Putting up a good front

Everybody knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but try convincing house hunters o
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Everybody knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but try convincing house hunters of that. If your house has a “for sale” sign on the lawn and doesn’t have a well-maintained exterior, chances are potential buyers will dismiss your property without as much as a peek at your state-of-the-art kitchen and freshly painted family room.

If exterior improvements are in order at a house you plan to sell, there’s good news. A recent report reveals that small-scale exterior projects, like siding and door replacements, are the most profitable at resale. And even if projects of that magnitude aren’t in the budget, experts agree that some simple spruce-ups can help ensure that potential buyers will do more than just drive by.

Renovations with returns

A face-lift for your home’s exterior can boost its curb appeal big time. It can also be quite cost-effective, reports Remodeling Magazine. According to the publication’s 2009 “Cost vs. Value Report,” on a national level, eight of the top 10 home-improvement projects in terms of costs recouped were exterior replacement projects that cost less than $14,000.

Certain types of door and siding replacements, as well as wood deck additions, all returned more than 80 percent of project costs upon resale. A steel entry door replacement recouped a whopping 128.9 percent of costs.

Those figures underscore the value of first impressions. “Buyers nowadays are very savvy,” says Bruce Dedon, associate broker with Coldwell Banker Prime Properties of Niskayuna. “If a house doesn’t have curb appeal, often they won’t even call us for an appointment. They’ll bypass it, when it could be just beautiful inside.”

Curb appeal on the cheap

These exterior fixes can make your home more appealing to potential buyers, at little or no cost to you.

– Wash windows, inside and out

– Polish or replace exterior light fixtures and door hardware

– Purchase a new welcome mat

–Remove yard clutter and debris

–Add tasteful seasonal touches: ivy topiaries in winter; potted pansies in spring; colorful annuals in summer; potted mums in autumn.

In warm weather:

– Clean gutters

– Edge the lawn alongside the driveway and walkways

– Power-wash sidewalks, patios, decks, siding and porches

– Hose off the roof to remove moss or mold

– Keep the lawn neatly mowed, gardens weeded, bushes trimmed

In cold weather:

– Keep driveway clear of snow and ice

– Keep walkways shoveled

– Get rid of icicles

That curb appeal — or lack thereof — isn’t only evident to someone cruising by. Web surfers and print media perusers can get a peek at most homes on the market via published real estate listings and MLS postings.

What exterior amenities do potential buyers like to see listed in those reports? “Updated siding, roofs that are not on the latter side of their life, newer windows, definitely, that’s just a huge plus for a buyer,” says Dedon.

In a tough economy, you might assume buyers would be more likely to opt for lower-priced homes that need a bit of work, but that’s often not the case, says Laura Conrad, broker for Purdy Realty in Burnt Hills. The media, she believes, is a major contributor to that phenomenon.

“Buyers are just so used to all of these TV shows and magazines that show everything being just perfect. And then they see siding that’s maybe a charming avocado green and they just go, ‘Oh my god, this house is horrible!’ ” There are buyers out there, she notes, who are willing to take on the projects associated with a less-than-pristine home, but their numbers are limited. Most people she says, are simply too busy to be burdened.

But is it necessary to completely update your home’s exterior to get buyers to bite? Dedon says he never advises people to make significant renovations if they plan to sell their home in the very near future. “Putting siding, windows and decks on are wonderful additions but they also take money out of pocket, and can delay getting the house on the market and having the right buyer find it,” he says.

If you’re thinking of selling five years down the road, however, he would advise you to consider otherwise. “You would probably get your money back, if not add value to the property,” he reasons.

Not going overboard

If you do decide a significant exterior upgrade is the way to go, don’t go overboard, cautions Conrad. “In my business, we always say, People expect a house to have a roof and they expect a house to have windows,’ ” she says. “Because you went and spent 10 times more on your roof or on your windows than you should have, doesn’t mean you’re going to get your money back. I’ve had so many sellers say they paid three or four thousand dollars more to put a 50-year roof on or something, and the buyers really don’t care. They may appreciate it, but they’re not going to pay more because you have it.”

“If a house is really bland, I’ve told sellers to put up shutters,” she notes. “Sometimes they can really make something pop.”

New walkways can also be a good investment, she believes. “People love nice walkways. If you put in a nice, stamped concrete walkway or something like that, would you get money back on that? I would think so.”

There are some exterior additions that can actually scare sellers off, both Conrad and Dedon agree. Swimming pools are at the top of that list. “For 50 percent of the buyers I deal with, that’s a turn-off,” says Conrad. Dedon cautions against adding large fountains to the landscape, or anything too specific to your personal taste. “Just like buyers like neutrality inside of the house, the exterior should be neutral and very tidy,” he says.

“Focus on what amenities other houses in your neighborhood have and try not to be too far behind or too far ahead,” recommends Conrad.

Simple spruce-ups

If your home’s exterior appeals to a potential buyer’s sensible side, that’s a big plus, but you’re only halfway there. From the curb, the home also needs to have emotional appeal. “They really do have to picture themselves as being home,” Conrad says.

There are plenty of low-cost ways to give your casa that cozy “I could live here” curb appeal, says Patricia Green, owner of Hudson Valley Property Staging in Albany. Green’s company specializes in prepping real estate property to make it as attractive as possible.

Her advice to sellers: First and foremost, get out the cleaning supplies and scrub everything in sight — siding, porches, decks, windows. Weather permitting, rake and weed the yard and gardens, and prune out-of-control shrubbery and trees. De-clutter by stashing away garbage cans, garden equipment and children’s toys. In warmer months, paint exterior doors if they’re looking weathered. “If you’re going to paint, and red is appropriate, it can be very attractive and welcoming to have a red door,” she notes.

Green also recommends taking down heavy window curtains or shades indoors, and replacing them with light-filtering privacy sheers. Warmly lit windows will give the exterior a cozy glow once the sun sets. Simple-to-install solar lights, placed along walkways, can also add to the evening ambiance.

“Play up the entrance to the front door even if you always use the side door,” Green recommends. “Never let purchasers and brokers go through the side door. You don’t want them to go through the garage, even if it’s a spotless garage, and up those little steps and into the laundry room.”

You can make your front door into an attractive focal point during the winter months by placing potted 4- to 5-foot-tall evergreens or ivy topiaries on either side of it, says Green. In spring and summer, add potted flowers and herbs to make the entryway even more inviting. Window boxes, and pots of flowers on patios and decks can add appeal to other exterior locations you’d like to highlight.

Cold weather appeal

Although outside project possibilities are limited in winter, there are ways to make your home’s exterior welcoming. Priority one is to keep your walkways and driveway clear of ice and snow, says Conrad.

And don’t forget to remove dangerous icicles. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve almost lost clients [because of unshoveled driveways and walkways],” she says.

A thorough cleaning of the entryway and porch is also doable in winter. Don’t forget to polish exterior light fixtures and door hardware, reminds Green. If, despite polishing, fixtures and hardware still look worse for the wear, replace them, she recommends. Storm doors should also be replaced if in poor condition.

A great way to give potential buyers a sense of how the yard looks when the grass is green and the flowers are in full bloom is to display summertime photos of the exterior, suggests Conrad.

Whether you decide to splurge on new doors and siding to lure potential home buyers, or to simply spruce up the stuff you already have, prepare your home’s exterior with one objective in mind, advises Green.

“The most important thing to me is to get that client into the house with a great, positive feeling. If the curb appeal is attractive, you are setting the mood and setting the tone.”

Play your cards right and you’ll have house hunters feeling right at home, even before they walk through your attractively decorated front door.

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