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Backyard pools provide more pleasure than profit

| Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Paul Folino created the swimming pool in his Coto de Caza backyard as a mini version of a Shangri La he admired in Maui. The resort-style pool includes cascading rocks and waterfalls, a shallow lounging area, grotto, waterslide and spa. Folino, who figures he pumped about $250,000 into building the pool, didn't care how much he'd recoup when he sold the home.

“I never designed this thinking of the actual value of the property,” said Folino, a retired executive who lives in Los Ranchos Estates. “I put this in for the family's pleasure. Even the dogs go down the slide.”

In some areas, such as Southern California, homebuyers expect to see swimming pools, and the more tricked out, the better, real estate agents say. For other homebuyers, however, a backyard pool is a turnoff. It can represent liability, a danger for children, a drain on the family budget and, sometimes, one extra expense: having to fill it in.

Real estate agents say a pool keeps some shoppers from contemplating a house, even with the limited supply of properties on the market.

“There's a lot of individuals out there, they don't want a pool,” said Kristi Kirkpatrick of Coldwell Banker Previews International in Newport Beach, Calif. “They don't want that risk; they don't want to be concerned with smaller kids.”

Other buyers can be satisfied with the pools kept up by homeowner associations and don't see the need for a private pool at their house, agents say.

For many, pools are a personal preference rather than an expense that homeowners should expect to get back when the property is sold.

“It's not really an investment,” said Leland Hill, owner of Associate Appraisers of America in Seal Beach. “If people put in a simple pool, it's probably going to cost them anywhere from $45,000 to $65,000. ... But they're probably only going to get a fraction of that back in the market.”

Hill said his brother, a landscaping contractor, gets several requests a year to remove pools, charging $15,000 and up per job.

Real estate appraisers say that whether the pool is a plus or pitfall when the home is resold depends on several variables, especially if the pool is too much of a personal statement, out of style or in need of repairs.

Generally, “pools are a classic example of an over-improvement, because they cost more than the market is willing to pay for them,” said Ryan Lundquist, an appraiser in Sacramento, Calif.

Lundquist likened the depreciating value of a swimming pool to driving a luxury car off the lot.

“People generally like pools, so it's easy to assume they are big-ticket items,” he said. “Moreover, pools can cost quite a bit to install, so it's understandable to think they will automatically increase value. On top of that, people have seen houses with pools sell for more.”

Lundquist, however, said he would deduct value from a house that has no pool if comparable homes in the neighborhood have them.

Folino, retired chairman of the board at Emulex, won't get dinged for that.

Real estate broker John Evans said Folino's lavish swimming pool is an important marketing tool for the 9,000-square-foot home, set on two acres with a barn, stables and a riding arena. The house, built in 2004, is listed at $5.99 million.

“Most of the properties in the Estates have pools,” said Evans of The Evans Group in Coto de Caza, standing in Folino's backyard as two of the family's dogs frolicked in the water on a hot August day. “It's just part of the ambiance. It's an emotional thing. Can you imagine if it wasn't here?”

Real estate agent Andy Stavros of Teles Properties agreed that a pool is an expectation in some Orange County neighborhoods. He's selling an 11,000-square-foot home in San Juan Capistrano's Hunt Club community at just under $4 million; the residence includes a tennis court and a round infinity pool with a spa.

“A pool at a high-luxury home is one of those features that comes with the wow-factor package,” he said.

Even a small pool — a so-called “spool” (too big for a spa and too small for a typical pool) — can be an impressive amenity, accommodating water features and special lighting.

Generally, real estate agents and appraisers say, buyers will fork over more for a home's additional square footage, upgrades, lot size or location.

“You could have a non-pool home with a much better view, and you'll pay significantly more because of that view,” Kirkpatrick said. “Can the pool add a value in those homes? Yes, it can. To what amount? There's just too many variables (to say).”

Bottom line: Is a pool worth it?

The consensus: Certainly — if you want one.

“There is an enormous value in use,” Lundquist said. “Despite buyers being unwilling to pay the exact cost of the pool in the resale market, property owners can really enjoy their pool.”

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