A potential buyer drives by a home on the market. The driver stops. The driver looks at the house and its lawn and its other elements for one, two, three seconds. First impression made. The driver then makes a choice: look a little longer or move on to the next home on the market.
Homes on the market can’t wink, can’t express a come-hither look. But if they are attractive enough, through curb appeal, they can do wonders for sellers.
“Curb appeal is key,” says Jeannie Kurtzhalts, a broker at @properties in Winnetka and Glenview. “Many are looking for curb appeal during the ‘first showing’ — viewing a picture of the house online before the drive-by. If a property is not maintained on the outside, potential buyers will have doubts about the entire property. Something as simple as a new welcome mat, under a front door that pops because it had just been painted, is appealing. People talk and wait around near that mat. It’s an important spot.”
A home on the market should look like it just walked out of a barbershop or a salon, all neat and trimmed and clean. Well-coiffed. Fresh-faced. Branches should not obstruct a house’s facade. Shrubs should be pruned, tidy. Garden bed lines should be precise. The driveway and walkway should be debris-free. None of the above quests should be daunting to the home seller. Professional landscapers and real estate folks insist there are simple and inexpensive ways to enhance curb appeal.
“You don’t want anything to detract from the look of the front of the house,” Robert Milani, senior landscape architect of Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, says. “A leaning mailbox detracts. So do weeds on hardscapes or anything that blocks something like the front door, the focal point of a house. By far, the No. 1 issue to selling a house is curb appeal. I like to promote good curb appeal in the day and at night. Lighting near the driveway and along a pathway to the front door gives a house a sense of depth and a dramatic effect at night, plus security.”
Kim Flashner, owner of an interior design group in Winnetka, stages the interior of homes on the market. An interior sometimes needs a facelift, too. The last thing a home seller wants to do, though, is neglect the exterior of the home while getting too caught up with the appearance of the living room and the dining room and the bedrooms. Flashner also has an eye for what looks crisp in fresh air.
“This one historical house [on the North Shore] was a mustardy yellow one, before it got painted grayish-blue,” Flashner says. “People couldn’t believe the difference the change in color had made. I heard people say, ‘That makes a huge difference.’ I’m finding curb appeal is huge, especially for younger potential buyers, people in their 30s. They’re all about, and very interested in, what the exterior of the house looks like. They like new, clean. People in their 40s and 50s, they’re generally more concerned about the inside of the house, and vintage homes appeal to them.”
Real estate brokers looking to stage or spruce up the exterior of a house have sought the expertise of the folks at Winnetka-based Red Spade Environments, a landscape design and home remodeling business, and at Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff. Mariani added landscape architecture to its offerings in the 1970s and is an industry leader in providing exceptional residential landscape management and garden care. Margaret Lamason, director of client services at Red Spade Environments, encourages home sellers to be objective when they view the home from the curb.
“Sometimes,” she says, “people who have lived in a house for a long time don’t think it’s a big deal if a stoop slopes or if a walkway has settled. But those are big deals, like chipped paint on the front door is, like overgrown shrubbery blocking the beauty of a home is. Sometimes, if a house is on the market for a great deal of time, a realtor will look at the exterior of it and say to us, ‘If we could just open it up … ’ ”
If a house were getting ready to go to a prom, it would contact Susan Randstrom, a graphic designer/marketing professional at Pasquesi Home & Gardens in Lake Bluff. Prom goers need corsages, boutonnieres. Houses appear better behind flowers and plants.
“Placing a pair of containers [filled with plants or flowers], on the front step, freshens up the curb appeal and gives the front door instant balance,” Randstrom says. “Eyes draw right to the area. It’s important to make a favorable first impression, in only a few seconds, and flowers and plants help homeowners do that. This time of year we like annuals, pansies, violas. African Daisies are really friendly, sweet and welcoming.
“It’s a low-maintenance option, adding plants or flowers,” she adds, “and homeowners, with so many other things to worry about, appreciate that.”