1. A well-maintained lawn

Leading the way among exterior improvements is a well-kept lawn. It’s a no-brainer: quick, relatively inexpensive, and returns the most on your investment. Lawns remain a favorite of homebuyers. According to real estate agents, a well-kept expanse of grass pleases buyers. It improves a property’s look, offers a play area for children, and gives the adults a sense that they will enjoy a relaxed lifestyle.

A recent study estimates that lawn care service of about $268 adds about $1,200 in value — a 352% ROI. So if you don’t take care of the lawn before you list, you’re leaving money on the table. The same study found that almost 91% of real estate agents recommend basic yard care service as the top curb appeal project to tackle before selling.

2. Shrubs and trees

Almost anything you buy falls in value. Trees are an exception. Mature trees enhance property values. The mere presence of tall trees improves property values throughout a neighborhood by 3% to 15%, according to the University of Washington. Installing mature trees is costly. So if you’re looking for a tree that already has some size, but still fits in the back of a truck, go for a 15-gallon pot. It will hold a tree about 8 feet tall, for a reasonable price — $50-$150, depending on the variety.

3. Tidy garden

Remove perennial weeds. For some buyers, they’re a red flag issue that signals problems. A tidy lawn leaves the buyer with the impression that they’re looking at a landscape that is easy to maintain.

4. Landscaped pathway

If you have a prospective buyer, where are they certain to tread? Up the walkway to your front door. Pay attention to that pathway. Repair cracks that will spoil the first impression. Try designing a pathway that will create anticipation — ideally, have it winding with plants or a small hedge on each side. Use a pressure-washer to scrub away any built-up dirt or slime.

5. Lighting

Outdoor lighting options are available within the limits of any homeowner’s budget. Buyers appreciate that a well-lit yard can provide a layer of security.
Lighting hardware has changed in recent years, with solar-powered and LED lighting products adding alternatives to traditional hard-wired lighting. They show off your garden at night, silhouette your trees, keep everyone safe from tripping and keep burglars away.

6. Fresh mulch

Need something that will turn a dull yard fresh, economically, and quickly? Go mulch.

Adding fresh mulch is second only to routine lawn care at returning your expense at sale. Spending $340 on mulch recoups about 126% upon closing. Incorporating mulch around shrubs and garden plants to help reduce evaporation, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, and prevent erosion. Adding organic matter and aerating soil can improve its ability to hold water.

7. All-season deck/outdoor kitchen

One of the trendiest items is one of the most expensive — a permanent, built-in deck for entertainment and cooking. In effect, it increases the usable square footage of the house. It returns an estimated 83% of the amount spent. That may sound like a losing proposition, but an outdoor kitchen space keeps your house on the shortlist of an expanding group buyers. Properly finish and weather-proof the space for your climate so it will last for years to come. That means building in a firepit in cold climes and making sure there is good shade and air circulation in warmer ones.

For smaller houses, Romana King, director of content for the Canadian real estate website Zolo.ca, recommended creating an all-season outdoor space, particularly one that can lend itself to outdoor dining. She said sales figures show that well-planned and executed outdoor spaces contribute 10% to 15% of a property’s value. SmartMoney.com has a similar estimate. It says a dining area, dry-laid patio, a patch of gravel, a covered patio, or an above-grade deck raise the value of your home by 12.4%.

8. Pop of color through container plants, garden bed

Even without spending thousands of dollars, a few hundred spent on an expanse of colorful flowers and eye-catching plants will return your investment. One increasingly popular option is to add potted plants. They’ll dress up your porch and other entryways where buyers are sure to see them.

Flower beds define spaces and are a quick way to brighten up (or even cover up) areas where you’ve had less luck with other plants.

Generally speaking, annual plants — which have one or (rarely) two growing seasons — will be the less expensive option. Perennials, which return every year, tend to cost more but grow in size to fill out your landscape.
Your local garden center will guide you toward plants that suit your area. Opt for natives where possible. They require less maintenance because they’re naturally suited to your climate.

9. Automated irrigation system

Many of today’s buyers love landscaping but don’t have the time or inclination to devote the time it traditionally takes to maintain it. Expect to pay at least $3,000 for a fully automated irrigation system, but buyers will love it.
Today’s sprinkler systems aren’t the “dumb” ones your dad had. They can be equipped with sensors that sniff the air and the water levels in your landscape and water only when needed.

10. Professional landscape design

A professional landscape design will help your lawn climb beyond the competition in the market. There are several levels of help. If you know what you’re doing and just need to document it, there are many software options and apps. Beyond that, local garden centers often have experienced advisers who can offer a quick sketch. A step up from there is landscape designers, who can prepare a detailed plan and often can do the installation as well. And although the services of the two can overlap, certified landscape architects usually go beyond designers, and can provide top-tier plans and installation help.