Clever Landscaping Updates for $3,000 or Less

woodent front porch

chandlerphoto / Getty Images

In 2018, the average tax refund in the United States is $2,899, according to the Internal Revenue Service. While saving or investing it, taking a vacation, or paying off bills might all be valid ways to spend a tax return, home improvement and real estate experts advise homeowners to consider fixing up their landscape and home exterior. It's a wise investment that could increase your original expense when it comes time to sell.

Taking that hypothetical $3,000, we've looked at smart ways to enhance and upgrade your yard—both front and back. We also posed the question to several experts in the field of landscape and garden design: 

In what ways would you spend a $3,000 tax refund for outdoor home improvements?

  • 01 of 11


    Beautiful poolside succulent landscaping. Getty Images

    Investing in attractive, region-appropriate landscaping for your home will give you at least a 100 percent return on your investment, provided you care for and maintain it. Some ideas:

    • Spend about $400 to $1,000 or so for a yard maintenance crew to prune, weed, and basically clean up your front yard for curb appeal or the back yard for livability.
    • Get trees and shrubs trimmed by a professional tree-trimming service.
    • Consult a landscape or garden designer to work with existing shrubs, perennials, ornamentals and succulents, along with the basic design. Then buy plants and hire a landscape crew (often through the designer) to plant them.
    • If you live in a drought-prone area, get rid of your water-guzzling lawn. Hire a landscape crew that specializes in lawn removal to do so. Some areas even offer incentives and rebates for replacing lawns; check with your city or county for more information.
    • Change the landscaping near your pool: it will improve the poolside garden and the look of the pool itself.
    • Buy what you love and know. Barry Glick, garden author and owner of Sunshine Farm and Gardens in Renick, West Virginia, says he would use a $3,000 tax refund on "lots of wildflowers!"
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  • 02 of 11

    Curb Appeal

    family in front of house
    Family in front of house with great curb appeal. Getty Images

    April Bayne, landscape designer at Designs of April, says she would use a $3,000 to work on curb appeal, infrastructure or drainage issues. "It depends on priorities. If I had a dog, a fence might be important. If my landscape was OK, I might choose furnishings."

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  • 03 of 11

    A Patio, Deck or Outdoor Room

    patio with flagstone patio
    Beautiful patio with flagstone. Charles Schmidt/Getty Images

    Don't underestimate the value and appeal of an outdoor room or surface, like a patio. If you used that extra $3,000 to build, say, a 320-square-foot stamped-concrete patio in Evanston, Illinois, it would cost between $2,951 and $3,715, according to

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  • 04 of 11


    midcentury house with red doors
    Midcentury modern house with red doors. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Painting is one of the best ways to spruce up a drab exterior or get rid of peeling paint—both eyesores. While painting a home varies according to the size of home, region, and quality of materials, smaller jobs can also make a huge difference.

    For instance, the cost of painting a 180-square-foot porch in Phoenix, Arizona, is $171.34 (low end) to $310.82 (high end), according to, an online home service and  materials estimator. Even painting the front doors a bright color (see photo) can add appeal to a nicely painted exterior. Door hardware that complements the home's architectural style is also a smart touch.

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  • 05 of 11

    An Outdoor Kitchen

    nice outdoor kitchen
    A fully-equipped outdoor kitchen. Getty Images

    Since the post-Word War II housing boom, homeowners have been driven outside by their love of the barbecue. Portable charcoal models have given way to more elaborate grills that can cook an entire meal, along with outdoor kitchens featuring countertops, bars, refrigerators, and all kinds of amenities.

    Not surprisingly, Kevin McSherry, of From The Ground Up says he "loves the outdoors" and that he would spend a $3,000 tax refund on a cabana or grilling/smoking (cooking, not tobacco) area. If he had a choice of outdoor grills, McSherry says he would go for a wood-fired pizza oven.

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  • 06 of 11

    Hardscape, Paths and Pavers

    hardscape landscaping materials
    Hardscape materials for landscaping. RiverNorthPhotography/Getty Images

    Hardscape includes those areas of the landscape that do not have dirt or things growing in that dirt. Replacing hard-to-grow or water-guzzling areas with pavers or pea gravel adds interest and can be a smart fix for a difficult location. Pavers and stone can enhance outdoor areas and complement a home's architecture.

    With an extra $3,000, "I would redo my driveway using permeable pavers," says Helen Yoest, author of Gardening With Confidence and Plants With Benefits. She continues: "My garden is water-wise. All the rain that lands on my property, stays on my property, except for the driveway. I'd like to make that right. Other projects I've done with that kind of money that I've never regretted are night lighting and adding an important stone step feature in the middle of my mixed border leading into the backyard."

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  • 07 of 11

    Water or Fire Features

    beautiful stone fountain
    A beautiful stone fountain on pedestal. RASimon/Getty Images

    With a $3,000 budget, Brian Rivers, owner/project manager of Minnesota-based Impressions Outdoor Living, says, "I would consider a lighted water fountain with plantings, a fire pit, replace a front entry walkway, or add some front planting beds and accent stones to update and add curb appeal." 

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  • 08 of 11

    Fencing or Walls for Boundaries and Privacy

    man building wood fence
    A man cuts planks for building a wooden fence. Corey Jenkins/Getty Images

    Paint or upgrade fencing in the backyard or front, or add a gate that has security features. This way you're investing in appearance and safety.

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  • 09 of 11


    pool and deck at night
    Pool deck with lights in the evening. Astronaut Images/Getty Images

    Adding or updating outdoor lighting to the front or back yards of your home are not just practical or for safety—they also accentuate a home's architectural features, add ambience, accentuate landscaping, and create a sense of warmth.

    When choosing lighting fixtures, consider energy-saving LEDs, the style of the lighting fixture, exterior materials, and the architectural style of your home.

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  • 10 of 11

    A New or Refurbished Garage Door

    garage door picture

    Does your garage door stand out in a bad way? The best doors for your garage blend with the house and don't look like a separate and sometimes different architectural feature. Choose a door that is the same style as your home.

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  • 11 of 11

    A Front Porch Update

    Front porch of large white house. Getty Images

    A front porch is part of a home's curb appeal. When the porch or entry looks good, it can set the tone for the rest of the front yard; if it needs paint or repair, it can bring down a home's appeal and even its value.

    Helen Yoest says she would change her front porch. "It would be purely cosmetic. The roof over the porch would change, as would the stoop. It's a faux Georgian style with a flat porch roof that extends from the second floor, with tall, ostentatious columns out front. I would change it to a porch roof that extends the front of the house, between the first and second floor."

    Other easy updates include repairing steps, replacing columns or posts, repairing, replacing, or painting the porch floor, or sprucing up the door and window frames, the door itself, or other architectural details. You can also buy new furniture or add an outdoor fan to maximize its potential enjoyment level.