In planning home improvements, we usually think first of remodeling kitchens or bathrooms, painting walls in the latest color scheme, or replacing flooring.

Outdoor projects can add value to a home too, often for far less money.

The National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Landscape Professionals joined forces to conduct research on this very subject.

The residential portion of the report produced by NAR’s research department, “Remodeling Report: Outdoor Features,” looks at 13 outdoor projects, exploring the value these remodels bring, as well as how happy the homeowners were with the finished project.

“Realtors understand that a home’s first impression is its curb appeal, so when it comes time to sell, a well-manicured yard can be just as important as any indoor remodel,” said NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor from Columbia, Mo.

“Even homeowners with no immediate plans to sell can gain more enjoyment and satisfaction from their home by taking on a project to revive their outdoor spaces.”

NAR, which represents 1.3 million brokers, salespeople, property managers, appraisers, counselors and others who engage in both residential and commercial real estate, is the largest trade association in the country.

NALP represents an industry that employs nearly 1 million landscape, lawn care, irrigation, and tree care professionals who create and maintain healthy green spaces that benefit families, communities, and the environment.

Realtors surveyed last year for the report ranked the top outdoor projects in order of estimated return on investment.

Topping the list was standard lawn care service, which they estimated recovers 267 percent of the project cost at resale; followed by landscape maintenance and tree care, both at 100 percent of the cost at resale.

In terms of how much enjoyment homeowners surveyed reported from these projects, a fire feature and irrigation system tied for first, followed by a new wood deck, a water feature, statement landscaping and an overall landscape upgrade.

The survey hypothesized a 2,466-square foot house—the average size according to U.S. Census data – built after 1978, and with no hidden issues. Projects and materials represent standard or typical quality; a few projects might feature “better-quality” materials, but there were no “top-of-the-line” projects included.

Respondents were asked to provide the average cost for completed projects.

In considering what would most likely appeal to prospective buyers, Realtors ranked the 13 projects in this order:

1. Landscape maintenance

2. Overall landscape upgrade

3. Standard lawn-care service

4. New patio

5. New wood deck

6. Tree care

7. Landscape lighting

8. Statement landscape

9. Irrigation system installation

10. Outdoor kitchen

11. Fire feature

12. Water features

13. New pool

But in evaluating how likely each item would be to add value in case of sale, Realtors shifted the order a little:

1. Standard lawn-care service – cost $375-$1,000; value recovered 267 percent

2. Landscape maintenance – cost $,3000; value recovered 100 percent

3. Tree care – cost $2,000; value recovered 100 percent

4. Irrigation system installation -- cost $3,000-$3,500; value recovered 86 percent

5. Overall landscape upgrade – cost $5,000-$,6000; value recovered 83 percent

6. New wood deck – cost $8,000-$10,000; value recovered 80 percent

7. Outdoor kitchen – cost $10,000-$14,000; value recovered 71 percent

8. New patio – cost $,5000-$7,200; value recovered 69 percent

9. Fire feature – cost $4,000-$6,000; value recovered 67 percent

10. Landscape lighting – cost $2,500-$5,000; value recovered 50 percent

11. New pool – cost $25,000-$57,500; value recovered 43 percent

No estimates were given for statement landscaping or water features, both of which can vary widely in terms of how elaborate they get.

“This report validates that landscaping is an investment worth making, offering the immediate benefits of increased enjoyment of your property, as well as desirable long-term value that holds if or when it comes time to sell,” said Missy Henriksen, vice president, public affairs, of the landscapers’ organization.

“From lawn and tree care to installing a new fire or water feature or landscape lighting, there’s no shortage of opportunities to enhance your landscape and to reap the benefits these upgrades provide.”

Of course, if you expect to remain in your home for five years or more, you may not be very concerned about a future return on investment. You just want to enjoy your outdoor living spaces as much as the indoor spaces, and so should consider what you want and what you can afford.

Homeowners who responded to the survey ranked the improvements they were most satisfied with in this order: 1. Irrigation system or fire feature; 2. Water feature or wood deck; 3. New patio or statement landscaping; 4. Landscape lighting or overall landscape upgrade; 5. Landscape maintenance; 6. Tree service; 7. Standard lawn-care service; 8. Pool.

No ranking was given to outdoor kitchen, possibly because few were completed during the time of the survey.

If you are looking to upgrade the exterior of your home and are uncertain where to start, or do not know a good landscaper or contractor to do the work, contact a trusted Realtor. He or she can refer you to top professionals in your area.

If you are planning to sell soon, you may not have the time or resources for major upgrades.

So consider inexpensive projects to improve your home’s curb appeal: Add plants in colorful clay or ceramic pots. Mow the lawn. Prune, weed, and trim plants and trees. Refresh mulch or tan bark as needed. Make sure the front walkway offers clear passage.

Make needed repairs: replace missing bricks or tiles, fix sprinkler heads, secure fences and gates.

Repaint your address on the curb, so prospective buyers can find you.

And, of course, if you do want to sell – or buy – call, text or email your local Realtor today.

Cher Wollard is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties, Livermore.