Rick BissonWhether a home resides in an urban, suburban or rural setting, the same common elements exist in some format, size and shape. Those elements include a living space, a cooking and eating area, sleeping quarters and, to some degree, an outdoor space. An emphasis on the value of outdoor areas, whether big or small, is gaining popularity.

This popularity is highlighted in a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects. According to its first quarter survey in 2017, the desire for outdoor living space ranked top among architects for landscaping trends. Blended indoor and outdoor living came in second.

“As building lots continue to be smaller and scarcer, lot preparation with the goal of maximizing livable outdoor space tops the list of property enhancement desires,” says Kermit Baker, chief economist at the American Institute of Architects.

Don’t underestimate the power of a space based on its size. Not everyone dreams of a large, sprawling yard. And even buyer’s seeking acres of open space still have a need for a defined outdoor spot. There are plenty of ways to enhance a large or small outdoor area. Observe the following six guidelines to maximize your home’s yard and draw buyers’ appeal.

Create a focal point. Smaller spaces often benefit from an attention-grabbing feature, such as a water fountain, outdoor fireplace, or a restful nook. A focal point draws the eye into the center and pushes the walls away.

Implement a lighting design. Solar lights can be added affordably and without extra wiring. Point lights up at trees, and place them along the driveway and planting beds to create an ambient feel.

Eradicate the weeds and trim the bushes. Nothing makes a house look unkempt faster than an overgrown lawn or weeds poking through the patio. Taller plants can add height to a space that feels closed off. Use colorful flowers and plants to add lushness and to liven up the space.

Add furniture. This one may seem counterintuitive and yet it’s hard to imagine reading on the porch or serving dinner on the patio when there’s no furniture around. On the other hand, if buyers see a dining table or a pair of cushioned lounge chairs with a side table for drinks, they’ll perceive the space as valuable additional square footage where they can unwind with family or entertain.

Be careful, however, not to overcrowd the space. The more elements a yard has, the tighter it will feel. To the buyer’s eye, certain items can look like unwanted junk. Keep the furnishings simple and to scale.

Keep the space clean and tidy. When patios go unused, they accumulate a layer of dust, dirt and grime that makes the space look uncared for and unused. Consider pressure washing surfaces and pay special attention when sweeping and dusting spots like exterior window ledges, thresholds, and basement stairwells.

Playing down a small outdoor space could be a missed opportunity to connect with a buyer who sees a postage-stamp lawn or a compact front stoop as a plus, says Meridith Baer, owner of Meridith Baer Home, a staging firm based in the Los Angeles area. “Actually, it’s sometimes easier to make a small space charming. It might be as simple as adding shutters in a pretty hue and painting the front door, or putting that perfect set of chairs on the front porch,” she says.

Whether you’re dealing with a small backyard in a single-family home or simply a balcony or patio for a townhouse or condo, these tips can help make a bigger statement. A great outdoor space is at the top of many home buyers’ checklists. So even if your home doesn’t include a large lawn or an over-the-top patio, it’s important to show buyers that the home still offers the perks of an indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

If you are considering selling, be sure to consult with a trusted Realtor, they will be able to advise you on the best ways to utilize your home’s outdoor space.

This column is produced by Rick Bisson and his family, who own Bisson Real Estate with Keller Williams Realty of Midcoast and Sugarloaf.