When it comes to your property, ROI (that’s Return on Investment, for the uninitiated) is all about appealing to prospective home buyers. Spending money on property renovations becomes a lot more appealing when you know it will increase your home’s resale value.
Landscape improvements are an ROI win-win: generally cheaper than architectural upgrades, but still capable of meaningful boosts to home value. Of course it swings both ways—while some improvements produce great ROI, others don’t, and some can even diminish your home’s appeal to prospective buyers.
To help you navigate this world of landscaping project ROI, we’ve gathered a list of some of the best improvements you can undertake to increase the value of your home.
We’ll dive into those tips in just a moment. First, let’s chat briefly about curb appeal.
Pro Tip: Prioritize Curb Appeal
“Curb appeal” refers to the first impression your home and yard make when viewed from the street. As any real estate professional will tell you, curb appeal is critical to locking in a good selling price for your home, and several studies have found connections between strong curb appeal and sale price increases between 5%-11% (we’d add that curb appeal is also important to your own satisfaction—enjoying how your home looks sparks joy!).
What makes for strong curb appeal? There’s no set formula, but a few general rules do apply:
- Create a cohesive design, where your yard and home present themselves as a single, unified design gesture.
- Repeat plant, material, and color palettes across the property to establish unifying visual themes.
- Use layering in your landscape design, and utilize trees to create focal points and frame architectural elements.
- Keep things tidy, well-maintained, and uncluttered.
- Emphasize focal points, and make sure high-visibility moments like entryways and front walkways really pop.
Curious to learn more? Our curb appeal blog offers stats, tips, and some inspiring examples of how to design for strong curb appeal across a range of styles.
Put simply, planting improvements are great for ROI. They’re cheap (especially when compared to hardscape or structural work), and have a big impact on curb appeal. The value of planting also increases in value as it ages toward maturity, provided it is well-maintained.
With respect to ROI, the goal of planting improvements is to be attractive, enhance the overall look of the property, and convey an elevated sense of design. Attractiveness is subjective, of course, and you shouldn’t be afraid to show your personal style, just find ways to avoid things looking messy.
A strong planting design signals that the yard has been designed with care and is well looked after. It also is critical to achieving the “wow” factor you hope to elicit from prospective buyers.
Tips for high-ROI ornamental planting:
- Orderly frames
Use the crisp edges of paths, walls, or even strips of decorative stone to create clean frames around planting areas. Framing signals to viewers that the yard has been designed, and recasts naturalistic planting as a thoughtful, attractive planting composition. This is especially useful with naturalistic designs that are heavy on ornamental grasses and flowering perennials.
- Limit palettes
Sticking to a shorter list of plant species and building materials makes designs look more focused. Rather than plant a few individuals of lots of different species, choose a short list of species that fit cohesively as a set, and repeat those species across your yard.
- Accents and focal points
Use focal moments of planting—a tree, a sculptural shrub, a layered scene of ornamental species—to pull the eye to key moments like path thresholds or front entryways. Frame entrances, structures, windows, and outdoor seating areas with planting.
- Year-round appeal
Sequence blooms to create a dynamic display that shines in every season. Be sure to include evergreens and other plants with winter interest like bare-branch blooming redbuds. This is particularly important for homeowners in cold climates.
- Match the style of the house
Whatever your home’s vibe, your planting should complement it. Formal, traditional homes tend to look good with geometric planting that is heavy on symmetry and evergreen shrubs. Modern homes tend to look great with straight-edged planting areas and a healthy dose of ornamental grasses.
- Consider context
Planting designs should also be appropriate for the local climate, and feel at home within the regional landscape. Including native plants is a great way to ensure regional appropriateness!
Studies have found that mature trees can increase home value by anywhere from 7% – 19%.
Mature trees also yield a veritable ton of other benefits, from carbon sequestration and habitat provision to safer streets and faster rates of recovery from illness. They also look great, and are dynamite for curb appeal.
