Mum always told me to “never judge a book by its cover,” and while that’s usually good advice, today’s home buyers rarely get more than a passing glimpse of a home without forming some sort of judgment.
To capitalize on the fact that 88-percent of homebuyers start searching for their dream home online, it’s imperative that yours makes a phenomenal first impression. The pros at HGTV and DIYNetwork.com recommend doing everything possible to encourage those digital browsers to stop searching and schedule a tour.
Your real estate agent will help market your home with professional photography and staging, but it’ll be your job to create the best curb appeal by maintaining, repairing, updating and replacing those elements that detract from the overall image.
Below is a list of steps to follow, categorized from easy to difficult and from inexpensive to major expenditure:
Step #1: Start With the Basics
Clean It Up
This may seem like a simple concept, but surprisingly, real estate professionals say that washing the exterior of your home can increase its value by $10,000 to $15,000. That can buy a lot of soap!
You can remove dirt, mildew and years of grime from your siding and trim with a long-handled brush, a bucket of soapy water, a garden hose and a little elbow grease. Whether you have wood, stucco, vinyl, stucco, fibre cement, brick, stone or metal siding, dusty build-up can be washed away. Use a power washer on the lowest setting for hard-to-remove stains, being careful not to damage the siding by using too much pressure.
Knock down cobwebs, wash windows inside and out, spray off downspouts and remember to clean off the garage door.
While you’ve got the pressure washer out, use it to clean off the deck, sidewalks and driveway. This will eliminate unsightly stains and give your home a fresh look.
Now it’s time to clean up the yard. Cut the grass, edge along sidewalks and the driveway, trim the shrubs, pull weeds and add fresh, dark coloured mulch to flowerbeds. This will provide a rich contrast to greens and bright flowers.
Step #2: Create Enticing Landscaping
Even if your home is picture perfect, if your landscaping is overgrown, outdated or lacking interest, potential buyers may not give it a second glance. Create some powerful impact by:
- Removing unsightly, dead or diseased shrubs, plants and trees. Be sure to dig out or grind any stump remnants to create a fresh surface for new plantings.
- Cleaning out any old mulch, install weed barrier and add plastic or stone edging for a neat appearance.
- Keeping new plantings simple but appropriately sized. If you have a sprawling bed with miniature shrubs, the street view will suffer. Consult with a nursery specialist to select greens that will thrive in your planting zone.
- Incorporating colourful annuals in groups for the greatest impact.
- Planting low-lying perennials. Stagger flowering types by season so you’ll have vibrant colours all year long.
- Framing the entrance with decorative pots that hold small trees or perennials. This will provide a welcoming environment that encourages guests to enter and see more.
- Installing outdoor landscape lighting will enhance nighttime visits. Don’t go overboard but a few decorative solar fixtures in the front flowerbed or along the entrance walkway will create a warm, inviting setting.
Step #3: Polish It With Paint
Real estate professionals, appraisers and home stagers agree that the homes with the freshest paint finishes provide the best curb appeal. Not only will your beautifully polished home garner the highest return on investment, it’ll also sell more quickly.
Unless your home’s exterior is in total disrepair, a full-house paint job can be overly expensive and time-consuming. Focus on cleaning up trim, accents, shutters, windows and the front door.
Be careful with colour selections as unusually bold or bright hues can be a turnoff. The goal is to blend in with the other homes in the community for a harmonious feel. While you’d like to stand out in a sea of boring neutrals, you don’t want your home to be the one known as “the circus house with the purple siding.”
To add a little personality without offending, save your favourite bright shade for the front door. Here, too, it should complement your home’s exterior colour palette but a glossy, fun finish will enhance the curb appeal and provide a glimpse into what lies beyond the front door.
Don’t forget to polish up any door hardware to complete the look.
Step #4: Mandatory Maintenance
We’ve all driven by THAT house in the neighbourhood that hasn’t been maintained properly. We may understand why it looks the way it does, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an eyesore that needs to be fixed.
Take a step back and really examine your home as if you were buying it. What do you notice first? Watch for things like:
- Sagging gutters
- Rusty downspouts
- Broken doorbells
- Damaged trim
- Missing roof shingles
- Scratched doorknobs
- Tarnished kick plates
- Crooked mailbox posts
- Broken shutters
- Burned-out lightbulbs
- Worn light fixtures
- Missing brick mortar
- Cracked concrete porch and walkways
- Dented overhead garage doors
Be sure to clean up any debris or trash cans around the house too. Just because you can’t readily see those items from the street doesn’t mean they go unnoticed.
Step #5: Improve the Driveway and Walks
Unfortunately, if you’ve taken care with all the details related to the structure of your home and yet your driveway and walks are cracked, stained or damaged, your streetscape will be severely compromised.
