- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

When it comes to selling a home in winter, homeowners can tidy up their yards and the facades of their homes with a few simple, inexpensive do-it-yourself projects. They can make the most of the view from the curb, or a house’s curb appeal, despite the barren branches, dirty snow and short days that can make selling seem difficult.

Curb appeal, whether in summer or winter, is the first impression a buyer gets when viewing a home for sale, says Jill Landsman, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors Inc. in Fairfax.

Everything that can be seen from the curb, including the yard, driveway, walkway and front of the home, helps create an impression, good or bad, depending on its condition.

“Prepare the home to be in the best selling condition that will get the best result,” Ms. Landsman says. “You have to envision it not as a home, but as a product to sell, so the perspective buyer can imagine living there.”

Part of that envisioning should include how to decorate the exterior of the home during the holidays.

Real estate agents recommend putting a seasonal wreath on the door to welcome visitors and providing decorations that are nondenominational.

“Holiday lights are fine. They look nice,” says Margaret Ireland, managing broker of Weichert Realtors in Manassas and chairwoman of the board for NVAR.

“A lot of times houses look their best when they’re decorated,” Mrs. Ireland says, adding that she tells her clients to go ahead and put up their decorations if they desire to do so.

Gwen Pangle, co-managing broker of Sterling/Potomac Falls Long & Foster Realtors, says she tells her clients that if they put up decorations, they should keep the lights and displays simple and tasteful.

“I don’t want to see it overdecorated,” Ms. Pangle says. “People are looking at the decorations and not at the house. It makes it busy and cluttered.”

In addition, putting away plants and other decorative things that show well in the summer helps keep the stoop or yard from looking cluttered and unattended, says Zinta Rodgers, Realtor for RE/MAX Allegiance in Fairfax.

“All of that is starting to make a first statement about the house,” Ms. Rodgers says.

An exterior that is clean and neat indicates a well-maintained interior, but an exterior that is unkept and cluttered can cause buyers to believe that the cost to fix it up will be expensive, Mrs. Ireland says.

“A lot of buyers are buying for the first time and don’t have an idea of how much things cost,” she says. “Most of it’s sweat work, getting out and doing it. It’s not as expensive as people think.”

Some of the sweat work occurs in the yard, such as cutting and edging the lawn, trimming trees and bushes, and removing any plant materials that block the view of the home, Mrs. Ireland says.

“You want to open the yard up,” she says.

In the winter months, the yard can be freshened with mulch on the flower beds, around trees, and in the edging around the house and along the walkways, Mrs. Ireland says. Color can be added with black, red or brown mulch and by planting evergreens, holly trees and hardy mums, says Marcus Letourneau, garden supervisor of the College Park Home Depot.

“If you’re trying to sell now, you want the color,” Mr. Letourneau says.

Stones and bricks can be placed in a circle around trees or in a tree ring to provide additional color and to hold the mulch, which is used to block weed growth and provide nutrients to plants after breaking down, Mr. Letourneau says. Winterizer fertilizers also kill weeds and keep grass greener, he says.

Winter pansies and flowering cabbage and kale, which should be planted by October, are another way to provide winter color, says Lee Noschese, a manager at Blue Mount Nursery, a landscape company and nursery in Ashburn.

Planting topiaries in urns or small trees in pots provides some green hues.

“They are a great way to flank and anchor your entryway,” says Jennifer Wilson, spokeswoman for Lowe’s Inc., which is headquartered in Mooresville, N.C. “If you put them on both sides of the door, it creates a focal point.”

To avoid a drab winter look, the yard can be cleaned up, dead plants and bushes removed and replaced, and brown patches in the lawn reseeded, Mr. Noschese says.

“Definitely fertilize the turf to keep it green,” he says.

Landscape lights are another way to brighten the yard by capitalizing on the sparkle of fresh snow, Ms. Wilson says. Pathway lights provide a welcome for visitors, while spotlights focus on elements of the home the seller wants to highlight, she says.

Taking care of the yard and adding color are a start to improving a house’s curb appeal. The house also may need to be power washed to clean up dirt and debris, or repainted if the paint is chipped or peeling.

As a general rule, houses should be repainted every five to seven years for basic upkeep, but for wood siding and treated lumber, the painting can be done every 10 to 12 years, Ms. Wilson says.

“There’s a wear-and-tear factor if you’re not keeping up the maintenance and repair of the home,” she says.

Painting in neutral colors makes selling the house easier, Mr. Letourneau says.

“Going with warm and neutral colors gives it that warm, fresh look when you first walk up to the house,” he says.

The front door may need to be repaired, repainted or replaced, depending on its condition.

“If you change the look of your door, it can change the look of your entire home,” Ms. Wilson says.

Adding panes to either side of the door and transoms, which are panes above the door, can dress up the door, she says.

The doorknobs, kick plates and locks on the door may need to be cleaned and shined or replaced, local real estate agents say. The windows in the door and house also may need to be cleaned, they say.

The gutters may need cleaning. Gutter work can be done by attaching a gutter-cleaner attachment to a hose that flushes out leaves and twigs from the gutter; or by hand, using a ladder and hose, Mr. Letourneau says.

Last, the driveway and walkways may need to be repatched or resealed and should be shoveled off after any winter storms, Ms. Landsman says.

“Most of these are simple fixes,” Mrs. Pangle says. “These are all things easy for the seller to do and that will ultimately get more money for the house.”

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