- - Thursday, July 7, 2011

Seven years ago, when Patricia Ebrahimi was planning to put her Virginia Beach home on the market, she gave herself a year to get everything ready to show potential buyers, and she didn’t forget the exterior.

“That home had been the builder’s model back in 1974, and the plantings hadn’t changed much since then, except grow,” says Ms. Ebrahimi, who has since moved into her great-grandparents’ Victorian home in Rockville.

“We pruned massively; I called TruGreen, and we ended up removing an ugly old evergreen at the corner of the lot and putting in a yucca instead,” she said. “We wanted to showcase the house like nobody’s business.”

Of course, not all homeowners have a year to ready their homes for sale. Some want to strike when the market is hottest, during the peak summer months, when home sales are at their height. Curb appeal is important in any season, but in summer, with the easy availability of annuals and potted plants, it doesn’t take much to make the exterior of your home look so good it will stop traffic - and get those potential buyers inside your front door.

Today, Ms. Ebrahimi has parlayed her love for art, color and space into her own business, Show-Smart! Home Staging. Over the years, she has made more than a few houses “bloom” inside and out for potential buyers. (She even had one divorcing couple decide to give their marriage - and their home - another go after seeing their home’s potential once Ms. Ebrahimi had staged it for sale.)

Her Virginia Beach house, which was expected to bring $375,000, eventually sold for $490,000 in the summer of 2005.

And at a time when the Internet has become increasingly important - the National Association of Realtors estimates that 90 percent of potential buyers consult the Internet first - good-looking photographs are key, both inside and out.

“You can’t ever list anything without pictures anymore,” Ms. Ebrahimi said. “If you don’t have them, buyers think there’s something wrong.”

There’s no better way to make a home’s exterior look good than with a clean look and a splash of color.

“When people are standing at the door waiting for the Realtor to unlock it, they’re looking around,” said Karen Trainor, chairman of the board of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and manager of Weichert, Realtor’s Ashburn office. “That’s your chance.”

So if you are preparing to put your house on the market this summer, here are some helpful tips to spruce up the outside of your home - even if it means ripping out that old evergreen.

Begin with the “three P’s”: pruning, painting and plants.

First, get out your pruning shears and get ready to cut back what can be decades’ worth of old growth. Many longtime homeowners are so familiar with their own space that they don’t realize the shrubs blocking the front windows and growing past the roofline can look unsightly to people who are envisioning themselves in the space. Just remember, it’s not really your space anymore.

“People need to disassociate themselves from the house,” Ms. Ebrahimi said. “It’s a product now that you’ve got to ready for sale. If you were selling a car, you’d spend money detailing it. You have to do the same sort of thing for the house.”

Keeping plant growth at least a foot away from siding also can help guard against mold growth.

“The most important thing is that things are fresh, green and well-groomed,” said Trudy Severa, sales associate with Long & Foster’s Reston office. “There’s no need to be elaborate; you just need to take in the style and size of your house.”

Then get out your paintbrush. Admittedly, summer is not the best time to do exterior painting, but you can use cool summer mornings and evenings to paint the trim at least. Popular exterior colors include earth tones of green and brown - but be careful, not every color works for every house or the neighborhood in which it sits.

“I don’t think so much of a particular color scheme as what works for the season and what works for the style of the house,” Ms. Severa said. “Light colors, white, soft blues and grays often work well.”

Ms. Trainer recommends changing the trim to a bright, crisp white and highlighting architectural details in white or cream to make them stand out.

Don’t neglect the front door. Ms. Ebrahimi, who also works as a color consultant, remembers one client who had an orange brick home with a door painted another shade of orange. Her advice: Paint the door dark red.

“It was just an amazing transformation,” she said. “You want to choose a color that works with the house, and that’s not always something that’s easy to do unless you’re really good with color.”

Updating mailboxes, light fixtures, house numbers and hardware also can help.

“Don’t forget little things,” Ms. Severa said. “Even changing the mailbox can have an impact.”

Keep in mind, though, that your neighborhood may be governed by an association that has certain caveats and covenants regarding paint colors and other exterior displays. Check the community bylaws to ensure that the plans you make are not at odds with the community.

Next, put out some plants to make the colors really pop. Many real estate professionals recommend putting pots of annuals by the front door or lining the front walkway to invite in potential homebuyers.

But be careful what you buy; some annuals are much more high-maintenance than others.

Low-maintenance annuals include impatiens, geraniums and petunias, which come in a variety of colors that can be coordinated with your home. You also can consider herbs and some smaller vegetables - if you’ll be home to take care of them and keep things from getting too wild and spindly. Bush-style cherry tomatoes are often a good bet; they don’t need propping up and add a splash of color all their own.

“Annuals in pots are easy to remove and refresh,” Ms. Severa said. “Just be prepared to keep up with the watering.”

If you don’t live in the home you are trying to sell, consider asking a neighbor, relative or even your Realtor to keep your pots and plantings watered.

Meanwhile, weed, mulch and edge your flower beds to make sure what you have is healthy and lush looking.

New mulches are available that retain their color throughout the season, helping your yard keep its fresh-groomed look. You also can add mulch cover every few weeks to keep things looking their best.

Beyond the three P’s of pruning, painting and plants, a number of other tips and quick fixes can help get your home ready for the summer market in a hurry.

  • Lawn care. If you can’t afford a lawn service, just make sure it is mowed and watered regularly. If your lawn is beyond repair, consider laying down some sod.

Although homeowners may balk at the cost of regular landscaping maintenance, some of the cost is likely to be recouped when the sale is made. After all, today’s buyers are especially interested in “turnkey homes” that are ready for them inside and out.

  • Power washing. Even when it’s too hot to paint, you can power-wash the home’s exterior to great effect. Make sure to remove dead leaves and other detritus from gutters and the other nooks and crannies around your exterior. Don’t forget patios, decks and fencing, all of which can acquire cobwebs, mold and plain old dirt in a fairly short amount of time.
  • Decluttering. Probably the No. 1 rule for homesellers, decluttering means removing not only the obvious dead leaves and plants, but also re-envisioning - and depersonalizing - the space to enable homebuyers to see a whole range of potentials. That means removing things such as bicycles and Big Wheels that ordinarily may be stored outside your home.

“You want to make it look party-ready,” Ms. Ebrahimi said.

Check for turnoffs, including wood rot and piles of old pots.

“This is an area that you really need to declutter,” Ms. Severa said. “You’ve got to get the junk out. A nice backyard is a strong selling feature because people are staying home more.”

  • Minding the pavement. Those cracks you never notice in your front walk and driveway can be very obvious to others. At the very least, weed, repair and seal the driveway if you can. If you have the money, replacing your cement walk with natural pavers, such as brick, stone or slate, can create an aesthetically pleasing effect.
  • Backyard staging. Summer is an especially good time for highlighting the potential of your backyard.

“We’re seeing a lot more of backyard staging and people dressing up the outside,” Ms. Trainor said. “They’re staging barbecue areas, the patio area and decorating with cushions and candles and place settings.”

According to the National Association of Home Builders, younger homeowners are looking for homes that connect their indoor and outdoor spaces, helping create the perception of greater home size even when the existing home is small.

“You want to create a feeling, a mood,” Ms. Trainor said. “We’re all fantasizing about the relaxation we’re going to have when we get home.”

Says Ms. Ebrahimi: “The buyer’s first impression is what they see on the outside; you want to make it look alive.”

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