Tuesday, February 7, 2017

4 Weekends = Improved Curb Appeal

No matter how great the interior of your house may be, first you have to convince buyers that it's worth it to get out of the car and into the house. That's what "curb appeal" is.  I'm assuming you have a short time to get ready to sell your house, so this advice concentrates on removing negative curb appeal quickly and cheaply, not adding positives.
This would take more than four weekends.

The typical suburban house will take about 4 weekends dedicated to yard work to remove the negatives from the curb appeal before the listing date. That gives the shrubs time to recover from pruning, and the lawn time to green up. If your landscape is exceptionally large or neglected, some steps might take more than one weekend. Evaluate what you can do for yourself and hire professionals for the rest.

  • Dead plants don't sell houses.
  • If potential buyers can't see the house behind trees and bushes, they won't want to buy it.
  • Clean and tidy is appealing.
  • Well-maintained is appealing.
  • Closely mowed green weeds have more curb appeal than overgrown or dead lawns.

Weekend 1: Decluttering and shrub renovation

Decluttering: Real estate agents gossip - if you do nothing else before the first agent shows up, clear the clutter so your house doesn't get the "lived in by trailer trash" tag. You might need to rent a big trash bin and have a commercial trash service haul the trash away.
  • If it is not in good repair and in active use, whatever "it" is has no place in the landscape of a house for sale.
  • Collect all trash and debris from the yard. Trash may be left-over construction materials, a rusted garden shed, a derelict vehicle you planned to fix up someday, or a run-down barbeque grill.
  • If it's broke and you can't fix it before you list the house, get it off the property.
  • If it's not worth paying for off-site storage for something, get rid of it.
  • Usable materials can be donated to a local charity, given away or sold. Use FaceBook, Craig's List and FreeCycle for fast results.
  • If you are selling anything, price it low enough to sell quickly. The objective is get rid of it so you will get a better sale price for your house.
  • Find a place to store all the gardening tools, tidily and out of sight.
  • Remove any dead and dying plants.
  • Remove any quirky garden decor. Sorry, but the garden gnomes, gazing balls, plastic flamingos, and especially that toilet with the petunias planted in the bowl are not adding to curb appeal.
Lawn care, Week 1: Mow, lightly fertilize, and thoroughly water whatever looks like a lawn. Use about 1/4 of the recommended amount of fertilizer, because you will be fertilizing again. Weed-infested is OK, as long as it's flat and green. If it looks like a lawn as you drive down the street, that's enough curb appeal.

Shrub renovation: Most homeowners plant shrubs too close together, and plant species that are too big for the available space, then they ignore them until the house is hidden behind a wall of green. In the interest of a quick sale, I'll skip the lecture on plant selection - let's pass the problem on to the next owner. Shrubs that are pruned now will have fresh growth in about a month when you need the curb appeal.
  • Identify which shrubs are covering up something ugly, like the neighbor's trash cans. As you prune these shrubs, make sure they will still be big enough to hide the trash cans when you are finished.
  • Identify your shrubbery by species. Some evergreens, such as juniper and rosemary, will stay dead if you prune back to bare wood. Most deciduous shrubs will sprout new growth if they are pruned severely. Make sure you know how the shrub will react to pruning, because overgrown is better than dead.
  • If the shrubs are actively growing, prune any species of shrub that will quickly sprout new growth to 60% or so of the "best" size for the space it is in. Fertilize them lightly and water them thoroughly. By listing time the plants should be dense and greened up, and a little too small for the space. This is good because it makes the house look larger.
  • If shrubs are hiding the entrance, remove them. An open, easy-to-see entry is more appealing than one that can hide burglars.
  • For a more pleasing look, prune the branches of the shrubs different amounts so they don't look like a batch of green meatballs. You want a natural looking variety of sizes and shapes.
  • If it is late fall, prune just enough to reveal the house or the windows. Severe pruning now may kill them.
  • If you have an shaggy hedge, prune it severely too. You will have to prune it frequently as it grows out, but a short tidy hedge is not a negative. Remember to keep the top of the hedge narrower than the base.

