Doing More for Outdoors


HGTV’s Carson Arthur joins our local Pros to discuss how improving your outdoor spaces can increase your home’s value.

Carson Arthur is one of the top outdoor design and lifestyle experts in the country. You probably have seen him on Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s Home First Home, Global TV’s Room to Grow or HGTV’s Green Force or recently premiered Critical Listing.

In addition to having an extensive and impressive portfolio of landscape designs under his belt, Arthur also has his finger on the pulse when it comes to Canada’s real estate trends and how homeowners and buyers look at outdoor spaces. “According to Century 21 and RONA, almost 50% of Canadians are planning to sell their house in the next five years,” says Arthur over the phone. “And, Scotiabank just did a study showing that 44% of Canadians are planning to renovate in the next two years.”

Landscaping Significantly Increases Home Value

Where kitchens and bathrooms are consistently described as the top spaces to renovate, home exteriors are surpassing these and other interiors when it comes to home improvement projects, says Arthur. One major reason for this is landscaping and outdoor design is the number one way to increase a home’s value.

“A lot of people are really looking for return on investment,” explains Arthur. “They want to know that the renovations they’re doing on their homes are actually increasing in value. So when you look at a kitchen or a bathroom renovation, you actually get a pretty good return on investment for the first five years. But with kitchens and bathrooms at that point it starts going down because people start realizing that things look outdated. But what happens with outdoors is the opposite. Outdoors actually gain in value with time because plants grow. So people are really starting to put money in the outdoors, knowing that’s actually going to give them more value instead of taking it away.”

The types of outdoor and landscaping projects that increase a home’s value depend on the demographic buying. According to Carson, Canadian’s real estate marketplace consists of two types of buyers: the millennials and the baby boomers.

The Millennial Buyer and Curb Appeal


The Millennial Buyers, in their 20s and 30s, are usually first time homeowners. When they tour the real estate circuit, they take note of a residence’s quality before walking through the front door.

“What’s really interesting is Century 21 did a study the end of 2013 and millennial buyers actually ranked curb appeal or the front yard in their top three reasons to buy a house,” says Arthur. “They actually valued the character of the home and they feel that curb appeal gives them the character that they’re looking for.”

During an appearance on Cityline hosted by Tracy Moore, Arthur shared that a quality front yard can raise a home’s value up to 7%. Improvements to enhance curb appeal do not have to blow your budget either. One easy change you can make, appealing to millennials as well as any prospective home buyer, is installing or modernizing front door lights and making sure house numbers look contemporary and are well-lit.

“This is the year for outdoor lighting,” adds Arthur, describing landscape lighting beyond the front door. “A lot of people are really focusing on outdoor lighting and taking advantage of some of the new LED and solar systems to highlight the best parts of their home.”

Rick Bezanson, Sales Representative with Bergman Landscape & Masonry Centres, which supplies a variety of quality stone, brick and concrete products for creating a range of outdoor features from walkways to patios, says landscape lighting is both aesthetic and functional. “A lot of times lighting can be installed in the paver stone or retaining wall so that it cascades a nice, soft light,” he says. “You have a night light that cascades along the walkway, for example. It’s decorative but it’s also a nice safety feature.”

AFTER - Improving your home’s curb appeal – as shown in these before and after pictures of a project recently featured on HGTV’s new show, Critical Listing – is an investment that will immediately increase your homes value and provide new, functional space for outside enjoyment.


Creating a walkway that is welcoming is another significant way to promote curb appeal. “That’s how you’re greeting or funneling people into your home,” says Bezanson. “You wouldn’t want a walkway that is crumbling, unlevel or that has holes in it where people could catch their heels. You want something that is solid, wide enough for two people to walk on. You should look at other colours on your house or property and try to compliment them with the stones, pavers or other materials you may use. It can add some flair coming off your driveway.”

There are projects to meet every price point, says Bezanson, and creating or improving a walkway leading to the front door is a cost effective way to positively impact prospective homebuyers and visitors alike. He adds that you can implement a nice retaining wall or planter off the walkway, and even add stone or brick veneer to the entire front of the home or as edging around windows and doors, to further spruce up the front yard.

“Driveways have been very strong for a number of years,” notes Bezanson. “A good portion of our business is interlocking brick driveways, the cost of which is now is very competitive.”

Bezanson notes that there are many creative options, such as using one paver colour or texture for the main body of the driveway and edging it with a different colour and texture. You can even create a design, like a family tartan or shape, in the middle. The range of pavers and slabs on the market for driveways, as well as for walkways, patios, steps, walls, decks, fire pits and more, are so vast, from modern and sleek to historic, such as cobblestone.

If you are not quite ready to commit to redoing your driveway or walkway, there are some other simple things you can do to create curb appeal, Arthur says. Planting a tree or inserting a bench in the front yard, and placing flower pots by your front door are easy ways to create a warm and inviting first impression.

The Boomer Buyer and Outdoor Living Spaces

“The boomers are a whole different story,” says Arthur. “Boomers are all about the backyard.” The simplest way to add some pizzazz to the backyard is again spot lighting to draw attention to the landscape or home’s best features, or even placing some baskets or pots of flowers and plants around the outdoor space.

“We’re starting to see more colourful containers,” says Arthur. “For the last four to five years, we’d see a lot of black containers, whether it’s at the front door or in the backyard and people would put colourful plants in them. We’re seeing a flip now. The colour is in the container itself and then the plants are often just green. If you have a colourful container, you’ll always have colour in the outdoor space. You don’t have to rely on a plant in bloom to give you that impact.”

What is really attractive to boomer buyers is “outdoor rooms”—places where they can spend time entertaining, relaxing… living in their backyard. Arthur says gone are the days when the emphasis was on a vast lawn. Turf and grass are being replaced by functional spaces.

