Design & Style
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Investing in Outdoor Spaces

There can be big returns on rooms without walls

By Nancy Cain
Published: June 1, 2005
A gorgeous deck, outdoor music, comfortable seating, even an outdoor kitchen – vacation homeowners will do anything to get closer to the outdoors. Creating spaces for outdoor living is one of the hottest home improvement trends. This deck, near Whitefish, Mont., takes advantage of a spectacular view.
Photo by Roger Wade/Northwoods Log Homes.
Our cabins and cottages are more than places to gather with family and friends to enjoy the outdoors. They are also some of our biggest investments. When considering remodeling projects for your place, it makes sense to enhance its overall value.
In today’s vacation home market, the greatest payback from remodeling investments (and the least bump from the tax assessor) is not inside your cottage or cabin. It’s outside. The hottest home improvement trend is that area without walls: the outdoor room.
Good news: Improved outdoor spaces don’t necessarily trigger a visit from the tax assessor. Assessors – who appraise real property based on such factors as the home’s size, number of bedrooms, zoning, location, view and geographic features – are hard-pressed to increase the value of a home based upon the ambiance of its outdoor living space.
Photo by Roger Wade/Timberlake Co.
Outdoor living is something those who vacation at their cabins and cottages have known about for a long time, but several years ago – when the concept spread to primary homes – it became a trend. With all the energy and resources that a trend can pack, vacation home makeovers now mean that owners are getting creative with back yards, decks and covered patios. And by making these areas feel like an extension of the home, owners are making cozy cottages and cabins feel much bigger.
And here’s a plus: Improved outdoor spaces don’t necessarily trigger a visit from the tax assessor. Those assessors – who appraise real property based on such factors as the home’s size, number of bedrooms, zoning, location, view and geo-graphic features – are hard-pressed to increase the value of a home based on the ambiance of its outdoor dining space or its stunning wicker furniture.
Investing in outdoor space may be as simple as investing in some comfortable, quality outdoor furniture.
Photo by Gloster Furniture
What exactly is this outdoor living movement all about? People are designing and decorating their outdoor spaces, not just moving their living activities outdoors, according to Gary McCray, vice president of marketing at Laneventure, one of the largest manufacturers of indoor-outdoor furnishings in the United States. Homeowners are “going beyond the typical grilling and gardening to create venues for entertainment and retreats for relaxation.”
Cabin and cottage owners are dividing their outdoor areas into zones – for cooking, relaxing, dining and intimate conversation – and extending the versatility of their outdoor space. Some are even gathering around outdoor fireplaces, using these areas day and night and all year round in many parts of the country.
Outdoor living doesn’t simply mean taking your living activities outdoors; it’s about creating exterior spaces for entertainment and relaxation. Who needs a CD of nature sounds when you can relax on the porch in your favorite wicker chair and listen to the birds sing and chipmunks chatter? Photo by Roger Wade/OZ Architects.
Photo by Roger Wade/OZ Architects.
In the process of enjoying their new outdoor rooms, homeowners are creating value. Laneventure surveyed 105 realtors, 50 interior designers and 50 landscape architects/garden designers across the country and found that exterior improvements increased the resale value of a home by up to 30 percent in 2004.
Investing in outdoor spaces is money well spent. But any financial benefit is secondary to the enjoyment derived from an outdoor fireplace where friends can gather and sip wine or a cozy settee where couples can have quiet conversations.
Photo by O.W. Lee Co.
This trend is echoed in Remodeling Magazine’s annual survey of 300 real estate agents in 60 nationwide markets. The survey results revealed that investment in deck space exceeds the return in resale value of more traditional interior improvements, such as a sunroom, a major kitchen remodel or a family room.
In a quarter of the 60 markets, new decks returned greater than 100 percent, in some markets paying back nearly twice their cost.
It is not just the owners of vacation homes who have fallen in love with outdoor living. Buyers often are willing to pay a premium for a home that “speaks” to the romantic notion of the perfect getaway.
Photo by O.W. Lee Co.
What could be better than investing in an indulgent, exterior space that captures the beauty of your cabin or cottage setting and actually improves your investment portfolio?

Nancy Cain is a former real estate agent who loves the wrap-around porch on her Thousand Island cottage in the St. Lawrence Seaway.
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