It's that time of year again, when I take a moment to talk to all of you who are thinking of putting your home on the market this spring. If real estate's favorite old adage is "location, location, location," then it's got to be followed closely by, "You get only one chance to make a first impression."
You can't change your home's location, but you can certainly do everything within your power to make that first impression a strong one, so let's go over the basics of that all-important must-have for a successful sale: curb appeal.
Start with a step back
You've seen the outside of your house so many times that you don't really see it anymore. So now's the time to look at it with new eyes, from the perspective of a prospective buyer. And if you can't do it objectively, get a friend, a neighbor or your real estate agent to do it for you.
Put yourself in the buyer's shoes, and make a written list of those things that might raise some concerns for you if you were thinking of buying it. And while the front of the house is the primary focal point, don't overlook the sides and rear of the house as well. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Exterior paint: The color and condition of your home's exterior paint job is one of the single most important things to a prospective buyer. The color makes a visceral impact the moment a buyer walks up, and while you might have thought that the hot pink siding with neon purple trim was a great showcase of your individuality when you painted the house, it's going to severely limit the home's appeal.
And no matter what color the house is, if the paint job is faded and peeling, it's an immediate warning sign to buyers that the house hasn't been maintained, so they'll have their magnifying glass out to look for other defects.
If you're handy with a brush and an airless sprayer, you might just want to undertake a repainting project yourself. A long weekend and a few hundred dollars in paint can make a world of difference in how well the home shows and how quickly it sells.
If you don't want to paint the entire house -- or if it doesn't really need it -- just painting the trim, exterior doors, garage door or window shutters can make a big difference as well.
Roofing: A bad roof is another indicator of a general lack of maintenance, and may point a finger at potential structural and even mold problems resulting from leaks. Roofs are expensive to replace, but depending on your market and your desire to reap top dollar from the sale, you may want to take a hard look at the economics of re-roofing.
Talk with your agent about the pros and cons of re-roofing now versus crediting the cost of a new roof to the buyer in escrow.
Driveway and walkways: Driveways are a pretty dominant feature in most homes. Clean any oil-stained concrete, and repair small cracks before they get larger. For asphalt driveways, a seal-coat can often make a big difference in appearance and help prolong the asphalt as well.
For concrete or asphalt that's badly damaged, it's time to be thinking about replacement. You
can replace the driveway with the same material as before, or consider an updated look by using paving stones instead -- they hold up well in all types of weather, and can even be a very satisfying do-it-yourself project.
How about walkways? When someone arrives, is there a clear and safe path to your front door? You may not mind walking across your front lawn, but guests and prospective buyers would definitely prefer a walkway. There are lots of options for creating a new front walkway or replacing an existing one, so check out your home center or some landscaping magazines for ideas.
Landscaping: Are things overgrown? Dead or dying? Obviously neglected? Landscaping is a huge part of that first impression, so remember to take a critical look at it.
Fertilize and water the lawn regularly to green it up, and run an edger along sidewalks and driveway edges.
Rake up leaves and pine needles.
Repair sprinkler systems.
Prune back or even remove those wild shrubs, and trim overhanging tree branches.
Use bright flowers to create borders and accent areas that add both color and hominess to the yard.
Consider adding new shade trees in front, which help a home look more established and appealing. Trees look best planted in odd numbers -- a grouping of three or five for example -- and the folks at your local nursery can help you with proper spacing.
Clean and organize: Finally -- clean! If you're not going to paint, wash down the siding to remove dirt and stains and get it looking fresh and clean. Wash driveways, walkways and patios. If you have a wood deck, consider a complete cleaning to restore the wood to a fresher look.
Wash all the windows, inside and out, and wash the screens as well. Polish doorknobs and light fixtures. Stow all of your garden tools and kids' toys away to remove clutter and potential tripping hazards. Take a trip to the local landfill and dump all the stuff that's accumulated in and around the yard.
Check the night view
One last thing: Check the night view as well. A home that shows well at night really creates an impression. Replace any burned-out lightbulbs, and consider adding a timer or two to keep the lights on a little longer into the evening.
Consider some low-voltage or solar lights to accent front walkways, and maybe provide up-lighting to accent trees and larger shrubbery. Keep a light or two on in the front windows as well, to add to the feeling of coziness and comfort.