This is the kind of "put your best foot forward" advice you hear most often when going for a job interview, but it doesn't ring truer than when you're trying to sell your house. If you've ever been a buyer before, then you know — buyers are picky. And if you have ever been on the selling side, then you'll agree — buyers are really, really picky.
When you're in the market to buy a house, this pickiness makes sense. There's no way you're going to plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house that doesn't meet at least a few of your dream home criteria. But as a seller, this pickiness can drive you to the brink. If you're living in a buyers' market, and your house has been listed for more than a few months, you're probably losing sleep at night trying to figure out what you're doing wrong.
This brings us back to every realtor's favorite catchphrase (that you're probably going to hear more than a few times when selling your house): If you want to sell quick and at a good price, it's all about curb appeal. Think of it this way — curb appeal is the beautiful packaging on the humble home that you hope to present to a potential buyer. HGTV even made a show about it.
Since every buyer is judging the book by its cover, realtors agree that curb appeal has a huge effect on a home's resale value. Linda Rodenhi, the accredited staging expert behind Beyond Curb Appeal, estimates that a potential buyer makes a snap judgment on the attractiveness of a home within the first 30 seconds. Based on the results of the 2013 National Association of Realtors survey, 71 percent of buyers considered curb appeal important when shopping for a new home. On top of that, 92 percent of potential buyers are checking out pictures of homes on the Internet — meaning that if you present a pretty package, you'll be more likely to book a showing and get people in the door. In Zillow’s 2014 Home-Selling Season Survey, real estate agents confirmed that making a positive impression through strong curb appeal was one of the quickest ways to move a property.
Improving your home's curb appeal sounds complicated, when really, it's not. We've asked home and design experts to share how a few strategic changes can make your home's exterior stand out:
Let's start with an easy one that may only require lugging some patio furniture from your backyard to your front porch. Krisztina Bell, a professional home stager in Atlanta, recommends setting the scene with furniture first of all to make a front porch appear more inviting. If you don't have attractive patio furniture on hand, Bell says a quick DIY job will do you, "Add a pop of color on the front porch — it is easy and inexpensive to repaint wood chairs in fun colors or even metal furniture sets to give new life to this living space."
Just like meeting a new person for the first time, making a powerful first impression when selling a house is all about attention to detail. "Replace dingy hardware on a front door, house numbers and tarnished light fixtures," advises Bell. "It may be as simple as polishing these fixtures — but replacing them with new ones, if necessary, won't break the bank."
Landscaping is a hot one — home renovation experts estimate that sinking a big chunk of change into landscaping can yield the biggest return, starting at 150 percent. If your budget doesn't have room for a major landscaping project, Madeleine Dudson, eBusiness Marketing Manager of UK-based Jewson Tools, says you can still attract a buyer the old-fashioned way: by cleaning up your lawn. "Mowing your lawn and tidying up any shrubbery or dying plants will stop your garden from looking messy and tired. Clean any paths you have with hot water and bleach with a stiff broom to get rid of any algae that's built up over summer. Invest in some garden accessories, such as outdoor lanterns or sculptures, to place along the path to provide some interest."
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Whether a buyer recognizes it or not, unfinished edges and loose ends can be a subtle turnoff. Danny Ruby of Boston's Refine Construction suggests starting with the front porch to make it look polished since that's what buyers are going to see when they enter your home. "If you have a front porch open to the street, install a nice lattice underneath to block the open space between the porch and the ground. It adds visual interest and makes the whole space look more finished," he explains.
If you're in a cutthroat housing market, this may be just the tip you need to give your house an edge over the competition: Get a new mailbox and make sure it's distinct. "Adding a nice mailbox at the end of your driveway in front of your house can add curb appeal," says Ruby. "Mailboxes are often so basic and similar to each other, but you can find more unique ones that actually add interest and beauty. Find a nice large one made of wood that will stand out in a good way."
Prospective buyers may miss out on this upgrade if they view your home in the daytime, but adding new lighting can make a home pop in the listing pictures. John Bodrozic, cofounder of Home Zada, says, "Install low-voltage landscape lighting to light the driveway, walkway and maybe even some lights on a tree or on part of the home. Taking a photo at dusk with the landscape lights makes a house look great."
A brand new coat of paint is like catnip to a picky buyer, but if you don't have the time or money to invest in a full exterior paint job, at the very least, paint your fence. According to Dudson, "Painting your fence is a quick way to make your front garden look less weathered. Choose an unusual color, such as charcoal gray, to make it stand out from all the generic browns out there. Wait until a sunny day so that paint dries quickly." Bodrozic recommends painting the front door if you only have time for the bare minimum: "A black, red or bold color door can make the front of your home more interesting."
Here's a fun one — and probably something you've been meaning to do since you first moved into your house. Plant a few flowers to immediately brighten up your exterior and make a prospective buyer feel at home. Bell advises, "Spruce up and add color to a front porch or even around a mailbox. Repotting old flowers with fresh and brightly colored new ones to add color to the landscaping is ideal. Place containers of flowers by the front door and then step back to the street and see where else around the home that a dash of color may be desperately needed!"
Take an extra second to imagine exactly what a buyer might be seeing as they walk up to your front door — with "walk" being the operative word here. Bodrozic explains how to add that extra touch to a front entry point, "Install a walkway from the curb to the front door. Some houses have this; others don't and rely on the driveway as walk-up access to the house."
You spent weeks cleaning the inside of your home from top to bottom to get it ready for your first showing, but don't make the mistake of thinking your hard work is done yet. A quick exterior pressure wash can make all the difference, says Bell. "Dirt and debris builds up throughout the seasons on windows, walkways and front steps. Take a pressure hose or hire a professional to pressure wash the exterior of a home." She adds, "A dirty and dull facade is not curb appealing."
Washing your windows is a given, but the curb appeal doesn't stop there. Your windows, the "eyes" of your home, give you the perfect opportunity to put in the extra effort and seal the deal. Dudson recommends, "A quick and inexpensive win if your garden is already tidy is to make use of your windows indoors. Beautiful bouquets in elaborate vases, interesting lamps and standout decorative items make the front of your house seem much more homey than an empty window ledge."
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