CREATING CURB APPEAL
AN EXAMPLE OF A MODERATE COST PROJECT
"Always make a good first impression." Haven't you heard this saying many times? Of course you have. The reason that statements such as this have lasted through the centuries is because they have proven to be a true and wise methodology.
When most think of this "good first impression" saying they normally relate it to their personal lives in how they might look or act upon meeting someone for the first time. This statement also relates to many other aspects of our lives such as real estate, in particular, the home in which you live.
The reason why owners spend thousands of dollars remodeling and improving the appearance of their homes and properties is because they not only want to feel comfortable themselves, but they also want to present an impressive property to their visitors.
WHEN THE TIME COMES TO SELL
This "appearance" factor is most important when the time comes to sell your property. When you place your property on the market and a real estate sign is nestled into the front lawn, you have now created a "Look At Me!" scenario. People may have driven past the front of your house for the past fifteen years and never took the time to turn their heads in your property's direction. Now that the "FOR SALE" sign is up, most will at least give a cursory glance.
That cursory glance is what may very well sell your house. The important thing to remember is if that glance doesn't sell your house it won't be because the house doesn't have "curb appeal." Curb appeal is created when a prospective buyer drives by your house or pulls into the driveway for the first time and says to them self, "Wow! This place is nice." From here you are halfway home to selling your house. No pun intended.
CREATION OF CURB APPEAL
Creating curb appeal can be as expensive or inexpensive as you wish. On the high side you can replace such items as siding and windows, and on the low end you can merely landscape the property. Somewhere in between is where curb appeal and moderate costs will meet.
As an example, I owned a single-family, split-entry home which I maintained as a rental property. This particular property was adequate in both appearance and functionality. The interior and exterior were both in good condition and the tenants were always satisfied in these respects.
When I decided to place this particular property on the market, I had to look at the property in a different light. Though I knew that the property was adequate as a rental property, I was not satisfied that its appearance would attract a home buyer looking to purchase the property for personal use.
HOW TO GET STARTED
All aspects of the home that need some sort of repair and maintenance should be addressed, but the most important aspect is the front of the house. Think about it. How many people, other than your immediate neighbors, actually have a good view of the back or sides of your house? The front of the house "rules" when it comes time to sell.
When I took a look at the front of my rental which was about to about to go on the market, I made the following observations from the street:
Drab, gray color.
Walkway leading to the house in need of repair.
Minor landscaping needs to be done.
House is plain in appearance.
One aspect that I had already upgraded a few years earlier, which immediately improved the appearance, was the addition of shutters to the front of the house. I have seen many homes that SCREAM for shutters. The addition of shutters to a house immediately improves the curb appeal. Very plain window frames are quickly transformed into a classic look.
As for the rest of my listed items, I made the decision to attempt to create the curb appeal at a reasonable cost. I knew that the replacement of the walkway would be expensive and replacing the siding would also be a major expense. The landscaping was not a major expense concern. I also wanted to eliminate the overall sterile appearance through some means.
THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
The first items that I purchased were a pair of exterior aluminum columns, which I decided to place on either side of the front door. This decision was made in order to upgrade the plain exterior facing the street. In a tract of homes that were built similar in nature, such as this particular house happened to be in, a pair of Roman columns certainly created a unique effect. The appearance of the house became classier in a matter of a day.
The walkway leading from the driveway to the front door also needed upgrading, since many slabs were cracked and the entire span of the walkway leaned to one side. The estimates to replace the walkway were very high. The decision was made to replace the walk with prefabricated slabs of cement.
The prefabricated slabs went down very easily and came with a decorative pattern which gave the walkway a distinctive look and the cost-savings were significant. I now had created quite an impressive view from the walkway to the front door adorned by Roman columns.
The next area of concern was the landscaping. The current state of the landscaping included three large shrubs near the front door and little else. I purchased three additional low-growing shrubs and placed then near the lower front window and the driveway. I also purchased mulch and landscaped all areas of bare earth and around the new shrubbery. The addition of greenery immediately gave a finished look to the yard.
The existing shrubs were trimmed in order to better expose the house. The grass was, of course, cut and kept in a trimmed fashion. With this maintenance and the addition of the shrubs and mulch, the whole property began to blend into the picture that I had in mind when I started.
A slightly cracked blacktop driveway was added to my list of repairs. A blacktop sealer was purchased and used to seal the cracks and the remainder of the driveway. Upon completion, the driveway was recreated to its original velvet black shine that simply looks fantastic when wet. This job only took one bucket of sealer and turned into an inexpensive "quick-fix."
