Washington-area home buyers do not seem to put much value into houses that have pools. (iStock)

Whenever I buy a home that has a pool, like the homes I buy, it is usually in pretty bad shape. Every time this happens, I have to run through the cost vs. gain math to determine if I repair the pool or remove it. Personally, I love pools. They were a status symbol for me growing up. If you had a pool, you were rich. So my bias is to think a pool will add value. But, experience in the Washington area has taught me otherwise.

Almost every time I have sold a home in this area that had a pool, it has been problematic. There are people who just do not want pools, and it becomes a deal killer for a percentage of potential buyers. There are others who would not mind having a pool, but they are really not willing to pay for it. There is a small percentage of buyers who are specifically looking for pools, but they are not willing to pay much more for it, and in this area, they do not have to.

In the winter of 2017 I bought a house in Annandale, Va., that had a beautiful enclosed pool with its own heat separate heating and air conditioning system. It was built on a large masonry foundation to make it level with and attached to the home. My inclination was to keep it, even though, logically, I knew better. So I ran through the numbers on repairing the pool or demolishing it and building a deck in its place.

The pool had a lot of problems. The foundation had a significant crack, and the wall was probably 10 feet high at that spot. The furnace unit was completely shot. The deck was cracked, and so was the pool liner. The enclosure was made of a thin double layer plexiglass in an aluminum frame, and it would need attention, as well, and would not provide much insulation. All the pool systems — such as the pump and filters — would have to be replaced. It was going to cost close to $30,000 to repair the pool, but it would be beautiful and probably be worth $70,000 in replacement costs.

My alternative was to demolish the pool for which I received an estimate of $12,000 and build a deck that would cost about $15,000. So, the costs were similar. The math had me leaning toward keeping the pool.

But, for my business, that is only one piece of the equation and a less significant piece at that. What is really important is whether it nets a higher sales price. When I checked the comparable sales data, I found nothing concrete that would justify a higher price for the home if I kept the pool.

The thing with appraisals is that if there are not recent comparable sales with a specific item in them, then the appraiser usually gives very little value for the additional item. It is the same reason you do not want to build the biggest home in a neighborhood. If you are selling the biggest home in an area, an appraiser might give you something like $25 per square foot for additional size over the comparable homes. It might have cost $200 per square foot to build, but it does not really matter to most appraisers. Pools are even worse. In this area, you pretty much give pools away. What’s worse is they eliminate a portion of your potential buyers for whom a pool is a deal killer. Sellers want their homes to appeal to as many buyers as possible.

In the end, I figured who is going to want to heat and cool the air and the water for that pool? It would be an $800,000 home, but most people still do not want that additional risk, costs and maintenance on their home.

Washington is a very transient area, and people who were born and raised in places such as Southern California, where pools are common, might also struggle with this decision. But, for me, the lesson has been learned several times over: Pools are one of the worst returns on a home investment.

If you have a pool you want to remove, make sure you do it correctly. I once saw a flip project where the contractor took all of the construction debris from the remodel and threw it in the pool. Then covered it with top soil. The pool became a big, sunken mud hole for the new buyer.

The best option is to dig out the pool completely and back fill it with soil, compacting it as you go. It is expensive. I have seen contractors who left the pool in place but the punched holes in it to allow drainage before they filled it in. If you do not allow for drainage, you are eventually going to have a big mess. Make sure you consult the appropriate experts in the process. Do not just rely on a general contractor to resolve it.

If you are among the buyers who do really want a pool, then I strongly advise you to buy a home with a pool already in place. I do not put pools in my projects, but many of my clients have, and I have not heard of a pool in this area that cost less than $40,000. It is a big price tag.

You can go buy a home for, say, $500,000, and then come up with $40,000 -plus to add a pool, or you can buy a home for $500,000 that already has a pool. Again, in this area, most sellers pretty much give their pools away at no additional cost.

On my project I decided to remove the pool. It allowed for a really nice deck. The home was on a hill, so it gave an elevated view and opened up the backyard. I sold the home in a blink and came out very well on the project.