- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2010

While it’s not always wise to judge a book by its cover, many in the real estate industry say when it comes to homes, the first impression is a lasting one. Curb appeal plays a large role in what folks think about your home, whether they’re friends or potential buyers.

With spring approaching, now is a good time to consider sprucing up the outside of your home with exterior remodeling projects. Think of it as spring cleaning for the outdoors.

“When a buyer gets out of the car and walks up the path leading to a house, it is those few moments that will decide if they are interested in the property or not,” says Margeau Gilbert, Realtor with Exit Right Realty in Laurel, Md. “I mean, really, who wants to buy an ugly house?”

Small-scale exterior remodeling projects are most profitable at resale, according to results from the 2009 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report from the National Association of Realtors. Nationally, the report shows that eight out of the top 10 projects in terms of cost recouped involved exterior replacement projects that cost less than $14,000.

The report showed that 80 percent of the cost associated with replacing doors and siding, as well as adding a wood deck, were returned upon resale. Homeowners can recoup 128 percent of the cost of adding a steel entry door, according to the report.

Ms. Gilbert says it may surprise people to know that doing something as simple as replacing the front door with a steel one could bring such a large return on their investment.

“Remodeling projects don’t always have to be big and costly,” she says.

Because trends and styles vary from region to region, she says she often sends her clients a copy of the Cost vs. Value report to get information specific to this region as well as the cost benefit.

“There are two lines of thought when it comes to fixing up the exterior of your home,” says Michael Hydeck, vice president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. He says there are people who keep up the exterior of their homes because they’re expected to and they want to make their home look nice for day-to-day living. Then there are those who don’t regularly do much to their home’s exterior but can be found fixing it up when they are getting ready to put their home on the market.

From the simple to the more elaborate, Mr. Hydeck says there are many options for improving a home’s curb appeal. He suggests replacing the shutters, or, for a more involved project, replacing the siding.

“A front covering such as a small porch or small covering over the entryway is also good, as is landscaping and landscape lighting, which both have good eye appeal.

“Certain windows and doors are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and come with a $1,500 tax credit,” Mr. Hydeck says, adding that homeowners have been taking advantage of that incentive.

Josh Spence, project manager with Homevisions Inc., a Beltsville, Md., remodeling company, agrees. He says window replacement has become the most popular exterior remodeling project because of the government’s tax credit. He says replacing a home’s windows will pay off now because of the tax credit and in the long run with lower monthly utility bills.

In light of all of the recent snow, Mr. Spence says exterior projects involving roof and gutter work also are common.

Martin Signore, associate broker with Long & Foster in Bethesda, Md., says he has noticed that some homeowners have reconfigured their landscaping and the walkway to their front door, especially if they have upgraded their driveway.

“For greater curb appeal, homeowners are updating the look of their driveways by installing bricks or pavers or just redoing their driveway with concrete or new blacktop.”

He says homeowners remodeling the rear exterior of their home often are looking to extend their living and entertaining space. Mr. Signore says homeowners with a deck often enclose all or part of it so they can be outside without having to worry about bugs.

“If they have an old patio that has seen better days, some homeowners are redoing the hardscape for more pleasant surroundings,” says Mr. Signore, who added that such homeowners usually include scenic plantings around the patio.

He says having a private outdoor space is a huge draw for buyers because they often can envision themselves entertaining friends and family, which plays to the emotional aspect of buying a home.

“Decks and fences are always popular; hot tubs and gazebos are making a comeback; and outdoor space is the name of the game,” Ms. Gilbert says. “People like to decorate them with tables, chairs, hammocks and sometimes even home furnishings like couches and pillows.”

In addition to going green by adding more energy-efficient products, she says homeowners today like to “reuse, recycle and reconvert.”

“With a nod to the green movement, homeowners are creatively remodeling the exteriors of their homes by staining concrete, painting faux flagstones and decorating the deck so that they become an extension of the house. Some of these are really ingenious, and all add a piquant charm to a home,” Ms. Gilbert says.

As far as the front exterior, Mr. Hydeck says painting and adding shutters gives homeowners the most bang for their buck because those projects can change the look of the entire exterior.

Realtors say some potential buyers won’t go into a home if they don’t like the look of it from the front.

“Not a good idea, but it is reality,” Mr. Signore says, adding that buyers want a home that reflects who they are. “If the house is dingy or unkempt, they can’t see themselves living there regardless of what might be beyond the door.”

Ms. Gilbert, who says she has had many clients who didn’t want to see a property based on its exterior appearance, agrees. “When I tell them that it looks completely different inside, they don’t care; they want to see a property that looks good inside and out.”

Conversely, she says she has sold properties that looked great outside but weren’t as good looking inside because their curb appeal was so good.

“Homeowners should never underestimate the value of good curb appeal,” she says.

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