- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

You can remodel the kitchen, add a deck or install new carpet, but Realtors say the most important factor in boosting your home's value is improving its curb appeal. Adding visual attraction to the exterior of a home can work wonders.

Real estate experts say the selling price for comparable properties can vary by thousands of dollars, depending on various factors, and curb appeal is No. 1. Exterior upgrades range from major projects to minor improvements that will dramatically make a difference in the look of your home.

"Keeping up the outside of the home is just as important because it's the first thing that people see. It has to be inviting to make them want to come in," says Dale Mattison, president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors.

"First impressions mean everything. When prospective buyers meet with a Realtor, they choose the homes they want to tour by looking at photos of the home's facade not the interiors," says John Dybsky of James Hardie Siding, based in Mission Viejo, Calif. Builders, Realtors, buyers and sellers consider the company's Hardiplank cement fiber siding to be an upgrade from vinyl or even wood siding products more commonly installed on homes. Upgrades, Realtors say, are selling points.

A home's roof, Realtors say, should be in good condition without any peeling or torn shingles.

"If it is in really bad condition, then consider replacing it," says Rachel Widder of Evers and Co. Real Estate in Washington.

"Significant maintenance items should be replaced if they're old and in bad condition, it will make the home more marketable. If the siding is falling apart or if you live on a golf course and the siding has golf ball marks in it, that will affect the overall evaluation of your home," Mr. Mattison says.

"Three out of four homes in America are more than 15 years old, and those with vinyl and wood siding are starting to look shabby from damage and fading. Updating the siding is an excellent way to improve your home's value and curbside appeal," Mr. Dybsky says.

Realtors recommend, when considering materials for upgrades, giving consideration to product warranties and whether they transfer to new owners but don't overlook the obvious.

Helen Ross of ZipRealty says sellers shouldn't spend a lot of money on exterior improvements unless they plan to be there for at least a couple of years.

"If the roof is leaking or you think there may be a problem, then you need to replace it, but don't spend money foolishly," Mrs. Ross says, adding that sellers might not get dollar-for-dollar on exterior improvements but that "the improvements will increase the number of people that would want to buy."

A fresh paint job is the most common upgrade people make to the outside of their home, because scraping and a little paint can go a long way in giving it a fresh look.

"Paint gives you the most bang for your buck," Mrs. Ross says. "To paint or not to paint is a decision that many people have to make. But if the paint looks tired and faded, it is necessary and is a good investment.

"Fresh paint can add dollars to the value of your home, and a home that needs a paint job can subtract dollars," says Mrs. Ross, who once had a cleaning business and worked with a lot of sellers wanting to spruce up their home.

Shutters can also add a nice touch to a home, and, if they're in good shape, they add another dimension to the exterior finish. "The shutters should be taken care of and even replaced if the colors don't mesh," Mrs. Widder says.

Realtors say that sellers should clear away any dead leaves or flowers because a neat and well-shaped landscape sends the signal that the home has been cared for by the owners.

"Make sure that the bushes are tamed and don't look too wild," Mrs. Widder says.

"I don't recommend doing expensive greenery, like planting mature trees," Mrs. Ross says, "but adding a splash of color such as yellow mums and keeping the lawn evenly cut and free of brown spots is important. In the fall, add a wreath to the door to make it look like home."

Mrs. Widder suggests that sellers can try to make the exterior of an older home look more modern for a wider appeal.

"Sometimes, wrought-iron railing on the steps, for instance, can date a home, and something like pillars may make it look more elegant," she says.

There are many inexpensive and relatively easy ways to improve the quality of the exterior of a home. Other exterior upgrades that real estate professionals cited as top improvements include replacing front doors, garage doors and mailboxes, making address numbers more visible and being sure that no pieces are missing and that they aren't rusted, resealing an asphalt driveway, fixing any broken concrete steps or walkways, adding polished brass light fixtures, making the front porch inviting by putting out nice outdoor furniture, and most importantly, cleaning everything.

"It's very difficult because something like the windows may not seem dirty to the seller," Mrs. Widder says, "but once they're clean they'll see that it does make a big difference."

Realtor.com, a Web site offering information pertaining to home buyers and sellers, warns that while buyers will be impressed by major upgrades such as a new roof, they aren't likely to give you enough money to pay for it.

The advantage, however, can come in the form of a faster sell. "A house that sparkles on the surface will sell faster than its shabby neighbor, even though both are structurally well-maintained," according to Realtor.com, "a well-polished house appeals to more buyers and will sell faster and for a higher price."

"I would advise sellers to take a step back and consider themselves as the buyer and think about what they would have concerns or reservations about," Mr. Mattison says.

"Look at your budget. If you can't figure it out yourself about what needs to be done, then a Realtor can help walk you through," Mrs. Ross says.

Some buyers might be attracted to the warranty that comes with an upgrade, Realtors say, but other buyers don't care. Just in case, it's a good idea to keep records, warranties and product information about appliances and upgrade materials in a file, the experts say.

Mr. Mattison says they could be somewhat helpful because, "warranty transfers add a comfort level."

Some Realtors also recommend that sellers consider a home warranty that covers their appliances and mechanical items in the home during the sales period for peace of mind.

When making any type of upgrades to your home, Realtors suggest keeping the value within 15 percent to 20 percent of the others in the neighborhood.

Buyers who can afford higher-priced homes will shop in more expensive neighborhoods, Realtors say.

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