Yard Upgrades that Deliver Positive ROI

Conventional wisdom says that rehabbers shouldn’t spend a lot of money on landscaping simply to flip a property. That is due to the fact that a major yard upgrade can cost thousands of dollars without adding appreciably to the value of a fix-and-flip house. Some improvements to the yard are usually mandatory, however, since landscaping is the first thing a prospective buyer sees and a great yard encourages taking a closer look at the property. Any realtor will tell you that prospective buyers decide on a property in the first few seconds, even before entering the house. One of the worst mistakes a rehabber can make is upgrading the interior while making no improvements to the yard, which must be in the best possible shape to attract buyers.

As noted in this article from Houselogic, having the right landscaping can add 28% to a home’s value. Even upgrading a home’s landscaping from merely OK to excellent can add 7% to its value, according to a Clemson University study.

Home buyers want attractive landscaping, but rehabbers must also be careful not to overdo it. Elaborate gardens often require professional maintenance, an expense most home buyers would want to avoid. For this reason, extensive changes to the landscaping rarely yield a positive ROI. However, there are many simple improvements rehabbers can make that may yield sizable returns without breaking the bank.

Adding Trees, Shrubs and Plants

A yard’s appearance can be upgraded simply by filling a few pots with colorful flowers or plants or purchasing a few 5-gallon trees in planters for under $50 each. Smaller trees also acclimate better. Bags of wildflower seeds can be purchased for less than $30 that will cover the same ground as $1,000 worth of nursery plants.

Healthy mature trees already on the property are a major plus since trees add beauty and value by cutting energy bills. Shade trees cool properties in the summer and provide windbreaks that preserve heat in the winter. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, having as few as three trees on a property can save the home owner $250 on annual energy costs. Even nearby trees enhance home value. According to an Oregon study, having a neighbor’s tree with an extensive canopy adjacent to your property can add as much as $9,000 to a home’s sale price.

When shopping for trees, shrubs and plants, rehabbers should look for greenery native to the area since these plants will require the least amount of maintenance. Also look for trees and plants that are drought-tolerant since less water means more savings.

Outdoor Lighting

The right outdoor lighting enhances the value of a property by highlighting the landscaping, minimizing the risk of falls and discouraging intruders. In the National Association of Home Builders annual surveys, outdoor lighting has consistently appeared near the top of buyer’s wish lists. Lighting doesn’t need to be pricey to add value; installing landscape lighting that illuminates the path to a front door can usually be done for under $300.


Walkways are another affordable feature that adds value. Rehabbers can spend thousands of dollars installing a solid stone walkway ($10 to $17 per square foot) or take the frugal approach and lay stepping stones over grass ($1 to $3 per stone). A curvy walkway can be improved by accentuating it with flowers or lighting. If upgrades to the walkway are necessary, rehabbers should aim to at least match or preferably exceed the standards of the neighborhood.

Retaining Walls

A retaining wall can boost the curb appeal of a house that has a steeply sloping yard. Retaining walls not only convert slopes into more useful flat areas for walkways and flower beds, but also restrict erosion and surface runoff. Prices for retaining walls depend on the material used. A basic concrete retaining wall can cost between $30 and $40 per square foot while wood retaining walls typically start at $15 per square foot. A newer type of material consisting of pre-cast interlocking concrete blocks (also called modular or segmental units) which lock together without using mortar runs between $15 and $30 per square face foot.

Backyard Improvements

Upgrading a property’s curb appeal also means paying attention to the side views and backyard. An attractive backyard creates an inviting atmosphere where home buyers can envision themselves entertaining friends or simply relaxing. Affordable upgrades to the backyard include:

  • Installing a trellis. Trellises support climbing plants and are often attached to the wall of a building. Installation costs for a trellis typically range from $300 to $1,500, depending on the materials and features of the structure.
  • Installing a pond or fountain. Rehabbers can purchase a small, freestanding water feature and add rocks and plants to create a more natural look for an investment of less than $1,000.

Decks and Patios

Decks and patios enhance the value of a fix-and-flip home by adding square footage to the living space. According to Remodeling magazine, rehabbers can expect to get back roughly 75% of their investment in a new deck or patio. Costs for decks vary widely, ranging from $15 per square foot for treated pine to more than $30 per square foot for cedar and redwood. The average cost for a new patio ranges from $800 at the low end to more than $4,000 on the high end, depending on the size of the patio and the material used. Decks give an area clean lines with minimal detail while patios can be used to create interesting patterns and textures. Both decks and patios can be used to add style and a spacious feeling to a home while avoiding the expense of a room addition.

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