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By Peg Guinta

RISMEDIA, Feb. 1, 2008–It’s no wonder home staging has gotten a lot of attention lately. Expand interior appeal to a larger buyer group and you may sell the home sooner and for more money.

Companies that track home staging results report that a staged home can potentially reduce selling time by half and improve sales prices by 5% -7%.

In fact a national survey of 2000 real estate agents conducted by HomeGain in 2003 found that “…moderately priced home improvements, ranging from $80-$2,800 made in preparation for sale actually yield the highest returns when a house is sold.”

So, if broader interior appeal translates to increased economic value, an improved exterior should, too. Because most buyers form opinions ‘at the curb’ – before they even get out of the car – a home’s exterior is a powerful, pre-emptive stage-setter, keeping prospects’ interest intact.

Build Appeal, Build Value

Strategic home preparation is a fundamental consideration in any home marketing tool kit, whether it’s an improved landscape design or basic upkeep and maintenance. Major elements such as landscaping; structural items and architectural features should appear cohesive and well-kept. Visual appeal is sometimes subjective, but balanced and consistent features generally create a pleasing composition.

The good news is-you don’t need a landscape designer to tell you that the foundation plantings need updating. or the front walk is undefined or unwelcoming. And improving selected features will probably cost less than you’d expect. In 2002, the American Nursery & Landscape Association reported that the average amount spent on landscape installation / construction was $3,502. Several sources indicate that this investment cost recovery is high. According to Money Magazine, February, 2000, “A nicely landscaped property can allow owners to recoup 100-200% of their investment at selling time.” Larger landscaping design projects can offer more value but always keep investment cost in line with property values.

Landscaping – An Underused Strategy?

The HomeGain survey also reported that a simple improvement such as ‘landscape & trim’ with a typical cost of $432-$506 can bring an increase in sale price from $1,594 – $1,839 – a 266% average return.

Other sources concur. According to the Gallup Organization, a landscaping project could add anywhere from 7%-15% to a home’s value. A Clemson University study reports slightly more conservative results: homes with “excellent” landscaping can expect a sale price about 6%-7% higher than one with only “good” landscaping.

Buyer appreciation of patios, decks and inviting outdoor living spaces further heighten sales appeal and add real economic value when it’s time to sell. But if expectations are to recover all costs of elaborate projects – sellers beware – because many buyers will not consider a highly personalized project desirable.

At The Front Door

The front entryway is a particularly important area and offers great opportunity to make a statement. It doesn’t matter how tiny the area is – there are lots of tasteful touches that will make an impact without costing much. A simple welcome mat, a wreath on the door, a hanging flower arrangement may be enough. A brass door knocker and kick-plate, and a potted tree on the steps can class up the front door area. Benches, art or antique objects fitting in with the overall house style can add interest and a welcoming appearance.

Consider color in the front entrance, too-could door trim or the front door itself use a color upgrade? Changing front door color is a quick and inexpensive fix to improve curb appeal. Painted a complimentary color to house and trim, doors can add dimension and style instead of receding or even detracting from overall appeal. House numbers, lighting and mailboxes should also be included in design appearance.

“Hardscaping” elements leading to the front door or the front porch itself are other opportunities to improve features that may need a lift. Selection of hardscape materials themselves (i.e., slate, brick, stone, etc.) are style choices that should relate to and complement other property elements.

Driveway, front porches and walkways are items often overlooked that when updated, can make a huge impact. One of the easiest projects to do is create a defined walkway if there is none. This not only adds visual value, but is practical. A walk way should efficiently direct users to the entry and look attractive while doing it; no overgrown grass, shrubs, loose slates or out-of-place bricks on the way to the front door.

The Value of a Tree

A home’s curb appeal has the power to set the stage; it may keep prospects away or draw them in, easily affecting a property’s sale price. Appeal is highly individualistic, but a well-designed and maintained “curbscape” needn’t be cost-prohibitive to improve the home’s sale-ability. If sellers anticipate a curb appeal project for the purpose of resale, remind them that design moderation is best for investment recovery.

For those planning to sell soon, now is the time to consider curb appeal improvements. Even for those not intending to sell right away, consider the value of a tree; based on its maturity it can have an appraisal value of between $1000 to $10,000, according to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers.

Peg Guinta, CRP, is Projects Director for RIS Consulting Group. For more information, e-mail peg@rismedia.com.

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