Home Ownership

Summer of Change: 7 Ways to Use Home Equity to Boost Your Backyard

Young man that completed a backyard home improvement project enjoying it with his friends.

"Summertime, an' the livin' is easy." You can realize the line from Gershwin's famous song by creating the backyard of your dreams. In fact, using the home equity you've already built to make improvements to your house or property can be one of the best things you can do with your money. Home prices are up and tappable U.S. home equity hovers at its peak. According to a Discover Home Loans survey, 40 percent of those planning a renovation this year hope it will also increase the value of their home.

The good news is best home improvement investment is on the outside of your home, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2019 Cost vs. Value Report. If you envision entertaining friends or just relaxing outside with a good book, the smart money's on choosing projects that "wow"—but also add value. You could be sipping wine on a flagstone patio with ribeyes searing in your new outdoor kitchen sooner than you think.

Check out our list of seven outdoor-living projects that are both personally and financially rewarding:

*Note: value-add figures based a median-priced U.S. home, which is $255,000. (If you live in an urban area, say San Francisco or the suburbs north of Atlanta, that median home price goes up. Check your local median home price to calculate the value add for your area.)

1. Patio perfection

Patios are so civilized. Add furniture, lots of plants, and French or sliding glass doors to open up the view and give continuity, and your patio will work like another room of your house, blending the line between indoor living and outdoor living. According to the National Association of Realtors' Remodeling Impact Report, a new patio is one of the top projects that give homeowners a great desire to be at home. The average cost for an 18' by 16' patio made of stone pavers is $7,200. Concrete patios are more affordable, around $1,300 for the same size. Either way, you have a place to sit in your little slice of the great outdoors.

Value added to your home: Around 3 percent

2. Landscape love

Your front yard looks lovely because that's what the world sees. But no one sees your backyard unless you let them, so your backyard could be neglected. The backyard is your space, so make it beautiful, too. A bonus is that real estate studies show that a nice backyard is an appealing quality to home buyers. Landscaping adds value to your home immediately, and becomes more valuable as the years go by and those little shrubs and trees mature. You can landscape the whole yard in one swoop, or add one or two features at time as you budget allows. Here's a breakdown of the costs of landscape elements:

Sod lawn: Cost for a one-eighth-acre yard starts at $3,000.

Plants: Costs for shrubs, trees and perennials, start at $2,500, and can go as high as $10,000, depending on how many you use in your design.

Outdoor lighting: Lights for pathways, well lights for trees and shrubs, and floodlights and spotlights start at $1,500.

Irrigation: A system is needed for areas where rainfall won't support plants and averages $3,000.

Flagstone walkway: Laying down a path runs $1,800 to $2,200 for a 230-square-foot area.

Grading, the unsexy part of landscaping that involves leveling a slope in a yard to make room for a design and prevent runoff, costs between $500 and $1,000.

Full-service professional landscaping: A project for a one-eighth-acre backyard can cost $15,000 or more, depending on the features you choose.

Value added to your home: $15,000 in landscaping will add about 6 percent

3. Pergola magic

Build your own shade with a pergola. Put it over your patio, plant it with a mounding vine, like wisteria or roses that blocks the sun and your backyard will look like the ones in magazines. It's nicer than a solid roof because it lets in filtered natural light. Also that vine covering the top and sides will lower the air temperature a couple of degrees through the magic of plant transpiration, nature's air conditioning. A 10-foot by 10-foot pergola will cost between $3,500 and $6,000, depending on the type of wood it's made of.

Value added to your home: Around 3 percent

4. Outdoor kitchen cookfest

You don't have to binge-watch HGTV to know a kitchen in the backyard is the stuff of home improvement dreams. Outdoor kitchens can be as simple as a grill built into a kitchen island, or you can go for luxe features like an outdoor refrigerator, a beverage cooler, a kitchen bar with grill-side seats, cabinets, or even a pizza oven. The average cost for an outdoor kitchen with a sink, counter, inset grill, stainless steel warming drawers and an ice chest is $14,000—unless you opt for a $15,000 grill, which will double your costs. (Yes, there are grills that can cost as much as decent used car.)

Value Added To Your Home: Around 6 percent

5. Decked out

Now, get out and enjoy the view by building a deck. Like a patio, a deck will work like an extension of your house, especially if you furnish it with comfy chairs and a dining set so it feels and functions like a room. A deck is a good choice if your yard slopes too much for a patio. A 14-foot by 18-foot wooden deck will cost around $10,000. A composite deck the same size will cost around $9,000.

Value added to your home: Around 4 percent.

6. All fired up

There's primal appeal in sitting outdoors by a fire. That's why backyard fire pits and fireplaces are becoming a major part of many outdoor landscaping upgrades. Fire pits and fireplaces make your yard or patio usable year-round, which ups your happiness quotient into the fall and winter. You can build a fire pit or a fireplace into your patio or outdoor kitchen. You can build a fire pit alone, in the yard, and surround it with chairs. Where you put your fire pit or fireplace will affect its cost. Here's how:

Fire pit: A custom-built, gas-burning, in-ground, stone fire pit alone can cost $3,000 or more. Add a 10-foot by 10-foot flagstone patio and the price goes up to $6,000. Want a more affordable option? Get a kit for an in-ground wood-burning fire pit that you can build yourself for between $600 and $1,200.

Fireplace: A custom-built fireplace runs from $8,000 to $20,000, depending on its size and how elaborate it is. A fireplace must be attached to a patio or outdoor kitchen, pushing the average cost to $15,000. A more affordable option: Hire a professional to install a fireplace kit and you'll pay an average of $3,200, plus the cost of the patio or kitchen.

Value added to your home: If you go for a patio and fire pit, you're looking at adding 2 percent to a median home's value. A fireplace and patio adds 6 percent.

7. Tree canopy

Planting a couple of trees around your house can cut heating and cooling costs by 15 to 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. They'll cool your house in the summer so you don't have to run your air conditioning so much. And, trees will block icy winds in the winter. Three 8-foot to 10-foot trees will cost around $150. If you're impatient and want big trees faster, go with a trio of 14-foot to 20-foot trees, which will cost around $1,200.

Value added to your home: A single mature tree can add between $1,000 and $10,000 to your home's value, according to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers. That's as much as 4 percent.

No matter which of these outdoor projects you choose, you'll be making your home more enjoyable for your family and your guests, while enhancing its value. And, with a Discover home loan, it can be a win-win—lots of backyard fun, zero worries.

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