1. Paint the house.Hands down, the most commonly offered curb appeal advice from our real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a good paint job. Buyers will instantly notice it and appraisers will note it on the valuation.
“Paint is probably the number one thing inside and out,” says Frank Lucco, managing partner of Houston-based IRR-Residential Appraisers and Consultants. “I’d give additional value for that. If you’re under two years remaining life (on the paint job), paint the exterior because it tends to show wear badly.”
Just make sure you stay within the range of accepted colors for your market. A house that’s painted a wildly different color from its competition will be marked down in value by appraisers.
2. Have the house washed.Before you make the investment in a paint job, though, take a good look at the house. If it’s got mildew or general grunge, just washing the house could make a world of difference, says Valerie Torelli, a California real estate agent with a background in accounting.
Before she puts a house on the market, Torelli often does exterior makeovers on her clients’ homes, a service she pays for herself to get higher selling prices. Overall, she says her goal is to spend less than $5,000, with a goal of generating an extra $10,000 to $15,000 on the sale price.
Torelli specifies pressure-washing—a job that should be left to professionals. Pressure washing makes the house look “bright and clean in addition to getting rid of unsightly things like cobwebs, which may not be seen from the yard but will detract from the home's cleanliness when seen up close,” she says.
The cost to have a professional cleaning should be a few hundred dollars--a fraction of the cost of having the house painted.
3. Trim the shrubs and green up the yard.California real estate agent Valerie Torelli says she puts a lot of emphasis on landscaping, such as cutting down overgrown bushes and replacing them with leafy plants and annuals mulched with beautiful reddish-brown bark. “It runs me $30 to $50,” says Torelli. “Do you get a return on your money? Absolutely. It sucks people in."
You also don’t want bare spots. Take the time to fertilize the yard, throw out some grass seed, and if need be, add some sod.
4. Add a splash of color.It could be a flower bed of annuals by the mailbox, a paint job for the front door, or a brightly colored bench or an Adirondack chair. “You can get a cute little bench at Home Depot for $99,“ Torelli notes. “Spray paint it bright red or blue and set it in the yard or on the front porch.”
It’s not a bad idea, but don’t plan on getting extra points from an appraiser for a red bench, says John Bredemeyer, president of Realcorp in Omaha. “It’s difficult to quantify, but it does make a home sell more quickly,” Bredemeyer says. “Maybe yours sold a couple weeks faster than the house down the street. That’s the best way to look at these things.”
5. Add a fancy mailbox and house numbers.An upscale mail box and architectural house numbers or an address plaque can give your house a distinctive look that stands out from everyone else on the block. Torelli makes them a part of her exterior makeovers “I’ve gotten those hand-painted mailboxes,” she says. “A nice one runs you $40 to $50.” Architectural house numbers may run as high as a few hundred dollars.
6. Repair or clean the roof.Springfield, Va.-based home inspector and former builder Reggie Marston says the roof is one of the first things he looks at in assessing the condition of a home. He’ll look at other houses in the neighborhood to see if there are a lot of replaced roofs and see if the subject house has one as well. If not, he’ll look for curls in the shingles or missing shingles. “I’m looking at the roof for end-of-life expectancy,” he says.
You can pay for roof repairs now, or pay for them later in a lower appraisal; appraisers will mark down the value by the cost of the repair. That could knock thousands of dollars off your appraisal. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2010-2011 Cost vs. Value Report, the average cost of a new asphalt shingle roof is about $21,500.
“Roofs are issues,” Lucco says. “You won’t throw money away on that job. You gotta have a decent roof.”
Stains and plant matter, such as moss, can be handled with cleaning. It’s a job that can often be done in a day for a few hundred dollars, and makes the roof look like new. It’s not a DIY project; call a professional with the right tools to clean it without damaging it.
7. Put up a fence.A picket fence with a garden gate to frame the yard is an asset. A fence has more impact in a family-oriented neighborhood than an upscale retirement community, Bredemeyer says, but in most instances, appraisers will give extra value for one, as long as it’s in good condition. “Day in a day out, a fence is a plus,“ Bredemeyer says. Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,500 for a professionally installed gated picket fence 3 feet high and 100 feet long.
8. Perform routine maintenance and cleaning.Nothing sets off subconscious alarms like hanging gutters, missing bricks from the front steps, or lawn tools rusting in the bushes. It makes even the professionals question what else hasn’t been taken care of.
“A house is worth less if the maintenance isn’t done,” Lucco says. “Those little things can add up and be a very big detractor. When people say, ‘I’d buy it if it weren’t for all the deferred maintenance,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I’d still buy it if you reduce the price.’”
Georgia-based freelance writer Pat Curry has covered housing and real estate for consumer and trade publications for more than a decade, including covering new home sales and marketing for BUILDER, the magazine of the National Association of Home Builders.