Do swimming pools add value to homes?
Right about now, you might be dreaming about cocktails in hand as you sit by the pool, grill fired up for an al-fresco dinner so it'll be easy to dive back in before dessert. You might be thinking a home with a pool is a dream come true, and still wishing you had put one in this past spring.
Who doesn't want a pool right in their own back yard? But by now you're getting an inkling that the cost might be a bit more than you thought, and wondering if this is a dream that'll end up drowing in regrets. Maybe, or maybe not. It depends on your expectations. In most cases it's like buying a car: once it's yours, you'll never get the full cost back.
Here's what you need to know about adding a pool to your property.
When a pool makes financial sense
If you live in a higher-end neighborhood and most of your neighbors have pools. In fact, not having a pool might make your home harder to sell.
If you live in a warm climate, such as Florida or Hawaii, and if your lot is big enough to accommodate a pool and still have some yard left over for play or gardening. Still, that's no guarantee you'll get a return on your investment. At most, your home's value might increase 7 percent if all circumstances are right when it comes time to sell. Those circumstances include the points made above, plus:
- The style of the pool. Does it fit the neighborhood?
- The condition of the pool. Is it well-maintained?
- Age of the pool. If you put a pool in today and sell in 20 years, you probably won't recoup your costs, especially if the pool needs updating.
- You can attract the right buyer. Couples with very young children may shy away from pools because of safety issues, but an older childless couple may fall in love with it.
But only you, the homeowner, can determine the true return on investment. A pool can add value to your quality of life and enhance the enjoyment of your home. You can't put a price tag on that. But we can put a price tag on how much a pool costs to build and maintain.
Pools aren't cheap to build
The average cost in the U.S. to install, equip, and fill a 600-sq.-ft. concrete pool starts at $30,000.
Add in details like safety fences (most states require them), waterfalls, lighting, landscaping, and perhaps a spa, and you're easily looking at totals approaching $100,000.
Costs also depend on the type of pool you choose.
Gunite is the most popular in-ground pool. Gunite is a mixture of cement and sand, which can be poured into almost any shape. It has replaced concrete pools as the sought-after standard.
Fiberglass shells and those with vinyl liners fall on the lower end of the budget scale, but the liners typically need replacing every 10 or so years. Changing the liner requires draining the pool and replacing the edging (called coping). So over time, costs add up. Most homebuyers will insist that you replace a vinyl liner, even if it's only a few years old.
Then there are filtration and heating costs
The filtration pump is the biggest energy hog in a pool system, so you want to get the most efficient pump possible. The good news here is that new, variable-speed pumps use up to 80 percent less energy than old single-speed pumps, cutting operating expenses dramatically.
At about $500, these cost more up front, but some local utilities offer rebates through participating pool dealers. You can further cut energy costs by setting the pump to run at non-peak times, when rates for electricity are lower.
If you're planning to heat your pool, gas heaters are the least expensive to purchase and install, but they typically have the highest operation and maintenance costs. Many pool owners opt instead for electric heat pumps, which extract heat from the surrounding air and transfer it to the water. Heat pumps take longer than gas to warm the pool, but they're more energy-efficient, costing $200 to $400 less to operate per swimming season.
Regardless of heating system, covering the pool with a solar blanket to trap heat and reduce evaporation will further lower operating costs.
And then there's the cost of upkeep
All pools require that the water be balanced for proper pH, alkalinity, and calcium levels. They also need sanitizing to control bacteria and germs, which is where chlorine has traditionally entered the picture. These days you have a variety of options, including systems that use bromine, salt, ozone, ionizers, or other chemical compounds that can be less irritating to skin. Chlorine remains the most popular because the upfront costs are reasonable, and you don't have to be as rigid about checking the levels on a set schedule.
But as far as your wallet is concerned, they all even out in the end. In a seasonal swimming climate, budget about $600 annually for maintenance if you shoulder the chemical balancing and cleaning yourself; in a year-round climate, it's more like $15 to $25 per week.
To save yourself the task of once-a-week vacuuming, you can buy a robotic cleaning system for between $500 and $800 that will do the job for you. In locations like Connecticut where the pool must be opened and closed for the season, add another $500 each time for a pro to handle this task.
A pool can increase insurance costs
A basic homeowners insurance policy typically covers a pool structure without requiring a separate rider, but you should increase your liability from the standard amount. It costs about $30 a year to bump coverage from $100,000 to $500,000. Many underwriters require you to fence in the pool so children can't wander in unsupervised.
In some areas, adding a pool may increase your annual property taxes, but it won't necessarily add to your home's selling price. For that reason, try to keep your total building cost between 10 and 15 percent of what you paid for your house, lest you invest too much in an amenity that won't pay you back.
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