- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

As the weather warms up and the sun bears down, can refreshing thoughts of cooling off with a swim be far behind? What better way to enjoy the season than by lounging by the pool in the privacy of your own back yard?

Pool business in the Washington area is thriving, industry observers say, and homeowners appear to be investing money in improvements at home, such as pools, rather than spending cash on vacations.

“We’re doing better than last year,” says Cindy Huston, co-owner of Huston Pools Inc. in Fairfax. “People don’t want to travel. They are refinancing and staying home.”

Before talking the plunge, consider the long-term pros and cons of such an addition.

Realtors say pools can be an asset or a liability, depending on how many other homes in the neighborhood have pools and how much time and effort the homeowner can spend to ensure that the pool is well-maintained and inviting.

Ron Marcus, associate broker with Long & Foster in Bethesda and McLean, warns that, although the current competitive market makes it easier to sell a home with a pool, it can be a major drawback under normal market conditions.

“In this market, there aren’t too many things that are viewed as a negative and stand in the way” of a sale, Mr. Marcus says, “but in a normal market, people will be particular.”

Mr. Marcus says buyers normally shy away from a pool, especially if they can enjoy the benefits of swimming and family fun at a community pool without having to struggle with security issues and the required maintenance.

Potential buyers will be much more enthusiastic about a pool if they are looking in neighborhoods where most of the other residents have them, he says.

In 20 years, Mr. Marcus says that he has sold only 10 homes with pools. Most of the buyers, he says, relocated to the area from regions where backyard pools are considered the norm, such as in California, or they had children who would look forward to swimming in their own pool.

The amount of space required for a pool is another factor that can make them unappealing to the buyer.

Anne Cavanagh, agent with W.C. & A.N. Miller in Bethesda, says that unless the buyer is considering a huge property, a swimming pool might take up most of the back yard.

“It’s just not in everyone’s taste — unless you are a devoted swimmer,” she says.

Ms. Cavanagh recalls that the one time she sold a home with a pool, it slowed the process down because the buyers wanted the pool to be filled in. “Overall, a pool is more of a negative,” she says.

Yet Realtors selling properties in higher-end neighborhoods argue that a pool can be an enticement for their buyers, who often expect it.

“If they don’t see one, it’s like, ‘Where is the pool?’” says Arlington agent Lawanda Swope with Weichert Realty.

Ms. Swope believes a pool can be a big hit with buyers, depending on the convenience of access and how the pool is landscaped.

For example, Ms. Swope says her pool is set up on the same level as her kitchen. She can easily wake up and stroll out to have her breakfast by the pool, rather than having to walk up and down steps.

She says the crucial factor that determines whether homeowners get their money back if they invest in a pool is whether they take pride in it.

She has seen examples of pools that are unattractive, with the pump and motor in full view, and has also shown homes at the other end of the spectrum, where homeowners who have put in a Jacuzzi, waterfalls and other accessories to add to their pool.

Ms. Swope says that pools can be great for entertaining and for family togetherness but that “if you don’t take care of them and landscape them and make them user-friendly, it’s just a pool.”

Ready to dive in? How much do you have to spend?

Costs range widely, depending on the size and design of the pool.

Huston Pools offers gunite pools that start at $36,000 and can cost as much as $200,000.

The pools have upgraded filters, pumps and motors, so that the owner only needs to worry about replacing the cartridge on the chlorinator. Ms. Huston admits that a pool can be a “maintenance nightmare” if it doesn’t have a pool cleaner and chlorinator.

Potential pool buyers should do their homework and research the equipment and plumbing available, she says.

While the permit for the pool is inclusive in the contract with Huston Pools and the company will take care of obtaining inspections, there may be other unanticipated costs.

For example, Ms. Huston explains that if a grading plan is required to install the pool, the buyer may have to pay as much as $2,000 for this document. If the installers hit rock on the property they may have to use extra equipment, which can mean extra charges.

Other costs to consider when installing a pool include landscaping, fencing and maintenance.

Sandro de Carvalho, design and sales manager for Splash Aquatic in Sterling, says he spends a great deal of time with customers to inform them of the costs to expect.

He estimates that landscaping costs can run from $1,000 for bare-bones landscaping to $2,500 for a professional landscaper to do the work. He estimates the average spent for landscaping can run from $8,000 to $15,000.

In addition, fencing can run from $15 to $40 a linear foot, averaging about 200 linear feet for the average family sized pool. This would add up to $3,500 on the lower end, using wooden boards, to $8,000 to $10,000 for powder-coated aluminum.

Pool-maintenance costs depend on the number of gallons, the number of swimmers and the climate conditions of the season, Mr. De Carvalho says.

He estimates that a homeowner would spend about $600 to $700 a season in chemicals for a pool. Mr. De Carvalho strongly recommends hiring a service professional to maintain your pool, to save time and to ensure the pool will run at its optimum level by repairing small items and recommending the best sanitizers.

“Our goal is to have each client enjoy a safe and fun oasis a step away, versus traveling with the whole troop to the beach or to the neighborhood pool,” Mr. De Carvalho says.

Splash Aquatic offers a “hands-off package” that offers maintenance for a four-month season for $2,250. It covers opening and closing the pool and maintaining it on a weekly basis.

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