Curbside appeal yields green when home is sold

Impression: A quick outside grooming job pays huge dividends in selling home.

May 30, 2004|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Doug and Leslie Kornreich decided to sell their Elkridge home, they knew they would have to spruce up the place inside and out before listing it for sale.

It was important to them to have the house in tiptop shape to boost its value, he said. "The idea is to get a good price as well as get it to sell quickly."

The first impression is critical when selling a house.

Buyers form an opinion even before walking into a home, say experts. The way the house is viewed from the outside, known as curb appeal, often can help or hurt a sale.

"Curb appeal winds up being maybe much more important than you first give it credit for," said Doug Kornreich, who estimates the couple spent just over $100 and one weekend getting the outside of their house ready. The home was under contract in six days.

The Kornreichs are not only selling their split-level home, currently under contract for $380,000, but they also plan to buy a house in nearby Hanover. Doug Kornreich acknowledges that when they were house-hunting, the exterior and landscaping played a role in the couple's overall impression of the many houses they considered.

Real estate agents often know what houses are coming on the market for the weekend and will do a drive-by to determine what houses they will show their clients, said Pat Hiban, with Re/Max Advantage Realty in Columbia. If the house is not looking its best from the outside, they will often decide to skip it.

The first impression "is everything," said Hiban, who represented the Kornreichs.

And in today's hot real estate market where houses are selling quickly and multiple offers are common, a house that doesn't look good from the outside could be a costly mistake.

"You can lose a buyer without them ever looking at the inside," Hiban said.

Landscaping, say experts, is a good return on the investment - both visually and financially.

A study by Internet real estate company HomeGain found that moderately priced home improvements, ranging from $86 to $2,765, yield higher returns than big-ticket remodeling items.

Landscaping and trimming, with average costs between $432 and $506, had a 266 percent return. And 72 percent of real estate agents recommended it, according to the study. Painting exterior walls, with an average price in the $2,100 range yielded a 34 percent return with 57 percent of real estate agents recommending it.

Jon Moran, senior landscape designer with Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, said home sellers wanting to add curb appeal should focus on achieving a clean and well-manicured look.

"Most people find what they need is a good maintenance of the yard before they put the house on the market," Moran said. "Cleaning up goes a long way."

Trimming plants, cutting back bushes, edging grass and laying mulch can easily give the yard a well-groomed feel. For a splash of color, he recommends widening a flowerbed slightly to add a row of blooming flowers in front. A few flowerpots leading up to the front door also works well.

The biggest mistake anxious home sellers make, Moran said, is pulling out existing landscaping and replacing it with under-sized plants.

"If you're going to replant, you have to think one year ahead," he said.

Other quick fixes recommended by real estate experts include adding a new mailbox, painting the front door and cleaning clutter from the deck or porch. If necessary, consider painting the exterior, power washing the deck and resealing the driveway. Some landscaping companies offer specific packages targeted to quick, front-yard makeovers for homes on the market.

Most outside projects to boost curb appeal can be tackled in a weekend for minimal cost. And landscaping is a popular pastime with 84 million households participating in one or more types of do-it-yourself indoor and outdoor lawn and garden activities in 2003, according to a study by the National Gardening Association. The same study showed consumers spent an average of $457 per household on their lawns and gardens in 2003.

"With curb appeal, if the outside of the house has been taken care of, then the impression is, the inside of the house has also been taken care of," said Ashton Ritchie, a Scotts Co. agronomist. "This is a good way to differentiate your home from someone else's."

But appraiser Mike Sugarman of M. L. Sugarman Associates said curb appeal in general does not add substantial value to the appraised price of a home.

"Curb appeal is very minimal and really wouldn't affect the value. I think what raises the value of a house is appreciation as well as location," Sugarman said. "You're looking at real estate and not aesthetics."

Appraiser Jan Ramsay, of Ramsay, Williams and Associates, said as long as the curb appeal is in line with what the market expects in a given area, it will help maintain a property's value.

"Curb appeal is the first thing that suggests to the typical buyer how the overall property has been maintained," Ramsay said. "It has to be equal to what is being presented by the competition and by that market area."

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