The front exterior of the house already had increased its curb appeal twofold at a very reasonable cost. The changing of the gray siding color was a decision that I contemplated for quite awhile. It would be an expensive undertaking to replace the siding, but since it was in good condition, I decided to have it painted in order to accomplish my goal and receive a return on my investment.
I did not merely buy paint that was on sale to do the job, but instead I discussed color combinations with painting contractors, paint stores and even family members. I asked my family to tell me what house colors caught their eye when they drove by residential areas. After a thorough review, the color combination was a Spanish-style beige with maroon shutters. A painting contractor created the "look" in less than a day.
Many neighbors and prospective home buyers commented on the appearance of the house. It was deemed by many to be the "...best looking house on the street." This is curb appeal.
The total overall cost of this project was approximately $1,200.00. Considering that the replacement of the walkway alone was estimated at $1,000.00, this curb appeal project can be considered successful at a moderate cost.
MARKETING YOUR PROPERTY
When your property is available for rent or sale, time never seems to move fast enough. The time interval between listing a property and the finalization of a lease or sale is a very trying period for any property owner. Having the property shown or showing it yourself can get old rather quickly. Having to keep the property in tiptop condition during the listing is also a tiresome task. Obviously, the quicker the transaction closes....the better.
In order to reduce this period of anxiety you can only depend upon professionals for so long. Real estate and leasing agents make valid attempts to obtain a deal for your property, but if the results are not sufficient to your tastes, you can always take matters into your own hands in order to speed up the process. The key in these situations is marketing the property to its fullest extent or marketing to the max!
SELLING YOUR PROPERTY
A general rule of thumb is to expect the average length of your property to be on the market to be several months. Should the property sell quickly, it makes the sale that much better. Several months is a long period of time if the property is empty and you have a mortgage to pay or if you have found another house to buy and the sellers are very eager to close on the sale.
A great majority of property owners selling their property will contact a real estate agency to list their house. They do this because it is less of a hassle than selling it themselves and, most importantly, the real estate agency can better market the property. Let's first see what a real estate agency will do for you in a marketing area and then turn to what you can do to help.
The real estate agency will market your property through the following mediums:
These five strategies are those used by real estate agencies, but if you are selling your own property, better known as a "For Sale By Owner", you can market your property using all but the first and last listed agency strategies.
- Multi-List: Most agencies, pending upon what type of listing agreement you sign, will want to place your house on the multi-list. The multi-list is a computer system and bi-monthly publication that lists every house for sale in a geographic area. This information is only available to real estate agents and it enables them to sell any of the houses on the multi-list. This is a marketing strategy in a sense that it makes the real estate agents aware of all of the homes available so that they can better match a buyer's requirements.
- Newspaper Ads: Normally, newspaper ads are the primary source of advertising for real estate agencies. They are also typically the primary source for someone looking to buy a home.
- Open House: The agency can conduct an open house for your property, which allows interested buyers an opportunity to enter the house in a more casual setting as opposed to a formal appointment. This is a good way to have prospective buyers see the property, many of which may not have normally taken interest.
- Real Estate Signs: A "For Sale" sign is usually placed in front of the house in order to attract attention of passersby. A good source of cheap advertising.
- TV Shows and House Sale Magazines: Depending upon which market you are in, real estate agencies have access to half-hour television shows and/or house sale magazines that are available to the public at no cost. You may have to ask your agency to advertise your property on such mediums.
HOMEOWNER'S OWN MARKETING STRATEGY
Let us now look at marketing strategies that you can do to help sell your property. These strategies can be used if you use a real estate agency or sell your own house.
- House Sale Fliers: Using colorful paper and a picture of your house, you can write-up a brief promotional sales pitch concerning the property and make hundreds of copies. These fliers can be posted on bulletin boards all over the selling area and stacks of the fliers can be placed in high-traffic stores which always have some sort of "take-one" rack at the entrance. You could place the real estate agency's phone number on the flier or even your own.
- Promotional Handouts: Using the same concept as above, create a more in-depth write-up about the property and have these available for each prospective buyer to take one when they visit your property. Here is where you really want to buildup the property.
- Newspaper Ads: These should be placed occasionally by the property owner, even if the real estate agency is placing their own. Another ad in a different paper creates more exposure. Just inform the agency that you will be placing such an ad.