Tips for high-ROI tree selection:
- Specimen trees
If you have big expanses, drop in a specimen tree, and give it room to shine by keeping it separated from other large ornamental plants. Use specimens to create a well-spaced rhythm of focal points distributed across the yard.
- Suit the scale of your yard
When choosing a specimen tree, big yards want bigger trees. Little yards do best with smaller species—they’ll give the same aesthetic punch, but preserve scarce space for other functional uses.
- Evergreen vs. Deciduous
Deciduous species can offer glorious fall color, and allow winter light to pass through to heat up outdoor spaces, while also creating shade over seating areas during warm summer months. Evergreen species offer year-round foliage, and can make a huge impact on keeping landscapes appealing throughout the winter.
- Plant a tree now!
Trees’ value increases with age. The best time to plant a tree? Yesterday!
Lawns are ubiquitous in American yards, and for generations realtors have advised including a well-maintained lawn in your front yard to boost curb appeal.
That being said, thinking has evolved on lawns as their negative impact on biodiversity, water conservation, pollution, and climate change has become more clearly understood. With cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas pushing lawn replacement programs, lawns are flipping from an asset to a liability within certain climates and demographics.
In terms of ROI, lawn can be valuable in neighborhoods where it is common, and where it is appropriate for the climate. In dry climates or regions affected by drought, replacing lawn with drought tolerant landscaping can be more appealing to buyers (in addition to being more climate-responsible).
Tips for a high-ROI (and responsible) lawn:
- Keep it clean
If you have a lawn, keep it well-maintained with regular mowing; to reduce emissions, we highly encourage the use of reel mowers or electric lawn care equipment whenever possible. If a lawn is struggling in certain parts of your yard (failing lawn is common in shady or high-traffic areas) we recommend replacing it with more appropriate planting or groundcover materials, rather than trying to prop the lawn up with excessive water and fertilizer—not to mention lots of your precious time.
If you want to keep your lawn but are concerned about its environmental impact, try seeding your lawn with clover. Clover lawns require less water, and have seasonal blooms that pollinators love.
- Lawn Replacement
As drought persists across the country, more and more lawn replacement programs are popping up, offering homeowners cash in exchange for replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping. The time and water bill savings that result from replacing lawns with low maintenance, drought tolerant landscapes have significant appeal to prospective buyers, particularly in drought-affected markets.
To be effective, privacy planting has to be large enough to block views into a yard. Investing in new mature privacy plants costs a pretty penny. Consequently, buyers are keen to find mature, attractive privacy planting already established on a property.
Tips for High-ROI Privacy Planting:
- Plant early
As with trees, the more mature a privacy planting feature gets, the more functional value it will offer. Just take care to keep your privacy plantings well-maintained.
- Suit the style
Massive privacy hedges work for some designs, but not for every yard. Make sure your privacy planting design sits comfortably within the overall style of the landscape design, and complements the home.
Irrigation is the secret ingredient to curb appeal, keeping plants healthy and attractive. Especially in water-challenged regions, a drip irrigation system with a weather sensor is a major asset, allowing homeowners to maintain healthy plants with maximum water efficiency.
Plants are only appealing when they look good. Take care to keep plants looking nice, and to replace dead or dying plants.
Tips for High-ROI Landscape Irrigation
- Right plant, right place
Rather than force a plant to live where it won’t be happy, choose plants that will thrive in the existing light and climate conditions of a given planting area. Your plants will do better, and you’ll spend far less time and money maintaining them.
- Careful with bulky shrubs
Overgrown shrubs can gobble up space and make yards seem outdated and uninviting. Take particular care not to let large shrubs block windows.
Now let’s talk about hardscape, layout, and other design features:
Repair and Restore
Nothing kills curb appeal faster than a dilapidated fence or beat up driveway. If anything is broken, prioritize fixing it!
