By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Inside, the house was completely restored, a 1910 charmer with three bedrooms, three baths and a two-car garage. Outside, there was nothing inviting about the aluminum and frosted glass windows that enclosed the porch. The property sat on the market for seven months, with little buyer interest. Finally, the sellers’ agent persuaded the reluctant owners to remove the windows and open the porch. Before the job was even completed, the home in St. Petersburg, Fla. sold for $475,000, just below the asking price. Such is the power of curb appeal.
Curb appeal refers to the desirability of a home from the outside. And in a housing market with a glut of homes for sale, curb appeal is a competitive edge. Well-priced homes in prime locations often don’t evoke the interest they should simply because the exteriors lack charisma. ”Whether it is someone passing by who won’t stop to pick up a flyer or someone on the Internet who is put off by the photos, the seller is missing out on potential buyers. First impressions are crucial,” says Sharon Simms, a broker with ALVA International, who represented the Florida sellers. While there is no shortage of information on making an exterior sizzle, it is hard to be objective when it comes to your own property. ”You get so used to going home to your own house that often you don’t see the problems and frequently owners don’t use the front door,” so they don’t realize when they look up there are cobwebs hanging over the entry or that the door sticks, says Simms.
–New Eyes, New Vision
To see what the buyers see, put yourself in their shoes by viewing your house from across the street. ”This is where agents typically park to first show buyers a home,” says Barb Schwarz, president of StagedHomes.com and author of several books on staging. Take pictures. Nothing brings a third party perspective more than the camera’s neutral lens. You’ll catch things, like the trash cans in front of the garage or brown spots in the grass. From the opposite curb, slowly make your way to the entry, narrowing your focus every few feet. Are there stains on the driveway? Is the path to the front door obvious and unobstructed? Is the yard a mishmash of lawn ornaments? Is the facade too plain? Does the entry make you want to see more of the house?
–Taming the Wild
Landscaping should not only frame the house, but also funnel the eye to the front door. Cut overgrown ground cover and plants to clear walkways and open a visual path. Schwarz recommends trimming overgrown shrubs from the top down rounding the tops. For trees, she starts at the bottom, removing branches that obstruct the view of the house. Keep foundation plants below the windows. The exterior looks better, and the interior will get more light. Optimize appeal by removing anything that distracts or suggests the property is not well maintained. Remove stains from the driveway and walkways. Clean out gutters and repair any peeling paint. Move trash cans out of view, put away toys and any leftover gardening tools. Remove dead plants and keep flowering plants looking fresh by removing old blossoms. Rake leaves. Don’t slack off after the initial open house. You have to be vigilant about appearances the entire time the house is on the market. –Focus on the Front The front entry is the one place buyers will have ample time to take in every detail as they wait for the agent to retrieve the key from the lockbox and open the door. Make sure the front entrance is clean and inviting. Make sure the door operates smoothly. Shine (or replace) door knobs, locks and house numbers. Replace an old or cracked doorbell; a new one costs $20 or less. ”If you can’t afford to upgrade the entire exterior, concentrate on the front door which will bring the biggest bang for the buck,” advises Michelle Valigursky co-author of ”Creating Curb Appeal.
–Power of Paint
Many real estate agents swear by paint. ”The scent of fresh paint sets the tone for the house,” says Linda Itami with Prudential Utah in Salt Lake City who typically advises sellers to give the entry a facelift by painting the door. ”The mailbox is the same thing. I like people to paint them or get a new mailbox.” Paint is also a wonderful way to highlight architectural details. Use no more than three colors, cautions Schwarz, who recommends checking out the newest local subdivision for color cues. Also, paint retailers such as Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore have information and recommended color combinations for various architectural styles. ”I always suggest a rich and interesting color,” for the front door, says Michelle Molinari, a professional stager in Louisiana and co-owner of CurbAppealForDummies.com. ”The biggest secret is a black front door. You never see a black front door on a cheap house.”
–Set the Scene
Enlarge any skimpy planting beds along the foundation or the walkway and rejuvenate existing beds with new mulch. Molinari recommends dark mulch. ”It makes the greens look greener and it also grounds the house. One of the messages I want the house to send is that it is sturdy and stable and well constructed,” she says. Use landscaping as punctuation and focus color and white flowers in places you want people to notice. On the front porch, try positioning a chair on either side of the front door or in a grouping with a small table. Soften the look with an outdoor pillow or two. Set the scene for coffee or lemonade. Finish the entry with a pop of green. Fill a planter, color coordinated with the house, with a conical evergreen and finish it with seasonal flowers. Don’t forget lighting. Potential buyers often view a home online and then drive by after work. Interested buyers also like to see what a home looks like after dark.
–Look to the Sides
No matter how beautifully you’ve staged your own home, the effect will be lost if the homes on either side are unkempt. Often, says Scott Mosby, a contractor from Kirkwood, Mo., it is hard to tell where your property line begins and the neighbor’s ends. Experienced real estate agents offer an array of solutions, which might be a simple as offering to mow a neighbor’s lawn.
Lastly, once you’ve amped up the exterior make sure your agent broadcasts it with new photos online. The Internet is the new curb since most buyers begin their search there and your home has only three seconds to catch a buyer’s eye. Research shows exterior improvements pay off with faster sales and higher prices in some markets. Improvements such as wood decks and new siding typically bring the highest returns on resale, according to the National Association of Realtors annual report on cost versus resale value.
There are no guarantees in real estate but an enhanced appearance is the best way to insure your home passes the three-second test.