Canadian winters can be brutal on concrete and asphalt drives and walks, so you’ll need to consider durability for any repairs you contemplate. Asphalt cracks are pretty easy to fix yourself. Generally, you only need to remove any loose debris from the crack area, encourage bonding with a good surface cleaning and scouring then apply a thin layer of asphalt on top. Tamp the area and allow to cure for a like-new finish.
If your concrete driveway has just a few hairline cracks, you can chisel them out before using concrete crack filler. Be sure to eliminate any weeds that may be growing through the openings and clean out any loose pieces to create a tight bond between old and new concrete.
For more significant concerns, new polymer-based cement formulations have made concrete resurfacing almost as simple. These sealants use Portland cement and polymers blended with water to create a thin coating that rejuvenates the whole driveway.
For discoloured concrete or rust spots, clean the area thoroughly and apply concrete paint or stain available at a local home improvement store. This epoxy coating can be more complicated to use, but the finished product will be both attractive (from any distance) and durable.
If all else fails, contracting for a whole new driveway may be your only option. Costs for a new concrete driveway run between $6 and $9 per square foot compared to asphalt of $3 to $4 per square foot. Buyers typically prefer a concrete driveway, so the aesthetic improvement from the curb and faster sales will make this investment worthwhile.
Step #6: Attractive Stone Finishes
Natural stone and stone veneers are making a comeback. Buyers today are drawn to stone facades and accents for their classic design and durable finish. Dress up the front of your home with stone column footings, partial front elevations or as accent pieces to give your home a vintage aura worthy of a second look.
Step #7: Replacement Windows and Doors
When in good condition and working order, windows and doors can enrich a home’s style, comfort level and overall curb appeal. However, when they become worn, broken, cracked, rotted or cease to function, they can detract from every other good feature.
Luckily, Alberta homeowners have just been notified about new Alberta energy efficiency rebates that can significantly reduce the cost of replacement windows. Energy Efficiency Alberta offers up to $1,500 in rebates for “the installation of new, energy-efficient windows.” If you reside in other provinces of Canada, make sure you are updated on all current government home improvement grants and incentives.
If you’re considering replacement windows and doors, contact Ecoline Windows, Alberta’s participating contractor, for an on-site evaluation. There are several options available from a retrofit to full-frame replacement as well as a single window to whole house project.
In cases where your structural components are still in good condition or where you’d like to preserve the style on the front facade, a retrofit installation is a good option. New windows replace old windows and utilize the existing frames.
A full-frame installation is exactly as the name suggests with the entire window, casing, jamb, brickmoulds and components are replaced. While this method is more costly than the alternate retrofit installation, it will insure the efficiency and durability of the entire window or sliding door component.
New technologies are available for homeowners looking to maximize energy efficiency with ENERGY STAR Certified, Low-E coated glass, Argon or Krypton gas between glass panes, double- and triple-pane windows, and various other options to reduce heat loss and air infiltration. While these features may not be readily apparent from street level, including them as part of your home improvement package will bring significant ROI upon resale.
Check with your local government resources for what window replacement rebates are available for your home improvement project.
Step #8: Roof
The condition of your roof will be one of the first things potential buyers will notice about your home, so missing, curled or faded shingles will be a red flag from a quick online review or a concentrated street view.
If your home is nestled among mature trees and has a build-up of moss, lichens, dirt and algae, a professional cleaning may be sufficient to improve the look of the roof. However, if it has aged past the warranty period or is compromising the home’s structure, it’s time to invest in a new one.
Replacement costs vary by region but a typical 3-tab, 25-year shingle runs approximately $150 to $200 per square (100 square feet) plus the cost of installation materials such as plywood underlayment, roofing felt, ridge vent, flashing, etc. for a range of $6,700 to $11,000. This type can often be installed over top of the existing shingles which will save the tear-off cost.
Architectural shingles are have a thicker profile and include 30-, 40- and 50-year warranties. They are considerably more expensive with a cost of approximately $600 to $700 per square or $9,000 to $14,000. These premium shingles are much heavier than the 3-tab style and require a complete tear-off of the current shingles. However, this will provide peace-of-mind as gaps, leaks and rotting areas will be discovered and repaired for a trouble-free installation and beautiful curbside presentation.
While existing home inventories are among the lowest in years, prospective home buyers are more informed than ever before. Whether you do a little work or a lot, to stand out in the fast-paced, competitive online real estate market, you’ll need to make your first impression be a lasting one.
If you need expert advice about a window replacement project in Alberta, Manitoba or Saskatchewan, contact Ecoline Windows for a free, no-obligation consultation.