoffman of Coldwell Banker and Piper Gioia of TTR Sotheby’s and Phil Kelly, chief operating officer of McHale Landscape Design—at the Washington Design Center’s rooftop lounge to talk about trends in outdoor entertaining, and the return on investment.
What’s the new perfect outdoor space?
PIPER GIOIA: People are making their backyards more of a vacation spot—a destination for entertaining.
PHIL KELLY: Moving the inside out in a big way. We’ve been doing a lot of projects where we’re exceeding the cost of the house, outside—pool houses, swimming pools, outdoor kitchens. It’s a lifestyle.
What are some of the more popular trends in outdoor living?
RICK HOFFMAN: Fire pits—that’s big all of the sudden. It used to be chimineas. They’re out. It’s fire pits and outdoor kitchens—really creating a living room environment. In landscaping, people want easy maintenance…. [Fewer] annuals…more sculpted evergreen and perennials.
PK: Free-form swimming pools with waterfalls—that’s a trend that’s really gone to the wayside. Now we’re doing rectangular pools with automatic pool covers and really crisp lines. [Also popular are] cocktail or plunge pools—small pools, three feet deep, for just plunging and having cocktails. We’re doing sun shelves quite frequently…. a shelf in the pool that’s only six or 10 inches deep, so you have an umbrella, and then chaise lounges or Adirondack chairs. It’s fantastic. Deck jets are very popular right now.
RH: I love the deck jets. In Georgetown, everyone has some water feature in the backyard. For DC’s hot summers, just the sound of water makes your backyard feel cooler. My neighbors have a consistently flowing fountain, and I can hear it when my windows are open. It’s such a nice sound.
PK: Acoustical therapy.
Are pools and water features added value for resale?
PG: A safer bet is a smaller water feature, fire pit, outdoor living space, or kitchen, because [pools] seems to be about fifty-fifty. Either [buyers] want it or they don’t. It doesn’t necessarily add the value the other things do.
RH: Personally, I love a pool. [But] in the city even, sometimes people will fill them in. And [in the suburbs], often people are worried about their safety.
PG: The safety...the maintenance. But it’s funny—people will ask, “Is there room for a pool?” And I’ll say, “Yes! Do you want one?” And they’ll say, “No.” They want to know there’s room for it.
A shaded kitchen, complete with custom cabinetry and a wraparound bar, makes outdoor entertaining a breeze.
What other cooling elements can homeowners implement?
PK: Pavilion structures with paddle fans. We’re doing a lot of [patio] misters.
RH: I saw misters for the first time in Europe, and I thought it was brilliant. Now it’s much more common.
PK: You’d be amazed at how quickly that brings 90 degrees down. Retractable awnings—also very popular now—are built into a pergola structure for that added shade, but also a decorative element as well. The architectural umbrellas…. It’s unbelievable how far those have come.
How important is an outdoor space to buyers?
PG: I just had [two] houses in a neighborhood, and one of the houses had very little outdoor space—a slate patio. The other had a magnificent outdoor space. The one with the outdoor space sold right away, even though the price points were such that you could put the outdoor space in the first home and still be comparable. [The buyers] fell in love with the fact that it was all done—it was matured, it was ready.
RH: Sometimes people say, “Oh I could do it myself,” but don’t have a vision. That’s why we stage houses. In New York, sometimes we’d have an outdoor space that was somewhat raw, and we’d bring in a landscape designer to do a design and put it in the house when we were selling it, so people could envision it.
PG: I find with new construction, if I don’t have a landscape plan or something…it’s a huge obstacle. It used to be that [outdoor space] was customized to the buyer, and builders tried to stay away from it.
RH: Remember when people wanted a project? It’s just not the case anymore. Also, think about years ago when people would accept backyards where you saw your neighbors. Now privacy is a really big issue with outdoor space, from a design standpoint.
PK: There used to be trees six or 10 feet tall. Now we’re planting trees that are 20 feet tall, and they’re smacked together. The neighbors disappear.
How can homeowners prepare their outdoor spaces for the market?
RH: For properties with bigger yards, make sure your yard is as well kept as you can get it. Mulch… put some color in the yard. With an urban property, it’s privacy. If you can, create some sense of it in a small way…even planters with something tall in them.
PG: If there’s a privacy issue, it’s worth putting in some mature trees…doing some sort of shading. Because people will walk right in and right out. But if it’s not a privacy issue, I would recommend just cleaning up whatever’s there…. If you start to [do more with] customization and investment without a long-term plan, usually it’s money not well spent. Piper Gioia, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, 703-963-1363; Rick Hoffman, Coldwell Banker, 516-702-6554; Phil Kelly, McHale Landscape Design, 301-599-8300
photography by Dominique Fierro (hoFFman); hometrack (pool)
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