- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Warm weather’s arrival — no matter how tardy — conjures images of barbecues, sunbathing and enjoying the great outdoors. The deck is the primary focus when it comes to relaxing and entertaining outside.

Homeowners who add a deck or upgrade an existing one will not only have more fun in the sun, but will also be making a wise investment. Real estate agents interviewed for this article agree that 100 percent of the money spent on a deck in the Washington area is recouped when the home goes on the market. In fact, the right deck can add even more value to a house.

The December 2004 Cost vs. Value Report, jointly sponsored by Remodeling and Realtor magazines, reports that the national average for return on investment of a deck is 88.1 percent.

In the Washington metropolitan area, for a 16-by-20-foot deck built using composite material, that number rises to 108 percent, the study reports.

Adding a deck is money well spent, real estate agents say, because it can make a dramatic difference by adding to living space and enjoyment of the natural scenery in a region where open spaces are at a premium.

Howard Richards, a Realtor with Frankly Realty in Falls Church, says he is confident that local homeowners will get great bang for their buck on a deck addition in the current competitive market.

“The value of homes has appreciated so much that, in Fairfax, if you spent $5,000 on a deck last year, you would definitely have recouped the value of the deck within the year,” Mr. Richards says.

Mr. Richards says a deck is one of the first things his buyers are looking for because they don’t want to worry about the added expense and hassle of building it themselves.

“On nice days, people want to expand the living space, and the deck is the most natural way to do so,” Mr. Richards says.

Some of the latest trends in decks Mr. Richards says he has seen include screened-in decks, double decks and decks built using composite materials — recycled wood fibers in a plastic resin base.

One of the first and leading manufacturers of composite decking is Trex Co., headquartered in Winchester, Va. Another familiar name in the field is CertainTeed. Other composite decking trademarks include CorrectDeck, TimberTech and Fiberon.

The choice of materials is the subject of some debate. Composite decking has improved since it was introduced in the 1990s, but those who prefer wood say that despite the fact that the new material requires less maintenance and resists rot and insects, it doesn’t have the solid feel of wood and that darker composite colors can fade in the sun.

Proponents of composites point to wood decking’s preservatives as an environmental issue. Composite decking, they argue, is a means to recycle some plastics and waste wood that otherwise would go to the landfill. If composites fade, wood rots and splinters.

The best advice for homeowners is to choose the material that suits the needs of their family. For those to whom maintenance is an issue, composites might be better. If color is an issue, wood might be best. Homeowners’ associations might have a say in the selection of materials, too.

However, having a deck — regardless of the decking material — is a plus, the agents say.

Vanessa Vergnetti, a Realtor with Washington Fine Properties in the District, says decks are popular and desirable in Washington and can add as much as $5,000 to the price of the house, depending on the age of the house and the deck.

“A deck is something that appeals to everyone,” she says. “If there is any trend, it would be the Trex — it lasts forever.”

Barbara Northam, a Realtor with RE/MAX Choice in Fairfax, says that she recently paid $4,000 to have the 21-year-old deck in her own home replaced because it was time to renovate it and that she knows a well-preserved deck can add up to a major increase when it is time to sell.

“Everyone wants to get out there,” she says. “It’s going to be a hard sell if you don’t have a deck.”

Without a deck, Ms. Northam says, “you can take a huge hit.”

Ms. Northam cautions homeowners with an eye toward resale to create a deck that is suitable for the community.

“As long as it’s nothing too customized and over the top — nothing too funky,” she says.

One Fairfax County homeowner spent some $75,000 on a custom deck with a built-in spa, gas grill and refrigerator, she says.

“It was spectacular, but they didn’t get penny for penny back,” Ms. Northam says.

Ms. Northam says she opted not to use composite decking at her house because, although she knew about its advantages, she had two listings with composite decks and both had discoloration that could not be removed.

“The purchasers were not happy with its appearance,” Ms. Northam says.

The agents who were interviewed for this article say homeowners need to plan out the size and shape of their deck based on how they will use it.

They can sketch out the deck with rough measurements and decide on the placement of items. For example, if they want to use it primarily for entertaining, they need to ensure that they have room for their grill and the accompanying table and chairs.

“They need to make it user-friendly and think through what kind of deck they want,” says Jennifer Myers, a Realtor with Keller Williams in Rockville. “If people just want to slap up a deck, that isn’t really going to help. If they put on a beautiful deck, it will only add to the home.”

Other considerations include how the house and deck will be connected.

For example, if the deck is not going to be free-standing, a door might need to be added. In addition, homeowners need to determine what types of building permits are needed.

The deck construction — and cost — is governed by how the house and deck connect, how many inches off of the ground the deck is and the railings that might be required.

Ensuring that codes are met is crucial. A deck that doesn’t comply with building codes might not be covered under the homeowner’s insurance policy.

It also can become an issue at the time of resale.

Realtor Sharon Baharoff with Long & Foster in Damascus says that, depending on the style and layout of a house, a deck can really complete a home.

“I have walked into houses with no deck on the back, and it’s almost like it’s incomplete — like an unfinished basement,” Mrs. Baharoff says.

She says she has seen homes where the owners designed decks that were creative and unique, such as one house where the end posts on the deck railing were hollowed out and lit from the inside.

“Now that’s the type of thing people notice,” Mrs. Baharoff says. “As long as you realize that you don’t want to overpersonalize it.”

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