“Boomers really want extensions of homes that are very lifestyle driven,” Arthur says. “They are saying, ‘I’m not doing what my parents did and living in the family home forever. I’m downsizing, I’m going to be giving up these big homes, but in exchange I want the outdoor spaces that I can use for three seasons – the outdoor kitchen, the true outdoor living room or a real outdoor dining space.’ People aren’t looking at their houses saying this is my house and this is my outside—they’re thinking this is my home. It’s a lot more holistic, big picture thinking, and they’re planning the living room to the deck, and the kitchen to the outdoor dining room. They’re really linking the inside to the outside.”

Furthermore, outdoor living spaces, like a deck or patio, increases a home’s value by up to 12%, Arthur noted in his Cityline appearance.

Maurice Meagher, the owner of Archadeck of Nova Scotia, which has been designing and building outdoor living spaces for 12 years, has also observed an increase in such projects. However he adds that it has not only been to increase a home’s value and to attract buyers. “I know people are choosing to invest in their backyard and in their outdoor spaces rather than having a cottage or a second home,” he says. “So they really try to create a spot that they’re going to use and enjoy. Our outdoor season is shorter than a lot of other climates, and because of that people really want to enjoy it when the weather permits.”

Meagher says the biggest change he has seen in the last year is an affinity for more modern or contemporary styles of decks and patios along with a variety of complementary railing profiles. He also says many projects consist of multiple elements. “So we’re seeing a combination of a deck with maybe a patio at grade, for example” Meagher says. “Homeowners are really looking at functional areas in the outdoor space, part of the deck where they can have their table to eat, a spot they can do their grilling, down to a patio where they can entertain.”

Meagher notes that such projects are less expensive than you may think. “Patios are pretty cost effective if they have a flat, low slope area, and certainly with wooden projects they’re very affordable,” he says. “So there are a lot of options out there and the cost range varies greatly. We try to consider what their budget is and what they’re trying to go for and then offer some recommendations.”

Meagher says it is not just patios and decks that are the rage. Screen porches and sunrooms – which are often classified as part of the outdoor living category – are in demand, and even front porches as a place to spend time are becoming popular again. About 20 to 30% of Archadeck’s business involves constructing pergolas for those looking to add a distinctive architectural profile, as well as privacy and shade, to their backyard. And fire pits are increasingly trendy, adds Meagher, and, if accessible, more and more people are using gas or propane to fuel them. “In fact, in the last few weeks we had a few projects that incorporated fire pits and unique designs too,” he says. “Some we’re building with stone and we do them right on the deck. The propane line is concealed and runs right underneath the decking.”

Low Maintenance and Long Lasting

According to Arthur, generally speaking all buyers want outdoor spaces that do not require a lot of maintenance. “The lifestyle that people are trying to live nowadays, whether they’re the millennium buyer, the boomers or the people in the middle, are very consistent,” he says. “They’re not satisfied with outdoor spaces that really tie them down. They want flexibility to go out and do things.”

This is why plants and flowers have become more of an accessory than the focus of an outdoor space, says Arthur. A tomato plant growing in a container on the patio is a lot less work-intensive than a full-fledged vegetable garden; flower pots are a lot more manageable than numerous flower beds. When a prospective buyer sees a home that requires hours and hours of yard work on a regular basis, they are overwhelmed, even scared away.

Arthur says outdoor tools and equipment are reflecting this trend, as well as the fact that more females are looking after the yard work than ever before. “It used to be just a blue job, but now it’s a pink job too,” says Arthur. “That’s why you’re starting to see tools, such as Black & Decker’s new tool lines, that are specifically targeting the female consumer and they are packing multiples tools in one. So they’re really identifying these smaller lots and saying we can give you tools to do your job quick and easy in smaller spaces.”

Or for those who have a smaller lawn, Arthur says, his “favourite new toy” is Black & Decker’s 3-in-1 mower. The fact that it is lightweight and incorporates a mower, trimmer and edger all-in-one makes it ideal for that “low maintenance lifestyle.”

As for investing in a new deck, patio, driveway or walkway, a concern might be how long the materials will last. Meagher says the range of manufactured materials available nowadays are very low maintenance and stand up to the elements, such as traditional pressure-treated wood and red cedar that don’t have to be stained, wood-polymer composites that come in various shades and tones, and aluminum or iron railings.

The stones, bricks and concrete materials that Bergman Landscape & Masonry Centres supplies for driveways, walkways, patios, decks, steps, pool decks and more are also very sustainable, says Bezanson. They come with a 50-year or sometimes a lifetime warranty, he says, and can withstand harsh conditions and even salting during the winter months.

What’s Best For You?

Discussing real estate trends is extremely significant, but it all comes down to each individual homeowner’s intentions and lifestyle. You might be someone looking to sell your home now or in the future, or you might intend to stay there forever but yearn to take pride and pleasure in your outdoor space.

“The first thing I always ask is, what is their lifestyle like or what do they envision themselves doing,” says Arthur. “Is this a hobby, is this something they just want to look good for curb appeal or what’s really motivating the decision to do the landscape or make the change? Also I always ask them who’s moving into their neighborhood – a younger demographic or an older demographic – because that also dictates ways where they can spend the money, knowing it’s going to be secure when they go to sell the house.”

Arthur advises, “Focus your energy on spaces that are going to be good for your family or good for your lifestyle, but at the same time that when you go to sell, you get all your money back.”

Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet is a freelance writer based in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has had the pleasure of contributing to various publications and websites, including Celtic Life International, Halifax Magazine, The Coast, Bedford Magazine, Resources Quarterly, Atlantic Books Today, up! magazine and My Destination Nova Scotia