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Best backyard improvements to add the most value 

People are investing more in the back of their property, and the home-improvement boom is driving that engine. A study by the University of Michigan found that consumers value a landscaped home 11.3 percent higher than the same home without good landscaping.

But exactly which improvements pay off? And which ones waste your money? Here are Barbara’s picks: 

Big backyard trends

Less lawn
Low-maintenance vegetation saves on upkeep and time. Foot-friendly ground covers instead of turf grass compete with weeds. Deep planting beds and wide borders with low-care perennials and shrubs in the mix add interest.

More trees
Trees are one of the few things that appreciate over time. Almost everything else depreciates the moment you install it. Experts say that younger is usually better when you’re planting trees, but if you’re selling within three to five years, you’ll need some size to get the full effect. The best size to buy is 8’ tall, 1-2” in diameter, sitting in a 15-gallon pot ($50-$150).

Outdoor rooms
A dining area, dry laid patio, a patch of gravel, a covered patio or an above-grade deck:  According to SmartMoney.com, a landscaped patio raises the value of your home by 12.4 percent. Today’s best-selling improvement is a backyard terrace that abuts the family room. It costs anywhere from $12 to $50 per foot, depending on how fancy you want to get. Consider an oversize sandbox as a play space for your kids. Cover it with bird netting rather than plastic sheeting to keep the critters away while letting sunlight naturally sanitize the sand.

Backyard sanctuaries
The key feature is water; either a fountain ($500-$1,500), a small pond (DIY for $200; professional job costs $2,000), or a hot tub ($1,000). It could even be as simple as a terra cotta pot with a recirculating pump from the hardware store ($50)The other key feature is a comfortable place to sit and relax.

Full outdoor kitchens
From $15,000-$100,000, they include refrigerators, grills and sinks. The fancier the brand and the bigger the size make it today’s backyard status symbol.

A ‘year-round’ yard
Your yard can look leafless and drab in the winter months, but flowering shrubs, colored bark, ornamental grasses and colored berries all add color in the cold seasons. According to SmartMoney.com, hedges alone raise property values by 3.6 percent.

Landscape lighting
Often called "Malibu lighting,” it runs on solar power and is easy to install. It shows off your garden at night, silhouettes your trees, keeps everyone safe from tripping and keeps burglars away.

Smart backyard tips

Make a five-year plan
Everything doesn’t have to happen all at once. Plantings mature at different rates, and you can add new features each year.

Test your soil
The soil is just as important as what’s going into it. You can test your soil by contacting your county agricultural agency. They’ll send back the results with instructions on what you’ll need to add to improve it.

Hire a professional landscape designer
They charge $50-$75 an hour. You can pay them for the design only and do the installation yourself.

Don’t forget an irrigation systemIf you don’t have the time or interest in watering yourself, consider an irrigation system to keep the backyard looking good. It’s expensive — at least $3,000 — but potential buyers will love it.

What not to do
The truth is that some backyard projects scare off prospective buyers. Here are the splashy additions you shouldn’t do:

Swimming pool: Your home’s crown jewel is an eyesore in the winter, needs constant chlorine monitoring in the summer and usually needs to be closed in by a fence for safety. A typical pool costs $75,000 to install, but no buyer will pay your extra $75,000 when they buy your house.

The sport court: This multipurpose area for tennis matches and basketball is seen as a huge patch of asphalt where the beautiful yard should have been.

Fruit trees: Your fragrant orchard is a magnet for rotting fruit and the flies that feed on it, and calls for constant pruning.

Built-in fire pit: This barbecue haven for alpha males is seen as a stone monstrosity. A portable barbecue would be better.

A concrete patio: The broad expanse of concrete creates a parking-lot type of yard where rain collects in puddles.

For more of Barbara Corcoran's real estate tips and advice, visit barbaracorcoran.com.

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