When potential buyers drive up to your home, the decision of "to buy or not to buy" might be made before they even step foot in your carefully cleaned and staged house. It's the outside view -- that all-important curb appeal -- that can close the deal for you or, if you don't spruce up your home's outer appearance, send buyers looking for the next listing. According to real estate industry Web site HomeGain, if you invest $300 to $400 on landscaping, your home price could increase by $1,500 to $2,000, a return on your investment of about 500 percent.
Think about how your house looks from the front curb, which is where potential buyers get their first look and form that all-important first impression.
"If you're standing at that curb and you see that the windows are dirty, the trees are overgrown and the shutters are faded or peeling, that's a turnoff," says Jennie Norris, president of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, which is a source of professional home stagers who also work on staging the outdoor sections of your property for best effect.
"Buyers will likely spend several minutes at your front door while their real estate agent unlocks it, so invest time in setting the stage for a grand entrance," says Marcia Layton Turner, co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell." "Make sure the door is clean and freshly painted, if needed. Polish any brass, such as a door knocker, hinges or doorknob. Clean any glass sidelights or glass windows on the door or storm door. Sweep the stoop. Put down a new welcome mat. And add a couple of potted plants on both sides of the front door to add color and make it feel like a more inviting space."
Norris agrees, suggesting topiaries on both sides of the door, large colorful planting bowls from the nursery, and annuals on a plant stand to add a touch of color.
Color is a very big issue when it comes to your home's outer appearance. It may be a wise investment to have your home professionally painted. Norris says a house looks best when the main color and the trim are within the same color family and there's just one contrasting color for a "pop" accent, such as on the shutters. But it may work just fine to have your home's siding power washed, which can make it look as if you had new siding put on.
Color also applies to your landscaping. Norris says, "Buyers are impressed with pops of color in your landscaping, so for annuals that you'll plant in front and along walkways, stick with just one color of flower rather than mix six different shades, and plant in clusters rather than rows for the best effect."
Turner says to trim any bushes or shrubs to neat and controlled shapes, put down new mulch and cut down any dead tree branches.
Norris advises, "Use the outdoor home staging wisdom of making sure that you have high, medium and low plantings, such as a few tall trees, some medium-height bushes and then some flowers or ground cover close to the ground." This style of planting is the nicest aesthetically, and it also serves to direct the eye toward your home's best features. For instance, a taller tree will bring the eye upward to show off the top frame of your front door or the new windows.
Many potential buyers will schedule visits for after work hours. To make your home shine after dark, consider a lighting strategy. Pretty lanterns and modern fixtures can be found in most home improvement stores and installed in less than an hour. Turner advises making sure that all of your outdoor lights -- from your solars by your steps to your front porch light -- are clean and in good working order.
A fabulous backyard will feature a new, clean patio furniture grouping so that potential buyers can imagine the entertaining they could do on that back deck, and a clean grill is also a must, even if it's a portable unit and not a built-in part of an outdoor kitchen.
"Water features are terrific," Norris says, "such as ponds and waterfalls or a clean and well-manicured backyard pool, and a clean copper or modern-looking birdbath is fine, too." As far as additional outdoor d?cor goes, the experts say to put everything away. Remove plaques with your family name on them. Get rid of the creepy little garden gnomes and plastic pink flamingos, even those cute fabric flags themed to the season or the holiday or to a favorite sports team or alma mater. The goal is to depersonalize the outside, as well as the inside, of your home so that buyers see the house as a house, not your house.
And Turner says to make sure that all lawn equipment is put away. "You don't want any hint that you had to work hard to make the yard look that good," she says. "Buyers want the illusion that your home will require very little in the way of maintenance and upkeep."
With just a few simple outdoor "spruce-ups," your house will impress those potential buyers, perhaps right into saying, "We'd like to make an offer."