Jason Vansteenwyk Trulia.com

Veteran agents know that buyers can make a “no” decision on a house before they even step in the door. It has nothing to do with the numbers. It’s the curb appeal that sets the tone, before they even see the inside of the listing.

That’s not just speculation. Studies confirm: Big, extensive renovations that functionally improve a home are net money losers, on average. They may enhance enjoyment of the home significantly – but they generally do not add as much in value as they cost to execute. Meanwhile, the projects and improvements that add the most value, according to the annual Cost vs. Value Study put out by Remodeling Magazine, are almost invariably cosmetic.

Looks count. You don’t want to be selling the neighborhood’s “ugly duckling.” If your listing is so ugly that it scares the crows away, here are some things you can do to boost its curb appeal – and get it sold for a good price – without busting the bank.

Provide Some Seasonal Decorations

Enhance sellers' curb appeal by adding holiday decorations to their homesSeasonal decorations are a great way to dress up a drab property or make a vacant house look “lived in.” Fall decorations are my favorite. Not everyone decorates their home and yard for autumn like they do for Christmas, so your efforts will be noted.

Try buying fall decorations cheap on clearance sales at craft and home goods stores. Late November is a good time, as managers will discount their fall stuff to make room for Christmas decorations. Keep them in your closet to help dress up fall listings.

Add an American Flag

Two quick screws and a flag holder, and you’re in business. But don’t settle for an old flag – faded flags won’t do the trick. It has got to be new and bright. Make sure the white stars and stripes are sparkling and the red stripes pop.

Apply Fresh Coats of Paint

A coat of paint and some nice trim is usually the number one value-enhancing, curb appeal-boosting modification that property owners can make immediately prior to listing.

Don’t just paint the house, though. Take the same care with mailboxes and numbers, if any. Make the colors pop, while still fitting in with the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood.

Invest in Landscaping

According to the 2012 HomeGain Home Improvement Survey, investing in landscaping generates an average return on investment of 215 percent. The same study found that over 90 percent of real estate agents recommend that clients invest in some professional landscaping prior to selling.

Investing in landscaping can have a good return on investment when selling a homeNot ready to invest 10 percent of the value of the home in landscaping, as the American Society of Landscaping Architects (www.asla.org) recommends? Then at least make sure the lawn is green, mowed and raked at all times.

A New Front Door

The aforementioned annual Cost vs. Value Report put out by Remodeling magazine identified a new steel front door as one of the top value-enhancing improvements sellers can make to a house that actually adds value, above and beyond the cost of the repair, on average.

In fact, a new entry or door was the only renovation or improvement studied that did, in fact, earn its keep by generating about 101 percent of its cost in resale value. If the front door is old or unsightly, this is a no-brainer for boosting a home’s curb appeal.

Paint the Rocks

Military veterans may get a chuckle out of the old joke about “painting the rocks white and the grass green” immediately prior to a VIP visit or inspection. Maybe you won’t paint the grass green, but in the right spot, bright white rocks marking out the edge of a lawn, or lining a walkway, can look sharp. Plus, it’s easy to do and doesn’t cost much.

Spruce Up the Mailbox

Many people forget about the mailbox, even though it’s one of the first things your buyers will see up close when they arrive to look at the property!

Pressure Wash or Bleach the Driveway

Get rid of those oil stains on the concrete! For that matter, once you have the pressure washer out there, perhaps pressure wash the exterior of the house – especially anything visible from the curb.

Replace the Garage Door

Again, according to Remodeling magazine’s most recent Cost vs. Value report, many markets reported that swapping out an old, decrepit garage door for a new one was a property-value enhancer, net of costs. This wasn’t the case on average nationwide, but it’s certainly true of certain areas.

If the garage door is so old or unsightly that it depresses the value of the property all by itself, you may do well to replace it in any market. Other frequently-cited examples of curb-appeal-boosting improvements or repairs that pay for themselves in some markets include window replacement, vinyl siding replacement, and the addition of a deck.

Note that none of these are super costly repairs or renovations. The available data seem to show that smaller projects actually pay off. Larger projects won’t always pay for themselves – at least in the short run. So keep things simple and straightforward, and take your curb appeal to the next level without breaking the bank.

About the author

Kameron Draper

Associate Broker

Alaska Real Estate Experts, Award Winning Service, Top Producing Team Members of the Alaska MLS, National Association of Realtors, Alaska Board of Realtors, and Anchorage Board of Realtors

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