Like so many other oversized recreational amenities, tennis courts have received a rush of renewed interest over the past year and a half, as luxury buyers, suddenly stuck at home, gravitated toward larger, full-service properties. And with the kickoff of the U.S. Open this week, more owners and buyers may find themselves inspired to add a personal tennis court.
“For the longest time, people were trending toward smaller, more manageable properties, but with Covid it was the polar opposite,” said Dana Koch, a Corcoran agent based in Palm Beach, Florida. “People were looking for more outdoor space and breathing room. A handful of years ago it was rare that someone would specify that they wanted a tennis court, and now we get that request far more often than we used to.”
Nationally, searches that include “tennis” as a keyword are up 15% in the year through July 26 compared to the same time in 2020, according to data provided for Mansion Global by realtor.com, with the highest demand concentrated in warm-weather states including Florida, Georgia, California and Texas.
(Mansion Global is owned by Dow Jones. Both Dow Jones and realtor.com are owned by News Corp.)
“It’s absolutely popular in the Florida market,” Mr. Koch said. “Anything outdoors that allows you to take advantage of your surroundings and the weather, it’s absolutely a huge benefit.”
And with the Delta variant of Covid-19 hampering fall reopening plans, luxury buyers continue to prefer large, compound-style properties that can act as a refuge from the outside world.
“There’s nonstop interest in outdoor living spaces—properties that have private pools, sport courts, outdoor kitchens, a place for the kids to play,” said Emil Hartoonian, managing partner with The Agency in Calabasas, California. “There’s a real influx of people that want to have almost a self-sufficient home where you’re able to have everything.”
That said, while home prices across the board have seen a steep increase over the past year and a half, for homeowners looking to boost their property’s value even further before putting it on the market, adding a tennis court won’t necessarily result in a higher sale price, and in some cases, can limit the number of interested buyers.
“If an owner is trying to modify the house to make it more sellable, adding a tennis court doesn’t necessarily make it more sellable,” Mr. Hartoonian said. “Technically, you’re eliminating some usable space from the backyard [that could be used for] grass pads, a guest house.”
If a property has enough acreage to fit in every possible outdoor amenity without using up space for grass and entertaining, then a tennis court can still be seen as de rigueur.
“I have a property right now that’s six acres, and I wouldn’t [remove] the tennis court,” said David Kramer of Hilton & Hyland/Luxury Portfolio International in Los Angeles. “When you get into the really big properties, you need the court as an amenity.”
For smaller lots however, taking out the tennis court may actually add more potential value than keeping one, or adding a new court at the expense of other backyard space.
“If it takes up the whole yard, it’s usually a negative,” Mr. Kramer said. “If you have a yard and it’s all concrete, like a tennis court and a pool and no grass, you’re better off pulling that court out. I’ve had properties that had trouble selling because they had a court as a yard, then the owners removed the court and sold the property right away.”
And if you’re choosing between value-adding outdoor amenities, a pool will generally trump a tennis court.
“It doesn’t tend to be a dealbreaker if a tennis court isn’t there,” said Rob Johnson, an agent with Brown Harris Stevens in Greenwich, Connecticut. “Whereas with a pool, the perception is that getting a pool company to build a pool is going to be more expensive and time consuming. It’s more make or break whether there’s an existing pool versus an existing court.”
Mr. Kramer added, “A court is 60 by 120 feet, and when you have a lot that’s not much bigger, you’re better off removing the court and making a big gracious yard with a new pool. With older homes, there was a tennis court craze in the 1970s and 1980s, and people wanted courts so they just shoved them in wherever.”
Ultimately, as with other custom amenities, owners should focus on their own enjoyment of a property rather than a theoretical future sales price increase that could wind up being negligible. The resale boost of a tennis court is likely to amount to “roughly the cost of adding it,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s more of a personal preference and a luxury rather than a value-add proposition.”
And in the current climate, buyers are more than willing to purchase properties with large amounts of outdoor space, with an eye to eventually adding in their own custom sport courts.
“This year so far I’ve had two people who are installing tennis courts in properties I sold them, which is kind of a turnaround,” Mr. Kramer said. “It’s not something we usually hear about.”
Mr. Koch added, “In Palm Beach we have a very limited supply of large properties in general, it’s not an area you can come to [as a buyer] and say you only want a house with a tennis court. I had a client who acquired another property next door and tore down the house just so they could add a tennis court.”