Weekend 2: Continue the clean-up

With the derelict cars and broken lawn chairs removed, you are ready for something more like landscaping. This weekend you will clean up the trees. Good looking trees are essential to curb appeal, but they shouldn't hide the house.

Tree removal: If your landscape has sprouted seedling trees, get rid of them. If they are small, dig them out with a sharp shovel. If they are larger, prune them off at ground level. If any trees so close to the house that branches scrape the roof or tap the windows, the tree is probably too close. Removing trees that are close to your house is a job for a professional.

Pruning Trees:
  • First, prune off all dead and damaged branches.
  • Prune any branches that scrape the roof, the house, or the fence.
  • Then prune any branches that obstruct your movement, especially branches that overhang doors and driveways. Don't just chop these off, prune them back to a side branch to make it look better.
  • Go inside and look out the windows. Identify which branches are blocking the view and prune them off.
  • "Pruning up", which means removing some of the lower branches to reveal parts of the house will increase curb appeal. Drive up to your house and park at the curb, or in the parking area. Identify which branches hide your house. Prune some of them off.
CAUTION: Don't prune near power lines. Don't try removing large trees yourself, or pruning any branches above the level you can comfortably reach with a pole saw. It's too dangerous. Nothing ruins curb appeal like a tree on top of the house.

Lawn care, weekend 2: Mow, then water and lightly fertilize the lawn again. Use about 1/4 of the recommended amount of fertilizer. Locate any holes in the lawn and fill them with dirt and pack it firmly. Then rake a small amount of grass seed, into the dirt. Scratch any bare spots with a rake and scatter grass seed on them too. Make sure these spots stay damp until the grass is well-sprouted.

Perennials and annuals: Don't plant anything new, just clean out the dead leaves and old flower stalks. If you have flower beds, weed them and add a layer of mulch.

Weekend 3: Handyman chores

Nothing sets off buyer's alarms more than sagging gates, leaking faucets and broken locks.
  • Replace all missing fence boards and fill any gaps under the fence with dirt.
  • If you have a chain link fence, replace any missing post tops and re-weave any loose wires.
  • Repair or replace all broken gate latches and hinges. Make sure the gates swing easily and close securely.
  • Fix any leaking faucets, replace any corroded faucets.
  • Rake any dead leaves out of the shrubbery.
  • Now would be a good time to wash the driveway and sidewalks.
Lawn care, weekend 3: Mow, then water and lightly fertilize the lawn. Trim the edge of the lawn, and remove any weeds growing between cracks in the sidewalk and driveway.

Weekend 4: Final details

This should be the weekend before your official listing date. The work load is light, which is a good thing. You are probably cleaning the house as if your mother-in-law is coming for a white-glove inspection.
  • Once more, rake dead leaves out of the shrubbery.
  • Weed the shrubbery and spread mulch, making sure there is a tidy edge. 
  • Sweep the driveway and sidewalks.
  • Go to the nursery and buy a colorful pot of flowers for the front porch or the patio.
Lawn care, weekend 4: Mow, then water the lawn. It should be looking pretty good by now. Tidy the edge on the lawn, and remove any new weeds growing between cracks in the sidewalk and driveway.

Special problems: Dog tracks. Dogs wear a track around the edge of any property, because they patrol their territory. There will also be paths wherever they habitually travel. Mulch the track, or add stepping stones, and call it a "path" where it passes through shrub borders. Put up temporary barricades to keep the dogs away from the tracks in your lawn so the grass can recover.

Compensating for poor curb appeal: Potential buyers will mentally deduct the estimated cost of bringing your house's curb appeal up to the neighborhood standards from the price they are willing to pay. Add a couple of thousand dollars to your asking price, then offer it right back as a "landscaping allowance" to be paid at closing.

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