When Jamie and Ann Pezzulla decided to sell their Timonium home, they knew the outside appearance mattered as much as what was inside.
So they weeded and mulched the front gardens, replaced the screens on the side porch, hung an American flag and cleaned the front siding.
But they didn't stop there. Understanding that the front door is a key component in the first impression a house makes on potential buyers, the Pezzullas went an extra step. Their front door was stripped and repainted, and the hardware was replaced, giving it a polished look.
"It wasn't an extensive amount of work, but we think it makes a difference of how the house looks when people approach it," said Jamie Pezzulla, who estimates that the couple spent $100 to $150 on the door makeover.
Front doors are an important investment for homeowners. Potential home buyers often decide whether a house is right for them during the first few minutes they see it. Real estate agents often instruct sellers to at least paint the front door to improve the gateway to the home. And double-door entrances in new homes have become more popular, in part, builders say, because of the grand image they offer.
"Doors have become very critical. It's the first thing you see before you go into the house," said Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders. "The consumer wants this door to look really fancy and as good as possible."
Homeowners spend $2,000 to $20,000 for new front entrances, with double doors becoming a trend. About 12 percent of houses built last year had double doors, Ahluwalia said.
An enhanced entrance can add to the perceived value of a house, according to a study commissioned by door maker Therma-Tru Doors. The 2001 study asked participants to look at images of homes and estimate how much each one would cost, based on its appearance. The homes with upgraded entries were valued 3.2 percent to 6.6 percent higher, or $13,650 to $24,840.
The added value was as much as five times the cost of the entryways.
A follow-up study, conducted in 2002, found that the upgraded entryway also benefits moderately priced homes. In homes valued under $200,000, the upgrade increased its perceived value by $7,720 or 4.1 percent.
The study suggests, says Therma-Tru, that improved entry systems could translate into a higher selling price, increased demand and improved sales cycles for builders. For homeowners and remodelers, the study suggests that a new-entry door system will add value to an existing home at a lower cost than many other remodeling projects with higher prices and less return.
Sharon Weinstein, design center manager for Grayson Homes in Ellicott City, says consumers are choosing to upgrade the front entryway more often.
"Everyone who enters that home is affected by what greets them first," Weinstein said. "The front door is the buyers' first impact."
Three years ago, Grayson Homes began offering upgraded front entries. Weinstein estimates that about 60 percent to 75 percent of the company's homebuyers will purchase the upgraded front doors, which can add thousand of dollars to the final price of a home.
Transoms, or large windows above the front door, and widows' walks also are popular additions that draw attention to the front entry.
Front doors made of Fiberglas are becoming an increasingly popular choice over steel and wood doors because of its durability, price and appearance, said Todd Friedman, director of marketing for Pella entry door systems. A popular alternative to replacing the door, he said, is adding or replacing the storm door.
Although there is not a specific item on an appraisal report for front doors, Bill Riedel, a member of the Maryland Association of Appraisers, said it's one of the best ways to enhance the curb appeal of a home.
"There's not too many things you can do to the roadside view of the house before you get into serious expenses of structure," Riedel said. "An entry system is both attractive and also it gives you an impression to the classiness of the house. It begins to set the tone for where does this house fall in the price spectrum."
Like most home improvement projects, Riedel said homeowners should not expect to recover 100 percent of the cost of upgrading an entryway. But in a slower housing market, enhanced entries may reduce the time a house stays on the market.
"Curb appeal is very important," says Maynard Gottlieb of Pikesville-based Mr. Lister Realty, who listed the Pezzullas' house. "It doesn't really take much to get the front of the house looking nice."
The Pezzullas' Timonium house, which went on the market last month, is listed for $365,000.
When Bernadette Williams drove past a house in Waverly and spotted someone putting out a sign announcing an open house for that day, she decided not to wait. She asked the homeowner, Melvin Knight, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, whether she could see the house right away.