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Builders take note. With most Americans feeling the pinch of a tough economy and a job market gone global, homeowners are increasingly looking to get more 'bang for their buck' from their residential investments. Many are looking outside their doors for inspiration.

"Outdoor living is no longer a noun. It's a verb," says Susan McCoy, president of the Garden Media Group. "We are entertaining in our outdoor living rooms, cooking in our outdoor kitchens, conducting business in our outdoor offices and even grooming in outdoor showers."

According to a national consumer survey on the outdoor living trend in the United States by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), consumers across the country are spending more time at home and are showing an increasing interest in outdoor rooms.

"Home improvement projects tend to be driven by an underlying emotional need," said Martha Baker, well-known outdoor living expert as well as the best-selling author of The Outdoor Living Room: Stylish Ideas for Porches, Patios, and Pools. "Building or renovating outdoor rooms illustrates our need to relax and reconnect with family and friends. Outdoor rooms increase our quality of life while also increasing a home's value."

The PERC survey supports Baker's observation of the market. It showed that creating a space to relax and entertain is among the top reasons homeowners decide to add or remodel an outdoor room. Other survey results include:

  • Half of all American homeowners (50 percent) say that they are spending more time at home than they were five years ago.
  • When it comes to spending time at home, four in five (80 percent) also say that it is important to have an outdoor living space where they can relax and entertain.
  • More than one in three homeowners (35 percent) have a finished outdoor room, and 34 percent say they are planning to design one in the next one to two years.
  • The most important reason homeowners decide to add or remodel an outdoor room is to create a space to relax (89 percent), followed by spending more time outside (87 percent), adding value to a home (79 percent), extending a home's living space (78 percent) and creating a space to entertain (74 percent).
  • When it comes to outfitting an outdoor room, most homeowners say they are likely to include outdoor lighting units (94 percent) and a gas grill (86 percent). Many would be likely to include mosquito eliminators (79 percent), an outdoor fireplace or pit (67 percent), and just over half (53 percent) are likely to include patio heaters.

"Today's consumers in all tax brackets are creating their own outdoor living style, whether it's adorning their patio with floor lamps from a discount retailer or installing full-blown entertainment areas complete with fireplaces, plush seating and sound systems," says McCoy. "Living large outdoors is a luxury everyone is embracing."

Dressing up that outdoor luxury with special lawn and gardening products is equally popular. This past year, Lawn & Garden World® was the fastest growing segment of the National Hardware Show® at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. According to the National Gardening Association, sales for lawn and garden products -- including both plants and equipment -- totaled $36.8 billion in 2005. The average annual per household lawn and garden expenditures totaled about $449.

"Homeowners today are spending more and more of their time and money on outdoors, and are looking to make these spaces as aesthetically pleasing and comfortable as possible," said Rob Cappiello, industry vice president of the National Hardware Show®. "The yard and garden have become just as important to homeowners as the kitchen and living room."

"The outdoor living boom has clearly moved from being 'just a trend' to a lifestyle," said McCoy, adding that people are transforming their ordinary backyards into 'specialty rooms' complete with kitchens, bars, TVs and even heaters for cool nights. Flowers, shrubs and trees are being used as accents, room dividers, carpets and curtains.

McCoy believes outdoor living has been fueled by three things: our obsession with living a healthier lifestyle, easier-to-grow plants for instant success and a vast array of stylish and affordable all-weather furnishings, fabrics and appliances.

No matter the market, real estate is always the single best investment one could make. Builders who understand this, and our able to take advantage of trends ahead of the competition, will be in business for as long as they desire. Future homeowners will continue to take advantage of all the real estate they own -- both inside and out, and outside in the home. Developers must take this into consideration prior to building tomorrow's neighborhoods.

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