- Word-Of-Mouth: Tell everyone you meet that your house is for sale. Many times, even after all of the marketing strategies have been implemented, this is the one that finds the friend-of-a-friend who is looking for a house.
Most of the above marketing strategies could also be used if you are attempting to rent a property, whether through a leasing agency or renting it yourself.
BE SURE TO INCLUDE...
When creating the fliers, promotional handouts and newspaper ads in for sale or rent situations, use the following points. Always include the following if they pertain to the property:
New or newer kitchen
New or newer roof or furnace
Three or four bedrooms
New or newer carpeting
Family room, den or game room
Deck and/or big backyard
Good school district
Close to shopping, public transportation, major roads, airport etc.
You may even want to "season" the fliers or handouts for different times of the year, such as for a smaller yard in summer "...less grass-cutting..." For a property with no garage or driveway in winter "...less snow shoveling..." If the house is a one or two bedroom property you should use such terms as "low maintenance" and "starter home."
MARKETING IS THE KEY
The key to selling your property quickly is MARKETING. Whether the marketing comes from a professional, yourself or a combination of the two, it will help "move" the property and reduce the periods of anxiety that always seem to accompany the situation. Your buyer is out there and so should you be with a sound marketing strategy.
WANT TO INCREASE YOUR PROPERTY VALUE?
Most people see trees as a decorative part of their landscaping. Though trees do create an attractive addition to any property, they have many additional benefits that most property owners would appreciate.
PLANT A TREE!
There is no residential street more appealing than one that is tree-lined on both sides. If you have any doubt of the value of trees for aesthetics purposes, take a ride down the streets and avenues of some of the most exclusive and established communities in your area and you will find many trees in and around each property. Some of the newer, exclusive neighborhoods do not yet have this foliage effect since the trees that they have planted are still young. It normally takes about ten years for the landscaping to mature in new construction areas.
HOW DO TREES BENEFIT YOU?
Other intangible benefits of trees include providing shade in the heat of summer and providing refuge for birds and other wildlife. Both of these factors increase the enjoyment of the outdoors for a property owner. This cannot be valued except on a personal basis, but each of these areas is part of a well-rounded, attractive piece of residential property. Trees also provide other valuable benefits such as aiding in the reduction of pollution and adding oxygen to the atmosphere.
TREES AND MONEY IN YOUR POCKET
According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, the shade that a tree provides could also create cost savings for a property owner. If a tree creates shade on a house, the temperature within the house could be reduced up to 12 degrees. The shade that the trees creates thus reduces the air conditioning costs by as much as 35 percent.
Trees can also have a reverse effect in winter by helping reduce heating costs. By creating a windbreak, trees can provide protection from blustery winter winds and reduce heating bills from 10 to 17 percent.
The mere existence of trees on a property also adds to the property value. It has been my experience as a real estate agent and property investor that a full-grown, healthy, mature, well-placed tree could add as much as $1,000 to the value of a property. According to some experts, trees can increase your property value between 20-30%.
VALUE AND HOW IT'S FIGURED
According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, the best way to obtain the value of a tree or trees is to have an appraisal done by a qualified arborist. The arborist will use a formula developed by the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, which has been endorsed by the International Society of Arboriculture. This formula is intended for residential property.
These reviews will encompass two methods to determine value, which are the replacement method and the "trunk formula method." The bottom line is that trees add value to your property. The mere cost to purchase a tree can also show their value. Take a walk through any nursery and look at the selling price of the saplings. For a small sapling, five to eight feet high, the minimum price is typically close to $50, depending upon the type of tree. The larger more mature the sapling, the higher the price....actually, much higher.
PICKING A TREE
If you are planning to plant trees on your property, you should consider the following:
The Type of Tree - Are you interested in ornamental or shade?
Where do Plan to Plant?
Do you have a Specific Purpose? Shade, aesthetics, windbreak etc?
Ornamental trees are usually smaller than shade trees. Ornamentals include dogwoods, hawthorns, purple plums, and many others. Ornamental trees typically grow between 20-30 feet high. Shade trees, for example, include the likes of maples, oaks, sycamores and buckeyes and can grow between 80-100 feet high.
Many ornamentals are also known as flowering trees and are normally placed in the front of a property where they provide aesthetics, yet do not obstruct views of the house or, due to their smaller height, do not interfere with power lines. Shade trees are best for creating shade.
