Hot curb appeal warms up cold housing market

Are you selling your house? Or rather, are you trying and hoping to sell your house, but becoming increasingly depressed about the soft real estate market right now?
Believe it or not, there ARE steps you can take to increase your chances of selling even in a "down" market, and these steps are not inside your house but outside.
For the most part, these steps are relatively easy, meaning you can do them yourself even if you have little or no experience, and they can be carried out with a relatively low investment.
We're talking curb appeal here, folks!
"Ah," I hear you say, "Once buyers get inside, they can see what a great house it is." But what if they decide not to come inside? You are in direct competition with literally hundreds of other homes in the same price range. Buyers have so many to choose from they can afford to be extra picky.
If you don't think the exterior appearance of your home is a big deal, a survey by the National Association of Realtors found that curb appeal was a "major factor" in 49% of all home sales. Another survey, conducted by HomeGain, an Internet real estate service, claims that spending just $400 to $500 on enhanced landscaping can increase a home's value by $1,600 to $1,800. Not convinced? Experts at www.landscaping.about.com say that a curb appeal makeover can add 20% to your home's value.
Let's look at that from the perspective of a slow real estate market. Yours is one of three homes in your neighborhood for sale at roughly the same price. Same location, same number of bedrooms and so on. But while the other two look ho-hum from the street, your house has a well- trimmed and edged lawn, neat shrubs in mulched, weed-free beds, a clean pathway leading to a front porch with containers of season plants and a freshly painted front door. Your home looks to be, say, 20% more appealing than the other two!
Enhancing your landscaping puts the odds in your favor, compared to the other homes in your area.
In future columns, I'll provide specific planting suggestions to increase your curb appeal, but first, let's begin with some basics.
Be objective. For a start, put yourself in the buyer's shoes. Go outside and walk back and forth looking at your home as if for the first time. What do you REALLY see? What would you criticize if this was someone else's home?
Watch HGTV and particularly two shows titled "Designed to Sell" and "Secrets That Sell." You'll see experts visit a home and be brutally honest about why a home hasn't sold and what the owners can do to fix it. Then imagine them standing outside your house. What would they say?
Sidewalk and pathway. Clean pathways with a hose and broom, or better still, power wash. If there are cracks or chips, remove any weeds growing there and fix the cracks.
The lawn. Rake away any thatch, aerate and sow some grass seed. Your garden center can advise which variety is best for your location. In extreme cases, invest in a new lawn with fresh sod.
Existing shrubs. You might not notice how those shrubs in front of your home have grown over the years, but buyers will see wild greenery obscuring the windows and they'll wonder what you're hiding. Cut them back and shape them neatly. If after that, they still look "woody" and ugly, take a deep breath and dig them up and discard them.
New shrubs. If the front of your house looks sparse and uninviting, invest in a few new shrubs. Take a tip from developers who landscape their new homes with easy-care evergreen shrubs, holly bushes and ornamental grasses. Remember the fresh mulch!
Containers. Some containers on the front steps overflowing with colorful plants say, "Welcome home!"
If you'd like to receive a list of seven useful Web sites about enhancing curb appeal, or if you'd like some specific plant suggestions drop me an e-mail at snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org with some details and I'll reply personally.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org
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