Outdoor spaces such as balconies, decks, patios and porches are precious amenities for homeowners and renters alike. The past year-and-a-half of solitary pandemic living has turned them into invaluable real estate assets. Now demand is soaring.

“Any outdoor space is now more highly prized than ever,” said Catarina Bannier, a Compass agent in the Washington, D.C., area.

Fresh air is intoxicating. Now, in autumn, it’s cool with a hint of chill. An artist would paint the air amber and yellow to match the changing leaves. The pandemic has enhanced our sensitivity to the beauty of outdoors.

And people’s creative juices are churning as the pandemic has inspired them to enjoy the outdoors in new ways.

“We spent a lot of time in the garden, tending the plants, enjoying being together. My kids needed screen breaks and exercise, and I needed to de-stress and get fresh air and sunshine,” said Amy Suardi, who has five children ages 8 to 19.

They cared for fruit trees, flowers, strawberries, carrots, tomatoes and sugar snap peas. “We farmed the tree box by hoeing up all the weeds, adding compost and planting sunflower and zinnia seeds. The sunflowers grew over 12 feet tall. We planted blackberries along the driveway and edible flowers like nasturtiums and chamomile,” she said. Suardi and her husband, Enrico, live on a small lot in the city.

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When the pandemic broke out, “Suddenly the ordinary things became precious and our garden started to feel like a wonderland,” Suardi said. She began writing short essays, poems and mini-memoirs in an online blog. After seven months, she had enough to fill a book. “My Beautiful, Terrible Pandemic Life” was published last year.

Exposure to the elements

John DeForest, of DeForest Architects in Seattle, said when the pandemic first hit, many architects thought they’d get requests for adding or remodeling spaces for home offices.

“But instead, people craved a connection to the outside in the form of large windows and doors opening to covered decks and patios,” he said.

“I do think there has been a surge in demand for outdoor spaces that’s clearly tied to the pandemic. Instead of carving out additional space in basements and attics, many recent clients have expressed a desire for more exposure to the elements, a broader visual horizon and perhaps a sense of escape from being cooped up,” he added.

“Sheltered spaces with radiant heaters, windscreens, comfortable furnishings and fire features provide added space and flexibility year-round in mild climates like ours,” DeForest said.

Demand has also surged for pools. “I can’t tell you how popular they are now but you can’t get one till next year. We can’t get materials and don’t have enough skilled labor,” said Joseph Smith, partner at Owings Brothers Contractors in Eldersburg, Maryland. “Product demand for pavers, cultured stone and low-maintenance decking is so great we can’t always secure enough of the items needed. COVID has created a double whammy — supply challenges and demand.”

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The trend in outdoor living predates the pandemic, said Kermit Baker, chief economist at the American Institute of Architects. “It really started to take off around 2009-2010 and stayed strong for well over a decade,” he said.

“Last year there was a surge throughout the country. We found a dramatic uptick in demand for features like outdoor living spaces as a result of the pandemic,” he added.

In September, AIA released its home design trends survey for the third quarter of 2021, focusing on home features. “During that time period we saw another significant increase in interest for outdoor living space,” said Baker.

As outdoor entertaining became popular, the purchase of accompanying accoutrements rose in tandem.

“Demand for outdoor accessories has been exponential. I’d say the interest has increased at least 50% with the pandemic. Our call level is higher than in my entire career,” said Smith.

“People are asking for decks, covered porches, screened porches and pools. They want outdoor kitchens under overhead roofs, grills, cabinets, sinks, refrigerators, pizza ovens,” he said.

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Gardens and gathering spaces

Michele Grace Hottel, a San Diego architect, watched people create their own pop-up outdoor spaces during the pandemic.

“I saw people set up outdoor rooms in the front, side and backyards and even their driveways. They put down dining tables and chairs and added fire pits. They reimagined places for small gatherings with family, friends and neighbors,” she said.

Brendan Doyle, owner of Planterra, a landscape design-build company in Portland, Oregon, said the pandemic enhanced people’s desire to be close to nature.

“During COVID, everyone wanted to get outdoors because it was a safer place to be. Clients asked me to make new outdoor spaces and plant four-season flower and edible gardens,” he said.

One client favored a Clematis collection — a flower in the buttercup family with 300 varieties. Another sought Doyle’s expertise to create a children’s play area and outdoor dining room. “I designed and planted a yard for a guy who was barely conscious of the outdoors before the pandemic. Now he ambles across the lawn with handheld clippers trimming his grass blades,” said Doyle.

“Even I bought a wheeled trug planter, stationed it on my terrace and am growing leafy greens. I go out and pick fresh salad every night for supper,” he said.

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Two couples, Lauren and Jessie Garner, parents to an 18-month-old son, Kendall, and Zendzi and Rachel Curry-Neal, who have 7-month-old twin boys Johari and Jadzia, are longtime devoted friends, but the pandemic crystallized their desire for geographic proximity, too.

They are planning to build a duplex in Washington, D.C., with two homes side-by-side and shared outdoor space in the backyard and at the house front. One walkway will lead to steps up to a porch shared by both houses. One entry door will open to a vestibule with a private door on each side leading to the two living spaces.

“I visualized scenarios of shared spaces, especially outside. Our children playing together in the yard and coming home from school in the rain and kicking off their wet shoes on the porch,” said Rachel Curry-Neal.