Want to sell your house? Curb appeal costs, and it pays

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Posted: Monday, November 18, 2013 12:00 am

Back in May, Cindy Schneider and her husband, Vince, thought they'd achieved curb appeal. That's the look — clean and green — that helps sell a house.

“We were all set to list our home. We'd just trimmed and edged and mulched and weeded, she said.

Then came the tornado. “My husband was outside getting the dogs in. It was such a sucking type of wind that we couldn't close the door.”

They fled to the basement as the storm roared through. They emerged to find a third of their shingles gone and water dropping through the roof.

That handsome landscaping was a mess. Big trees were blown over and the carefully tended grass torn up.

Their home insurer helped repair the house, but her insurance didn't cover landscaping. “We lost some pretty expensive trees.”

Now they're ready to put their St. Louis-area house up for sale again. The roof and the inside are repaired. But the lawn and shrubbery were still a mess, and trees were missing.

The Schneiders decided to pay about $5,000 to a landscaping firm. They say it's worth it.

Through her own research, and by talking to real estate agents, Cindy Schneider became convinced that a house without curb appeal would sell for less, or not at all. Buyers “don't want to do the work,” she said.

That is certainly the case, real estate agents say.

“It's easy to drive on to the next house,” said Susie O. Johnson, the Coldwell Banker real estate agent listing the Schneiders' house.

That's why real estate agents take a tough love approach to customers.

“I'm pretty brutal. I'm not afraid to tell people what they need to do,” said Cheri Peterson, a Remax Edge agent and president of the St. Charles County (Mo.) Association of Realtors. “We did have someone who wouldn't buy a house because they didn't want to pull the weeds.”

Start with the main entrance.

“The front door is going to set the pace for the rest of the house,” Peterson said. So paint it, then “throw a wreath on it.”

“Green creates energy; red is inviting and draws the eye; black is elegant and dramatic; and orange is invigorating. Plus, add a door knocker,” says a suggestion sheet from St. Louis real estate agency Coldwell Banker Gundaker.

Add big, bold house numbers, Johnson said. They're cheap and effective.

Wash the windows, said Peterson, including the storm door. “Use Windex and a newspaper, not a paper towel,” she said. Paper towels leave track marks.

Look for holes in the eaves of the house. “If there are squirrels, they have to move out,” Peterson said. Ditto with the nests that insects build. “They look like a big daub of dirt. Gotta go.”

Siding gets dirty, and sometimes mossy on the north side of the house. “A house with green mold — it has to come off,” Peterson said. Rent a power washer and spray away.

With the outside spiffed up, it's time to consider landscaping. Selling a house means becoming a landscaping artist.

The Schneiders live on a golf course in St. Charles County. With their kids grown and gone, they're looking for a more rural setting with room for horses. Their outside fix-up on their present house includes a “landscape plan” with new trees, shrubs, plants and decorative brickwork.

For those without big budgets, curb appeal means lots of time weeding the lawn and trimming shrubbery. Plant lots of flowers, and put planters near the front door, agents say. “Mums are really good in the fall. They have bright colors and they're hardy,” Johnson said.

Peterson hates red mulch. “Use a dark-colored mulch, dark brown or black,” she said.

Don't let shrubbery overhang the walkway or sidewalk. Buyers react badly when they brush against wet shrubs.

“Check the deck,” Johnson said. Shaky steps and wobbly banisters are a turn-off and say the home needs repair. If there's a nasty-looking fire hydrant on your curb, call the city. Maybe they'll paint it.

Sidewalks crack, rise or sink depending on whether tree roots are growing underneath or water is washing away the support. The homeowner can replace the slab. But if sinking is the problem, a “mud jacking” firm might just lift it back into place.

Buyers also will check out your neighbors, real estate agents say. They'll notice the ratty junkmobile in the neighbor's driveway, not to mention his overgrown lawn.

This requires diplomacy, and sometimes volunteer labor.

“One of my clients asked if he could go pull their weeds,” Peterson said.

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