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How to Create Curb Appeal Before Selling

by Brandon Cornett

You hear the word tossed around a lot in real estate circles. You hear it mentioned on home-selling programs on HGTV and other networks. But what exactly is "curb appeal," and why should you care about it when selling your home?

In this article, we will start by answering this fundamental question. Then we will take a closer look at the elements of curb appeal, and how you can use them to increase your chances for a quick sale! But first, a definition.

What is Curb Appeal?

Let's start with a basic definition, just so we are on the same page. Curb appeal is the first impression people get when pulling up in front of your house. It is their perspective from the curb, literally. It's the first and most powerful impression your house will make on potential buyers, so it's a topic you should take seriously.

Curb appeal encompasses many things, each of which we will discuss in more detail. These elements include your landscaping (lawn, shrubs, trees and flowers); your home's entryway; the doors and shutters; and the overall appearance of the home (paint, structural integrity, etc.).

When potential buyers pull up in front of your home, they will try to imagine themselves in it. They will also imagine pulling up to the house after work each day, inviting friends over, etc. Will the house give them a sense of satisfaction and joy when they pull up to it? Will they be proud when they have guests over? Or do they have a negative impression right from the start?

You can rest assured that all buyers will go through this mental (and sometimes verbal) checklist when they first visit. It may happen in a flash, mostly on the subconscious level. Or it may happen over a span of fifteen minutes, as the buyers stand out front waiting for their agent to arrive. But it will certainly happen. And as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Take the Test

We will get to the specific tips and techniques in just a moment. But first, I want to teach you a simple but effective way to assess your current level of curb appeal. Take a notepad out in the street in front of your house. Now imagine you're a buyer, and you've just pulled up in front of the house in your agent's car. Remember, it's not your house -- it's just one you're thinking of buying.

On your notepad, write down anything that catches your eye in a bad way. The grass is turning brown, the windows are dirty, the bushes look shabby, that sort of thing. Be as specific as possible. Draw a sketch if necessary. For instance, if there's a particular area of the lawn than needs attention, or a certain part of the facade that needs painting, write those details down.

When you have finished your list, it will serve as your plan of attack for improving your curb appeal. Prioritize the items by putting the most noticeable items at the top. This will be important later on, when you divide your list into (A) things that must be done and (B) things to do if time allows.

Curb Appeal Essentials

The notepad test will be more effective if you know what to look for. So review this list of curb appeal tips before and after you create your list.

  • Start by assessing your lawn. The grass should be green and healthy (unless it's winter). If your lawn has problems such as brown patches, you need to address those problems right away. Turning a lawn around can take time, depending on how severe the problems are.
  • Is the exterior paint chipped or faded? If so, give it a fresh coat. It's relatively inexpensive, and it will do wonders for that critical first impression we talked about.
  • When evaluating the paint, pay particular attention to the shutters, doors and trim. Sometimes you can get away with hosing them off. Other times they simply need to be painted. If the doors and shutters are painted different / contrasting colors, you may want to standardize them.
  • Planting fresh flowers can really brighten up a yard. Healthy shrubs can do the same, and they don't cost much either. If you don't have a green thumb, enlist help from a friend of family member who does.
  • The windowpanes should be spotless, and the frames around them should be free of dirt, chips and defects.
  • Lighting can be used for aesthetic and safety reasons at the same time. If you have potential buyers coming by in the evenings, light up the walkways and entry. Consider using decorative lighting to illuminate landscaping features, trees, etc.
  • Do you have vinyl railings, shutters or storm doors outside your home's entryway? If so, give them a good washing. You would be amazed at what a little elbow grease can do for these areas. It's quick, easy and affordable -- all you need is a hose, a bucket and some concentrated car wash liquid.

Create a Plan of Attack

The key here is to avoid taking on too much work at once, or spending too much money. You need to strike a balance of cost versus gain. If you bite off more than you can chew and create a long list of improvements, you could delay your ability to show the property. Start small. Using the notes you created earlier (when standing in front of your house), create a checklist of all the projects you feel are necessary.

Next, prioritize your projects by level of importance. Organize the list by things that must be done immediately, things that can wait, things that aren't a big deal, etc. That way, if you run out of money or time, you'll have the most important items out of the way first. And remember to start with the lawn! Making the grass greener is a gradual process, so start that right away.

Conclusion and Going Forward

Let's summarize some key points. Curb appeal is essential when selling a home because it gives buyers a good first impression. On the other hand, if they get a bad first impression when pulling up to the house, they will carry that negativity into the house with them. This is not something you want.

Do what is necessary to improve your home's outward appearance, but don't take on so much that you postpone the listing / showing of the property. And get help where you need it, if you're not handy with a certain project. All of your efforts will pay off in the end.

About the Author: Brandon Cornett is the publisher of the Home Buying Institute, which also features a section on landscaping ideas and tips. For more advice on this subject, visit the landscaping section at

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