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What to know before breaking ground in your backyard

Tips for building a pool, patio and more

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The idea of springtime in New Orleans can conjure up images of lounging on the patio in the backyard, sipping a perfectly chilled rose and listening to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band while a mild breeze rustles the oak trees. At least, that's what it does for this writer. If warmer weather inspires you to spend more time in your backyard, you may consider adding new outdoor features to enhance your space ­­— and your home's value. But before you begin digging a hole for a pool or clearing vegetation for a deck, consider these insights from Todd Taylor, real estate agent at RE/MAX Real Estate Partners, to determine whether that addition really will achieve both goals.

 Home add-ons such as pools and outdoor kitchens are more a commodity than an asset.

 "Oftentimes, those features don't have a long-term value, dollar-for-dollar, and in fact, they may to some degree depreciate," Taylor says. The presence of an in-ground swimming pool may change the purchase or resale value of a home, but whether that value is merely perceived or translates into actual value in the home price is up to the appraiser, not the homeowner. For example, imagine two similar homes are for sale: one with a pool and one without.

 "If (they're both) listed for $500,000 each," Taylor explains, "and one went under contract for $485,000 and the other for $495,000, but (both homes) were appraised at $485,000, unless the buyer wanted to pay that extra $10,000 out of pocket, the lender would only loan $485,000. So effectively, they have the same value."

 When choosing an outdoor add-on, Taylor has two sticking points: its safety and its durability. Safety is a major concern, especially in homes with small children, and both physical and aesthetic durability matter not only to your enjoyment of the feature, but also its perceived value. Appliances and other equipment that are poorly maintained or don't weather well — and even once-trendy items that now look dated — can detract from the beauty, utility and value of backyard spaces.

Swimming pools

Taylor says pools are the most requested backyard feature of house-shopping clients, especially those with children.

 "It helps you keep an eye on your kids," Taylor says. "Your kid doesn't have to go off the premises. And even if it's just for you, it's also got exercise value and hangout value."

 Having a pool increases your homeowner's insurance, but installing safety features such as a gate with an entry alarm may reduce insurance rates. You also want to make sure your pool is properly installed and maintained. Pools can leak or seep into the surrounding ground and cause moisture issues inside the home — especially if it's a slab house — leading to an expensive homeowner's claim.

Hot tubs and spas

Both in-ground and above-ground hot tubs add variety to backyard entertainment. In Taylor's experience, as long as it's clean and functioning properly, the age of the hot tub isn't a concern — the designs don't change much with time or trends.

 Plumbing is important. You should make sure the tub drains properly and is well-lined and sealed to protect against overflows or leaks. As with any other water feature, be mindful of the safety of young children.

 "Make sure you have a sturdy, workable cover that is safe in two ways: kids can't open it and get in (the hot tub), and they can't fall in and not get out," Taylor says. "Consider an alarm system and pool gate."

Patios and decks

"Having a patio or a deck effectively extends the square footage of the house," Taylor says. "And if you have a particularly nice backyard already, it gives you even more pleasure and serenity."

 Build your deck out of wood — it's timeless and durable when properly sealed, stained and treated. If you prefer Pantone's 2018 Color of the Year, Ultra Violet, over wood's natural browns, you can always paint your deck with outdoor paint (and repaint it when 2019's color is announced).

Awnings

Taylor warns homeowners to be careful about installing awnings that extend from the house or from the roof, as they can blow away in high winds and other inclement weather — taking your roof or siding with them. If the awning is detachable, remove and store it in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane. Avoid flat roofs because they can collect rainwater, which can cause sagging and seeping.

 If your awning is supported by vertical beams that meet the ground, check wood-to-ground contact often for signs of termites and ants. Make sure the wood is treated to repel pests.

 Be sure you have a way to ventilate the area beneath the awning. Many homeowners opt for ceiling fans, but Taylor prefers portable ground-level fans because they can be stored inside when the weather gets bad.

 "You can't do that with a ceiling fan," he says. "Also, (the ceiling fan blades) will warp in the heat and the moisture over time. It is important to have something out there though, because it keeps the mosquitos away."

Outdoor kitchens

"An outdoor kitchen takes your indoor kitchen and brings it into an ambient space," Taylor says. "You can fit a lot more people in your yard usually than you can fit in your house."

 Many homes (especially newer constructions) already have outdoor gas lines homeowners can tap to hook up an outdoor stove or grill. Taylor advises clients to make sure cooktops aren't too close to the house and to secure the area from curious kids. Putting up a gate to deny access to all those knobs and buttons is a smart, safe move. If there's an outdoor sink, drainage also is a concern.

 "Especially if you have a slab house, I'm almost always against cutting into the slab and into the main drain line," he says.

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