Some features may be in good structural shape but look a bit worse for wear—fences are a classic example. If your fence is standing strong but looks weathered, give it a fresh coat of paint—it’s the cheapest upgrade you can make, and will have a big impact on your yard’s appeal.
Designing for ROI means designing for adaptability.
If you intend to sell your house, don’t personalize your landscape too much. Bocce courts, water features, and large built-in pizza ovens may be great for you, but they aren’t for everyone. When adding functional features to your yard, choose elements that appeal to most everyone—such as a basic fire pit or outdoor kitchen.
Patios, decks, and other flexible spaces that anyone can make their own are more likely to appeal to a broad range of prospective buyers. Built-in seating walks the line—keep it to the edges where its impact on circulation is minimized, and it can be an ROI asset—don’t place it somewhere it may be an impediment that future homeowners would need to rip out.
Note: ROI shouldn’t be the only thing driving your landscape decisions.
Especially if you plan to stay in your home for a while, it’s just as important (and often more important) to invest in landscape features to help you better enjoy your outdoor spaces. If you really love bocce, treat yourself to that bocce court!
Paths and Walkways
Paths are valuable on both functional and aesthetic grounds.
Paths linking the street to the front door are particularly important for curb appeal—they draw the eye to the front entryway, and have an outsized impact on how buyers perceive the style and condition of a home.
On a functional level, paths need to be safe. That means repairing any major cracks or other damage to existing paving. Minor cracks that pose no safety risk but look a bit shabby should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Ideally, you have none, but repairing one small crack may not be worth the expense of replacing path paving.
Paths have good ROI when they are both attractive and functional. In general, path materials should respond to their surroundings, matching the overall character of a given part of the yard. Try mulch, gravel, or decomposed granite for rustic paths in plant-heavy areas, and use more formal paving for higher traffic, higher visibility paths. Utilitarian paths should be durable, puddle-free, and easy to roll trash cans and lawn equipment over.
Include paths to service high traffic routes, but don’t go overboard. Adding excessive paths to a yard slices and dices spaces into fragments of limited utility. Avoid bisecting play spaces with paths; better to cheat paths toward the edge of play areas, or to just leave them out.
In general, stick to the Goldilocks rule of path design: not too few, not too many.
Among paved spaces, driveways are typically the highest visibility, and the most punished. The mess and mass of cars easily stains and cracks driveways, and these blemishes are typically on full view to the neighborhood.
Repaving a driveway is not cheap, but it can yield great ROI, for you and future homeowners. You can reduce the risk of cracking by using pavers, or by subdividing concrete driveways into several pads interspersed with gaps or score joints. Do this and you’ll offset future repair costs.
Lighting in your landscape and on your home’s exterior adds dramatic appeal to your home, and makes outdoor gathering spaces viable for nighttime use. Installing permanent landscape lighting saves future homeowners the complication and expense of running electrical conduit beneath existing paving or other features they’d rather not dig up.
If you plan to sell soon, don’t go overboard, and stick to fixtures with broad appeal that will look at-home in a wide range of aesthetics. Focus lighting on outdoor spaces, entryways and stairs, path thresholds, and key landscape features.
Designing a High-ROI Landscape with Yardzen
Looking to make improvements to your yard to help increase your property’s value? Yardzen is here to help.
Yardzen’s award-winning online landscape and exterior design is tailored to homeowners in all fifty states in the US, and can incorporate a broad range of high-ROI design features.
Whether your goal is improving curb appeal, adding functional spaces, or giving the yard a full overhaul, we can create a design that meets your needs and style preferences.
Our design process begins with understanding your space, your aesthetic preferences, and a discussion of your budget and vision to minimize surprises when it comes time to build.
Our top-notch designers then develop a personalized vision for your yard, shared through 3D renderings, 2D plan drawings, and plant and material lists. Your design will capture the look, feel, and function you are hoping for, all while keeping costs within range.Once your design is complete, we’ll help you connect with a local contractor from our Pro Network of vetted professional landscapers to install your new design.