A house should have curb appeal, they say, but what exactly does that mean?
What it means is that, if a buyer drives past a house at 5 or 10 m.p.h., the front of the place should be alluring enough for that buyer to stop the car. If the seller has done the job properly, the buyer should then get out of the car and write down the real estate agent’s name and number.
You can achieve curb appeal – which the National Association of Realtors says sells 49 percent of all houses – whether you have a city townhouse with no front yard or a suburban house with trees and a lawn.
One facet of curb appeal you may not be able to control is the condition of your neighbors’ houses and yards. If they all look nice, then the buyer will become as intrigued with the neighborhood as with your house. If the other yards are filled with kids’ toys, and the buyer has children, that means potential playmates.
If the other yards are filled with rubbish and junk cars, good luck to you.
From my personal curb-appeal file, here’s how to handle prettying up city and suburban (or semi-suburban) houses for sale:
The yardless townhouse: It is 1987, the real estate market is beginning to deflate, and there is a surplus of townhouses for sale downtown. There is the added disadvantage of living near a public-housing project with the accompanying perception of high crime.
The advantages: Close-knit neighborhood with nice, well-done townhouses, a school around the corner, a turn-of-the-century social club being renovated as apartments, children playing in the street serve as a deterrent to criminals, no abandoned cars, and lots of street trees.
In this case, I touched up the blue paint on the trim and on the front door, and added shutters to the living room window.
I bolted a flower box to that window ledge and a half-barrel on the side of the two marble steps up to the front door and filled both – and a small area around the tree in front of the house – with impatiens.
I made sure the steps were washed and bleached white.
On open-house days, I rewarded the children with ice cream if they kept the noise down to a roar and sat on someone else’s steps for two hours.
Results: The ultimate buyer was at the first open house, even though the house was on the market for five months and two real estate brokerages.
Lessons learned: Give all the kids ice cream. I missed one, who erroneously, and loudly, reported that someone had stolen her bike during an open house. .
The city house with front yard: It is June 2001, the real estate market is unstoppable, and there is a shortage of housing in the $150,000-to-$300,000 range.
The advantages: There’s the shortage, of course. The semi-suburban neighborhood is beautiful, filled with trees, the azaleas are in bloom, the street is open again after a year of railroad-bridge replacement, and my neighbors are tired of my writing about them and would do anything to see me go.
The disadvantages: The beer distributorship at the corner produces a lot of trash. The street is a main route between two major city avenues.
The solution: Touch up the front of the house, including washing the mildew from the porch columns and rails. Put a new coat of paint on the porch floor, keep the hedges trimmed neatly, plant plenty of flowers, and use lots of dark mulch that you should water regularly.
Repaint the concrete bench under the dogwood. Replace and paint the stairs to the porch. Repair the sidewalk.
Make sure the lawn is mowed once a week and watered regularly. Dead-head the flowers. Pick up trash not only in front of your house but in front of your neighbors’ houses.
Wash the windows.
Results: House is on the market for a weekend. Eighteen couples have appointments on day two, 50 groups appear at open house on day three. Seven offers, two at asking, five over.
Lessons learned: A lot of ugly houses sold over asking price last spring, but you can’t assume that your ugly house will. Never take risks, but don’t go overboard trying to pretty up.
Remember, at first contact, it is not how good the house feels but how good it looks.
But once you get them through the door, you better be real sure that what’s inside looks as good as what’s outside.
Written by Al Heavens