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Curb Appeal Matters, But Shouldn't

May 11 2011

neighborhoodI just finished an interview with a local journalist about curb appeal and what it means for real estate in this market. I am asked that often, and it does matter what the curb appeal is. If it didn't, we would not have television shows dedicated to the topic. Should it matter? Not really, substance over shine is far more important, but how do you learn or understand that?

It happens regularly. A client tells me they do not want to see a house because of something they saw when they drove by or viewed it on Google Streetview. It goes a little something like this...

Me: "What did you think of the house in Westminster?"

Client: "We don't like ivy or pachysandra. We don't want to see it."

So I remove it from the tour schedule. Fast forward a few weeks later and another property becomes unavailable. I insert the Ivy-Pachysandra house into the tour.

Me: "We had a cancellation so I put the house in Westminster on the tour."

Client: "We really didn't like the ground cover."

Me: "Just humor me and look at it. If you really hate it, you don't have to buy it, but humor me."

Client: "Ok." (Begrudging tone).

Guess what? They bought that house, and they are still there 4 years later and absolutely love it. This refusal to see a house happens regularly, and more often than not it turns out to be the property that my clients end up buying.

How Do You Get Past the First Impression

The saying is something along the lines of, "You only have one chance at a first impression," and it is true. Every purchase we make in life has an emotional factor, and a psychological impact. The choices we often make are based purely on aesthetics. What looks prettier, the shinier the better – but what is forgotten is that anything can be polished. Not everyone realizes this, or wants to take the time or effort to get something to that point. So why risk losing a potential buyer over a $12 flat of pansies you didn't want to buy, or as a buyer why not just explore the joy of working in the garden.

Getting past the first impression can help you get to the real beauty of a house. The beauty is in the potential, finding the best and highest use. You can change anything in a house or around a house, and realizing what is involved – educating yourself – is the key. You can use software programs to visualize changes, there are great landscaping programs out there. Or hire a landscaper to design a plan.

It Goes Beyond the Curb

Today many buyers seem to have the mindset that the only thing they want to do with a house is to purchase it. I try to advise my buyer clients that they need to look beyond the aesthetics and look at the major systems. Carpet, paint, countertops, light fixtures and more can all be changed – relatively inexpensively. The real substance of any house is the potential and the condition of the major systems. Being aware of that, and relying upon the expertise of your real estate professional is important. They deal in this on a daily basis.

A Lesser Home

The advice my Mother gave me a long time ago is a piece of wisdom I hold with me to this day and share with my clients. She said, "Always buy a lesser home in a nice neighborhood." What that means is that you always have room to improve a house then, without over-improving for the area. Seeing the potential in a property is one of the most difficult things for many buyers, and when you are unwilling you will pay a premium for the property which is the "highest and best" in a community.

Look beyond the curb, see the bones and the structure, find the potential in every house. The importance of the things you cannot change is often forgotten. You cannot change a location, you cannot change the orientation of the house, you cannot change the school district, you can not change the properties around you. Educate yourself, ask for help from your real estate professional and never judge a book by its cover.

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