Light Up the Yard

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A single-story reverse front porch element – with the space turned away from street and to the inside – means the first experience of the home is a private outdoor living room. Millennials desire ample outdoor spaces for living and entertaining - Chris Mayer Photography

When considering the yard space around a home, buyers demand good lighting more than any other outdoor amenity, according to NAHB’s latest consumer survey. Among buyers in most parts of the country, a patio ranks a close second.

NAHB conducted the survey using a consumer panel maintained by Home Innovation Research Labs. The panel allowed NAHB to identify both recent and prospective buyers (those who had either purchased a home in the past three years, or plan to purchase one in the next three). The resulting sample of 4,326 recent and prospective home buyers was stratified and weighted to be representative of home owners in the U.S. across key characteristics, including income and geography (the nine census divisions).

Home buyers responding to the survey rated 10 outdoor features on the following four-tier scale:

Exterior lighting and a patio were rated “essential” or “desirable” by 90 and 84 percent of home buyers, respectively. At the other end of the scale, an outdoor kitchen, outdoor fireplace and outdoor built-in grill were overall the least popular of the 10 features.  In fact, more than 20 percent of home buyers said they were unlikely to purchase a home if it came with an outdoor kitchen or fireplace.

As Figure 1 shows, buyers rank exterior lighting and a patio at the top — and outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and grills at the bottom — no matter what their incomes, although there is a tendency for higher-income buyers to rate these features somewhat more favorably, especially those at the bottom of the list. For example, nearly half of high income ($150,000-plus) buyers rate an outdoor kitchen as essential or desirable, compared to only 30 percent of buyers with moderate incomes (under $75,000).

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Income drives preferences

An exception to this general rule is a front porch, which ranks as the Number 3 outdoor amenity among moderate-income buyers (80 percent of whom rate it essential or desirable) but only Number 7 among buyers with at least $150,000 income (72 percent of whom rate it essential or desirable).

Almost no buyers in any income group explicitly say they do not want a front porch, but buyers with higher incomes are more likely to be indifferent. Perhaps high-income buyers have alternate ideas for an attractive home front (e.g., large entry doors flanked by columns) that seem as good to them as the front-porch design.

As the front porch slides down the list slightly, a lot with trees and deck move up, ranking as the third and fourth most popular outdoor features among buyers with at least $100,000 in income. High-income buyers are considerably more interested than others in lawn sprinklers. Seventy-two percent of buyers with $150,000-plus in income rate lawn sprinklers essential or desirable, compared to only about half of buyers with incomes under $75,000.

In terms of geography, there are a few differences across the nine census divisions, but the similarities are more striking (Figure 2). As the figure shows, exterior lighting is the most popular outdoor feature, and an outdoor kitchen the least popular, in each division. A patio ranks second from the top, except in the two divisions on the eastern border of the Mississippi River (the East North Central and East South Central), where a front porch edges it out. An outdoor fireplace ranks second from the bottom in every division except the East South Central, where it ranks slightly higher than lawn sprinklers.

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Buyer preferences for lawn sprinklers vary more with geography than the other nine features on the list. The share of buyers rating lawn sprinklers as essential or desirable ranges from a low of 43 percent in the East North Central and East South Central divisions to more than 70 percent in the Mountain and West South Central divisions.

Outdoor features sell homes

With the exception of the relatively low-rated outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, the most common reaction from home buyers is to say that an outdoor feature is desirable (it would seriously influence their decision in a positive way without being absolutely essential).

Buyers in the West South Central Division (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas), however, are more likely than others to classify certain outdoor features as essential. The share of buyers in the West South Central rating a particular feature essential is 32 percent for a rear porch, 33 percent for a front porch, 34 percent for a lot with trees, and 41 percent for a patio. In each case, this essential percentage is higher than in any of the other eight divisions — often much higher.

The obvious implication is that home builders in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas especially should be trying to provide porches, patios and treed lots in the spaces around their homes as often as possible. There also may be opportunities for contractors in the West South Central to add these types of outdoor features to existing homes.

This article, written by Paul Emrath, was originally published in the Summer 2017 Issue of Best in American Living.

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