Anyone who's scanned a dating site knows what gets checked out first: How's his build? How's her figure? And that's what faces today's home seller. If you want to edge out the competition — and there's plenty of that these days — you better pay attention to your appearance. • "We all make snap judgments. If a buyer's going to make a snap judgment based on your front yard, it better look great," said Starr C. Osborne, who specializes in home staging. • "If you can't get people in the door, you're not going to get them even looking at the house," said Osborne, 47, who owns Tailored Transitions in Philadelphia. • Home staging experts, hired to help sell your home's interior by creating an aura of beauty and space — along with booting your ratty furniture and peanut butter-covered kids toys — may say that it's what's on the inside that counts. But Osborne and other professionals also quickly acknowledge that there's plenty of work to be done outside.
WHOSE HOME IS IT?
Osborne details strategies in her book, Home Staging That Works: Sell Your Home in Less Time for More Money (AMACOM Publishing, on Amazon). One concept for making your house sell sounds defeatist but it works: depersonalization. A prospective buyer should see the front of your home as their home. That means ditching the "We Doxies" welcome mat and your University of Florida "Go, Gators" flag. Cat people and Florida State alums buy homes too, you know.
Because of foreclosures, homes now stand empty, the lawn like a wheat field, weeds covering the driveway.
"It's important to differentiate yourself from those distressed properties," said Alice T. Chan, owner of AKC Enterprises in the San Francisco Bay area. Just like folks who let themselves go, if you let your yard go, well, "that's not sexy, there's no appeal to that whatsover," said Chan, 40. Worse, you might be sending the wrong signal to a potential buyer. "They're going to assume you've got a distressed property, so they're going to lowball you," Chan said.
She outlines her expertise as a home-selling strategist on her website, alicetchan.com.
"It's like putting together an outfit," Chan said. "You want to make sure your clothes, your shoes, your accessories are put together. It's the same with your home, whether it's the mulch or the color scheme."
Because new landscaping may be there for a while, it's worth it to hire someone who knows what's going to last. "They can also suggest plants and landscaping that looks complementary to the exterior colors," Chan said. Or ask for advice at a nursery.
TIME TO FRESHEN UP
"Exterior paint makes a huge difference," Chan said. Power-washing might spray away the dirt, but if it's been years since you've painted, you'll need a fresh coat. "That might be more money than you want to spend but if you've got neutral colors to begin with, painting just the front of the house, what everybody sees, makes a big difference."
Part of selling your home is selling a dream for the potential buyer. And a junkyard isn't part of that dream. "They can live like absolute slobs at home. But if they look at a property that's just like theirs, they're not going to look at it. They want the fantasy, not the reality. You don't want to sell Sanford and Son's yard," Chan said.
"Put away kids' toys, bikes, skateboards, scooters. The same with gardening tools, lawn furniture sitting out."
Downspouts hanging loose from gutters? Fix it. "In the buyer's mind, they think it's going to take a lot to fix," Chan said. "It doesn't cost a lot of money — but it looks like it. Avoid giving anybody any reason to think, 'I don't want to buy this house.' "
Lucky you. An interested buyer has reached the door. "A lot of times if you have a covered front entryway," Osborne said, "your potential buyer is going to be standing there, Realtor fiddling with the lockbox, and all the while the buyer is looking up at bugs and spiderwebs." Time for the broom.
There are other touches that signal what's to come when the door is opened.
"Mailboxes are a utility but they're also a calling card as to how you present yourself to the world," Osborne said.
House numbers need replacement, too, because, as Osborne said, they're an easy way to give people a visual cue that you are current. "You want people to see the numbers, but if you've got that 'ye olde wrought iron,' skip that, get chrome or brass in a more modern font."
Put yourself in the buyer's shoes as you look at other houses for sale. "Make sure that you're just a little bit better than anybody else," Chan said.
"The For Sale sign might say, 'Must See Inside!' " Chan said. "But nobody is going to look inside if they don't like the outside."