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Turn Your Backyard Into Paradise

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it originally was published in July 2006.

With existing-home sales at a ten-year low and the slump expected to continue this year, you have to make your house stand out if you want it to sell in this slow market. One way to do that is to improve your home's curb appeal and outdoor space.

Even if you're not trying to sell your home, you can increase its value by landscaping your lawn and creating a retreat that you, your family and friends can enjoy. Americans spend billions of dollars each year creating outdoor living spaces with comfortable furniture, built-in grills or complete kitchens, fireplaces, televisions, pools and spas.

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Is it worth it to spend as much money renovating a backyard as it costs to buy a small house? Depends on whom you ask. But if you're going to fork over the big bucks to revamp your yard -- or even if you're on a tight budget -- you should consider putting your dollars into features that add the most value to your property. Here's some advice from the pros:

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Which features add value?

Jason Cupp, co-founder of design/build, landscape company Highland Outdoor, Olathe, Kan., says his clients frequently ask whether renovating their yards will add value to their property. If two similar neighboring houses were for sale and one had a great landscape design, that house would sell faster, he says.

However, he and other landscape designers agree that you probably won't get a return on your investment if your property is the only one in the neighborhood with the outdoor fireplace and kitchen, waterfall, custom-made pool and spa. That's why you should weigh your needs versus your desires when it comes to renovating your yard and deciding which features to add -- especially if you're on a tight budget. Even a little bit of money can go a long way if you prioritize and opt for features that are functional rather than purely aesthetic.

Quality landscape design and installation will add value to your property and help it sell faster, landscape pros agree. If you're on a tight budget, hire a landscape architect or designer to create a design then install the landscaping yourself -- over time, if you have to. "Some advice is better than none," says Jeff Carbo, an award-winning landscape architect in Alexandria, La. A landscape architect charges $85 to $135, on average, to create a design plan and could spend 12 to 18 hours creating that plan. A landscape designer typically charges $50 to $75 an hour. To find a designer or architect, talk with friends or family who have used one or check the American Society of Landscape Architect's FirmFinder and Association of Professional Landscape Designers' database of firms. Interview several pros, talk to their customers and check out their projects. The designer or architect should ask you lifestyle questions (Do you like to garden? Will you maintain the landscaping or will someone else?) so he or she can give you what you need.

Also, if you make a significant investment in landscape, Cupp says, "it won't look as good if you don't have a proper irrigation system, and your investment will erode." Again, if you're on a budget, install the irrigation system before the landscaping, Cupp says. You can find do-it-yourself kits for less than $200. Expect to pay at least $3,000 to $4,000 for a professionally installed system.


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