Create a Memorable First Impression Through Successful Curb Appeal

Now that virtually all the winter’s snow has melted (in some areas of the country) and it’s easier to navigate the streets, let’s consider something calculated to get people slamming on the brakes: curb appeal, that special something that makes prospective buyers stop for a better look at a house for sale.

In normal market times, the National Association of REALTORS®, 49% of buying decisions are based on curb appeal. While we begin to understand and work through the “new normal,” curb appeal is still of major importance, especially with so many homes for sale.

In effect, curb appeal is “outdoor staging,” said Center City REALTOR® Joanne Davidow, of Prudential Fox & Roach. Even if the interior decor is Buckingham Palace-quality, no one will ever know if the place isn’t appealing from the street—because no one will ever ring the doorbell to see it. “You need to pay attention to the outside as well as the indoors,” she said.

Still, Marilou Buffum of Eichler & Moffly, Realtors in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood, who concentrates on Northwest Philadelphia properties, cautioned that curb appeal “depends upon what a buyer is looking for.”

“If you have an urban-oriented buyer, a house with a lovely lawn isn’t high on the list,” Buffum said. “Clean windows, paint that isn’t peeling, an attractive front door, nice plantings, leaves raked and the freshly mowed lawn set the tone of what the buyer thinks the house should be.”

Late fall to early spring—right now, in other words—is the toughest time to make the view more pleasing. All the flowers, except perhaps pansies, are dead; all but the evergreen trees are leafless, and the grass is brown and sparse.

With short days and the sun at such a low point in the sky, the light that provides accent and focus to the appearance of a yard and house in spring and summer is temporarily unavailable.

There are challenges to curb appeal everywhere, no matter where you live. “The city is the best place to live, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” said Prudential Fox & Roach agent Jeff Block, who focuses on the Center City real estate market. “But city properties do deal with unique curb-appeal issues.

“One is simply windblown bags, wrappers and leaves,” he said. “You can sweep your sidewalk every day, but if the wind blows right before an appointment, the buyer doesn’t know that.”

Also affecting curb appeal may be the condition of neighboring houses. “We deal mostly with townhouses and twins,” Block said, “so sellers can point their brick, paint their door and trim and the house can look perfect. But it does not help if the attached house is beaten up.”

Said Buffum: “You have to look at your neighbor’s house when considering curb appeal. If there are issues, and you get along well with your neighbor, you might ask if they wouldn’t mind trimming hedges or cleaning their yards.” In some cases, sellers have even paid to have the house next door painted, she said. “Remember, you are selling your neighborhood, not just your house.”

Among the easier-to-fix curb-appeal issues are the weeds that pop up between pavers on sidewalks and patios, said Weichert Realtors agent Carolyn L. Sabatelli. Most plants and shrubs are still several weeks shy of bloom, “so color is at a premium” in late winter, said Sabatelli, who works out of Weichert’s Media office. “Bushes should be trimmed neatly, and plant beds should be trimmed out,” she said. “If driveways are asphalt, they should be nice and clean, and, if needed, another coat of blacktop applied.”

Think mulch, agents say. Fresh dark mulch adorning even barren landscapes gives them a warmer look.

Except for when a property cries out for professional help, boosting curb appeal does not have to be expensive, Buffum said. “A fresh coat of paint or windows washed and fixed don’t add up to much of an expense,” she said.

“Will you get the money back on your investment? Not necessarily, but you are making your house more appealing to buyers,” said Buffum. “It gives buyers the impression that you care.”

Some agents recommend having photos available that show how your house looks in other, more colorful seasons. In fact, Buffum and other agents make booklets of such pictures and leave them inside the house for prospective buyers to see.

But “I don’t think you should put those photographs in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), because buyers will see right through it,” she said. “Not only that, but if it is winter and the photo of the house was taken in the spring, people will think the house has been lingering on the market for that long.”