When it comes to outdoor home renovations, think budget and scope

Like any home-renovation project, outdoor renovations can easily get out of control if you don’t have a good handle on how much things will cost, what your goals are, and whether you’re doing the work yourself or need professional help. But it's easy to avoid those foibles if you have the right plan.

Pat Sullivan/AP/File
A carpenter works on the siding of a new townhouse at a construction site in Houston (Monday, Feb. 8, 2016). When considering outdoor home renovation projects, it's good to have a plan, and budget, in place.

Many homeowners view their outdoor spaces as their own personal oases, places where they can relax, dine and spend time with their friends and loved ones. In light of this, it makes sense that homeowners consider investing in major features that will transform their outdoor areas into additional living spaces.

Like any home-renovation project, however, outdoor renovations can easily get out of control if you don’t have a good handle on how much things will cost, what your goals are, and whether you’re doing the work yourself or need professional help.

Before you dive into an outdoor improvement, take these key considerations into account to help you stay on budget and ensure that your project is successful.

Match plan to budget

One of the key factors in the success of any outdoor project is determining a realistic budget long before you put shovel to topsoil. Only once you’ve decided what you’re comfortable spending can you define the scope of your project.

The 2016 Houzz Landscaping & Garden Trends Study — conducted among registered users of the residential remodeling website — found that 88% of respondents had done or planned to do substantial renovations or complete overhauls, while only 12% had done or planned to do minor updates. Knowing the scope of your plans in the beginning will help you get a basic sense of what the project will cost you.

In the Houzz study, nine out of 10 homeowners working on minor updates spent or plan to spend under $5,000, but substantial updates call for bigger budgets — more than two in five homeowners working on a complete overhaul spent or plan to spend $20,000 or more.

Having a general understanding of the projects that are most popular among outdoor renovators can also be helpful as you develop your budget and scope. Across all outdoor projects reported in the study, many homeowners are updating outdoor systems such as irrigation and/or lighting (82%), beds and borders (80%), and structural elements such as patios, terraces and/or gazebos (72%).

The costs of these individual projects vary significantly based on a number of factors, such as project nature, scope and professional involvement. For example, while most standard outdoor systems such as irrigation or lighting in medium to small yards can be upgraded for under $2,000, updates to beds and borders can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Renovation of outdoor structures, meanwhile, is typically quite expensive and can easily start at a few thousand dollars and go up based on the type of structure and the extent of upgrades.

Pick your priorities

The next key factor to consider: What are you trying to accomplish with your renovation?

If outdoor living is top of your mind, you might concentrate on adding outdoor furniture, a fire pit or cooking features to enhance comfort. If a low-maintenance space is a top priority, you might focus on adding plants that require little care and are resistant to cold, drought and wildlife.

When it comes to design, outdoor renovators most value one that complements the style of their home (46%), promotes outdoor living (45%), and/or is stylish and beautiful (43%).

In terms of function, a space that’s easy to maintain ranks highest for homeowners (80%), followed by an area suitable for group gatherings and entertainment (49%).

Beyond creating an outdoor space that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to spend time in, many homeowners tackle specific challenges during their projects. Top current issues include drainage troubles, lack of privacy, and drought or water shortages. Identifying your outdoor pet peeves or pressing concerns should make it easier to set project scope and budget. This will help you avoid project-scope creep.

Hiring a professional

More than half of outdoor upgraders in the Houzz study hire a landscape contractor and/or landscape architect/designer (52%) to help them bring their vision to life — and for good reason. Landscaping professionals can open your eyes to a wide variety of options for your space that you might not be aware of, provide guidance for staying on schedule and budget, and tackle projects for which specialized skills are particularly beneficial. Certain projects also require the hiring of licensed professionals to comply with local regulations.

Once you determine your budget, scope and top priorities, consider meeting a professional for an initial consultation to discuss what you have in mind for your project. Finding the right landscape contractor or landscaping architect can make an entire project come alive. You may be surprised at how reasonable the professionals’ fees are compared with their contributions to the project and the quality of the final outcome.

An outdoor makeover can make an enormous difference in how you and your family enjoy your time at home. In fact, after the completion of their outdoor project, 75% of homeowners report resting and relaxing more often in their yards, 64% do more gardening, and 55% entertain more frequently in their outdoor areas. Keeping these tips in mind will help ensure that you not only complete your project without damaging your finances, but also achieve an ideal outdoor space that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.

Nino Sitchinava is principal economist at Houzz, a residential remodeling and design platform and community. This article first appeared at NerdWallet. Learn more about Nino on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor.

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