A property’s curb appeal naturally makes a critical first impression. “If everything within the front space is well-chosen and in perfect repair—from the mailbox and house numbers to the walkway and landscaping—buyers will think, ‘This house is obviously well-cared for,’ ” says Lisa Grant Vail, a real estate professional with Keller Williams Atlanta Perimeter and coauthor of Creating Curb Appeal (Schiffer Publishing, 2009). “This message is imprinted on their brains, even if the rest of the house is actually not as well cared for. It’s very hard to change a first impression.”
While most real estate professionals advise their clients to tend to the yard work, trim the trees, and put out a new welcome mat, they may miss other opportunities to help sellers improve a home’s curb appeal. Staging and real estate professionals offer some compelling ideas for sprucing up exteriors.
A front door can be a home’s focal point—but you don’t want that to be because of its peeling paint or dinged hardware. Replacing an entryway door with a new steel door (which costs about $1,200) actually offers among the biggest bang for the buck at resale (an average of 73 percent of the cost may be recouped, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2011–2012 Cost vs. Value Report, which analyzed 35 remodeling projects’ payback potential).
Sometimes a front door can be salvaged with a fresh coat of paint. Just don’t overdo it: Vail recalls when her clients went too bold with their door’s hue—a vivid blue that didn’t complement the home. It had dated brass handle and lock hardware, too. (Satin nickel and black or oil-rubbed bronze are more the trend these days.)
Wash them—inside and out—and remove the screens for added sparkle. Then, try dressing up the windows with flower boxes, suggests Peggy Johnson, owner of Redesign + More, a Charlotte, N.C., interior design and staging firm. Also, consider a new color for shutters. The trend is a shift away from high-contrast green, red, or black to more monochromatic palettes that blend with the rest of the house, according to the Paint Quality Institute.
Depending on its orientation to the house, a garage can make a huge impact. Does the door need paint or repairs? Should it be replaced? While sellers might not be willing to spend on a stylish new cedar wood door, they can find more budget-friendly options in metal or fiberglass. A new steel garage door can cost about $1,500, but sellers, in average, recoup nearly 72 percent of that investment at resale, according to the Cost vs. Value Report.
Don’t overlook this key selling point. “It’s an iconic symbol of American living,” Vail says. “‘Sell’ your front porch as additional square footage by staging it with as much care as you would other rooms. Invite buyers to ‘sit a spell’ with a pair of rocking chairs, Adirondacks, a porch swing, or even an outdoor living suite.” And don’t forget to “add a coffee and a side table for writing up contracts,” Vail notes.
Is the driveway covered with cracks and oil stains? If sellers can’t afford a complete resurfacing (which may cost about $2,000 for concrete driveways), encourage them to look into patching up cracks using premixed concrete materials, Johnson says. Driveway cracks a quarter-inch or smaller may be able to be filled with asphalt or concrete that comes in caulk-like tubes. A patching compound for asphalt can be used for larger cracks. Some experts recommend kitty litter for removing oil stains, though hardware stores offer designated products, too.
Evening curb appeal also matters. “Conceal a couple of portable outdoor lamps and aim them at the house or a beautiful tree for low-cost, high-value impact,” Vail says. Have outdoor lights on a timer so they’re always on for nighttime showings. Interior lights, too, work to create a warm glow from the curb. If the home isn’t wired outdoors, line a pathway to the door with solar lights. “The technology has improved considerably over the past few years, and solar lights are much cheaper to install than hardwired lights,” Vail says. “Plus, sellers could probably take the lights with them when they move.”
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