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  • Paul Barranco

Desire for outdoor amenities grows among homeowners

Home is no longer just about personal retreat and comfort — more and more, we are seeing people place a high value on how well it can serve and entertain family and friends. According to real estate agents across the Mid-Atlantic, outdoor living and entertainment spaces are gaining momentum as the next big trend and must-have amenity for homes.

If you’re looking to add value to your property before selling during the fall home-buying season, or you simply want to create a space for you and friends and family to enjoy, consider these features:

Outdoor kitchen

Outdoor dining used to be pretty simple — a dining set and a grill was all you needed. Now, agents say that as cooking and food preparation have become as much a part of entertaining as the meal itself, more and more buyers are seeking additional amenities, such as an outdoor refrigerator, sink and counter space.

In the luxury market, we’re seeing full-on outdoor kitchens complete with bar areas, islands, ovens, stoves and extra storage space. These features allow a homeowner and host to be present with their guests outside even as they prepare the meal. This brings right to your home the modern, interactive dining experience where you can watch your food being prepared in front of you. The days of the home cook tucked away from the party in the kitchen are over, and now that trend extends outside as well.

Pool & Spa

It’s no secret that waterfront properties are high value. For those without access to a waterfront setting, a swimming pool remains one of the most popular outdoor living features, bringing a waterfront feel right to your own back yard. While many homes in the Washington area have pools, agents are seeing a shift in the way pools and the spaces around them are designed.

[The do’s and don’ts of back yard aquatic installations]

To set their home apart, owners are getting creative with shapes and unique pool designs — we’ve seen everything from jets, slides and waterfalls to a hot tub in the middle of the pool and even the occasional moat. In addition to the pool itself, buyers are also seeking beautiful terraces and lounges overlooking the pool area to help create the feel of a relaxing oasis at home. Keep in mind, though, that pools are a very personal preference and best designed for your own enjoyment, not for resale.

Open access

An exciting newer trend agents are seeing is the creation of a nearly seamless transition between indoor and outdoor spaces. At the higher end of the market, homeowners are installing collapsible window walls that allow your outdoor living areas to become a true extension of your indoor space, while French and sliding glass doors accomplish this feel at more affordable price points.

These features can make your indoor spaces more attractive and accessible by bringing the benefits of the outdoors in, while still retaining all the comforts of indoor amenities and protecting them from the elements.

Recreation & entertainment

Like pools, recreation amenities such as basketball and tennis courts remain perennial favorites for outdoor features, especially in Washington’s luxury market. We’ve also seen sand volleyball courts and putting greens. To health-conscious homeowners and families with active children, these types of features are especially appealing, allowing them to get in a game without having to go to the gym.

Of course, these features are also great for entertaining. For those looking for a more relaxed gathering, we’re also seeing increased interest in outdoor home theater amenities, including speaker systems and screening areas, complete for backyard movie nights.

Outdoor fireplaces

Fireplaces have long topped home buyers’ wish lists, but the up-and-coming trend is toward incorporating fireplaces into spaces other than the traditional living room, such as bedrooms, bathrooms, even in closets and of course, outside. Local agents are seeing everything from the simple fire pit to custom fire features built into the deck or landscape.

[Building a pool is just the beginning of elaborate backyard transformations]

To make the most of your outdoor fireplace, big or small, gas or wood-burning, you’ll want to make sure that you have plenty of seating options for your friends and family to gather around — or for buyers to imagine their own guests doing so. A combination of couches, chairs, benches — even hammocks or swings — can bring the cozy environment of a living room fire to the great outdoors right in your own back yard.

If you’re looking to up your home’s outdoor appeal, consider incorporating some of these features. Whether you’re preparing to sell or want to enjoy your home’s outdoor space with your friends and family, outdoor amenities could be worth the investment as we continue to see interest in them grow.

Jon Coile, chairman of Rockville-based multiple-listing service Bright MLS (formerly MRIS), writes occasional commentary on the Washington-area housing market

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