HOW TO CREATE SHADE OR WINDBREAKS
If you are interested in creating shade for cooling the house, you should plant your trees on the east and/or west facing walls of the house. If you are interested in creating a windbreak, plant a row of evergreen trees, such as blue spruce or arborvitae, on the northern side of your property.
A very helpful tip to remember is not to place trees too close to the house. Planting a shade tree too close to your house can cause many headaches, such as leaves in the gutters, branches scratching the side of the house and possibly damage when limbs break off in summer storms. Large shade trees should be planted at least 75 to 100 feet from the house depending upon the type of tree and its root system.
Existing trees that are not in the appropriate location should not be cut down to accommodate these factors. If the tree is healthy, first attempt to prune the tree in order to better meet your needs.
TRY A LOW COST APPROACH
If the cost of trees and shrubs is a deterrent to adding them to your property, consider joining the National Arbor Day Foundation. For a membership fee of $10, the Foundation will send you ten small saplings, which you can plant around your property. The Foundation also sells additional saplings at very, very reasonable prices.
Another way to obtain trees at low to no cost is to scour your yard. If you have a slightly trained eye, you will be able to find many small saplings of maples, oaks and others growing right in your backyard. I have found many trees through this means. I normally place the seedlings in a planting pot until they are large enough to transplant to my desired location. Through this means, I have planted numerous trees on my property, as well as on some of my rentals. I have also given away countless trees to family and friends.
HOW TO START
I would suggest that you obtain a book on trees in order to study the different types that are available in order to find the ones that best suit your needs. You can also discuss your choices with nurseries and landscaping professionals.
If you would like to join the National Arbor Day Foundation, they may be reached at:
100 Arbor Avenue
Nebraska City, NE 68410
Or visit their Web site at: www.arborday.org
KEEPING YOUR PROPERTY VALUE:
Choosing a neighborhood in which to live is a major task for most home buyers. The concerns over school districts, convenience to shopping areas and public transportation are all factored into the equation. The concept of the neighborhood's ability to maintain its market value in the years to come is also a primary concern.
SHOULD YOU BUY THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR?
Considering this last point, is it a wise decision for you to purchase an additional property in your neighborhood in order to ensure that it maintains market value? This is certainly a point that is pondered by many current home owners when the situation arises that the house next door, down the street or around the corner comes up for sale.
PEACE OF MIND
Let's face it, people move into neighborhoods where they feel the most comfortable. They normally purchase their family home in neighborhoods where they perceive that income levels are commensurate, where families with children reside and where the owners maintain their property in a manner that the prospective buyer expects to maintain his or her own property.
When a nearby property becomes available, many homeowners subconsciously fear that the new buyers will not maintain the property to the "accepted" standards or worse yet, turn it into a rental property! A rental property has a mystique of being a piece of property which is not kept to owner-occupied standards. Though many know of circumstances where the reverse is true, it is still a difficult theory to quell.
By purchasing a property in your neighborhood you create a sense of control that you can keep your property value to where you feel it should be. Some may buy a property to sell it to a buyer that he or she knows will maintain it and others may turn the house into a rental property, though they intend to maintain the interior, exterior and landscaping to match that of the neighborhood. What they are trying to ensure by such a purchase is physical property uniformity.
WHY IS THIS DONE?
The "Buying Property within your Neighborhood" concept relates heavily to the point that when one property falls into disrepair from a neglecting owner it creates a ripple effect throughout the neighborhood. The owners that live adjacent to such a property become disgusted and eventually sell their house before their property value reaches the point of no return.
Now if you can recall what was mentioned earlier concerning what prospective buyers look for when house-hunting, you will remember that one criteria was related to buying in a neighborhood where the other properties will be maintained in fashion that suites their tastes. Basically, who would buy a house next door to a neglected property? Probably someone who finds that type of property maintenance acceptable. Should this be the case, the neighborhood now risks having two such properties on the same street and snowball just starts rolling and getting bigger from there. The ripple effect will continue and the integrity and market value of the neighborhood will certainly decline.
WHO SHOULDN'T WORRY?
Actually, most neighborhoods do not have this type of problem, but there is always that one house on the street that just does not fit. Higher-priced neighborhoods have the least possibility of having a neglected property arise. It's simply too expensive to buy a house in a high-price range and just let it deteriorate.
The way that you maintain your property inside and out is what maintains or increases your property value. Buying another property in your neighborhood is another way that you can protect the value of the neighborhood and your own.