Location, the right price and good financing all play major roles in influencing the decision to buy a house. But curb appeal -- the first impression a potential buyer gets of a house -- is the lure that gets the buying process started.
Without curb appeal -- the favorable first impression that makes a casual shopper sit up and take notice -- potential buyers may never cross the threshold to see what's inside.
In Harford County, where home sales are up 12 percent from last year, Realtors say that giving a home curb appeal is simple and can be inexpensive. However, they say, many sellers don't realize how important it is.
"Sellers must examine their homes through buyers' eyes," said Debbie Taylor, a Realtor with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn in Abingdon. "Buyers make a lot of their decisions on first impressions, which set the tone of the buyer's tour."
If they don't like the way the outside of a house looks, most people will never get out of the car to see the inside, said a spokeswoman from Meredith Real Estate in Bel Air. She said they make their decisions within the first few seconds of seeing the house.
Walt Pratt, a broker with Ward & Bosely Realtors in Bel Air, said that to make their house more attractive to homebuyers, sellers often have to be brutally critical.
"Sellers have to divorce themselves from emotion for the home, and put the house on the market," he said.
To enhance the best features of the house and give it curb appeal, Ms. Taylor tells her clients to unclutter their homes inside and outside.
"Box it, store it, sell it or give it away," she said. "Uncluttering gives your home a larger, cleaner, more well-kept feeling."
Move garbage cans, building and gardening materials into the garage, for instance. Neatly stack the wood pile. Clear patios and decks of small planters, barbecue grills and toys.
In the autumn, fallen leaves and yellowing grass are inevitable. However, Mr. Ward said sellers can keep shrubs and lawns trimmed, and remove bushes blocking windows and entries. Decorative mulch can be added to garden areas.
Keeping windows clean inside and out, sweeping spiders out of the porch lights and repairing torn or broken screens are obvious improvements sellers can make. Mr. Pratt also suggests removing door screens and installing storm doors in their place when the house in beingshown in autumn months. New, decorative lighting also enhances appeals.
Faded, cracked or peeling paint is a turn-off, Mr. Pratt said.
A fresh coat of paint on the front door, shutters, trim and even the mailbox will make the house appear well-kept.
Inside the home, Mrs. Taylor suggests cultivating a clean and homey look with uncluttered, newly painted and well-lighted rooms. The house should be spotless.
When readying the house for a showing, Realtors tell their clients to turn on the lights, open the drapes, set a comfortable temperature in the house and turn on the radio to an easy-listening station.
"Special touches make the atmosphere warm and inviting," Ms. Taylor said. "Fresh flowers, a fire in the fireplace, or an Afghan draped over a comfortable chair focus attention on the positive features in each room."