Don’t forget allure of home’s curb appeal

Paul Ewersmann, left, and Jeff Emege, plant a new dwarf alberta spruce in front of the Schneider home in St. Charles, Mo. The family is spending about $5,000 to repair damage done by a tornado.
Paul Ewersmann, left, and Jeff Emege, plant a new dwarf alberta spruce in front of the Schneider home in St. Charles, Mo. The family is spending about $5,000 to repair damage done by a tornado.

ST. LOUIS — Back in May, Cindy Schneider and her husband, Vince, thought they’d achieved curb appeal. That’s the look — clean and green — that helps sell a house.

“We were all set to list our home. We’d just trimmed and edged and mulched and weeded, she said.

Then came the tornado. “My husband was outside getting the dogs in. It was such a sucking type of wind that we couldn’t close the door.”

They fled to the basement as the storm roared through. They emerged to find a third of their shingles gone and water dropping through the roof.

That handsome landscaping was a mess. Big trees were blown over and the carefully tended grass torn up.

Their home insurer helped repair the house, but her insurance didn’t cover landscaping. “We lost some pretty expensive trees.”

Now they’re ready to put their St. Louis-area house up for sale again. The roof and the inside are repaired. But the lawn and shrubbery were still a mess, and trees were missing.

The Schneiders decided to pay about $5,000 to a landscaping firm. They say it’s worth it.

Through research and talking to real estate agents, Ms. Schneider became convinced that a house without curb appeal would sell for less or not at all. Buyers “don’t want to do the work,” she said.

That is certainly the case, real estate agents say.

“It’s easy to drive on to the next house,” said Susie O. Johnson, the Coldwell Banker real estate agent listing the Schneiders’ house.

That’s why real estate agents take a tough love approach to customers.

“I’m pretty brutal. I’m not afraid to tell people what they need to do,” said Cheri Peterson, a Remax Edge agent and president of the St. Charles County (Mo.) Association of Realtors. “We did have someone who wouldn’t buy a house because they didn’t want to pull the weeds.”

Start with the main entrance.

“The front door is going to set the pace for the rest of the house,” Ms. Peterson said. Paint it, then “throw a wreath on it.”

“Green creates energy; red is inviting and draws the eye; black is elegant and dramatic; and orange is invigorating. Plus, add a door knocker,” says a suggestion sheet from St. Louis real estate agency Coldwell Banker Gundaker.

Add big, bold house numbers, Ms. Johnson said. They’re cheap and effective.

Wash the windows, said Ms. Peterson, including the storm door. “Use Windex and a newspaper, not a paper towel,” she said. Paper towels leave track marks.

Look for holes in the eaves of the house. “If there are squirrels, they have to move out,” Ms. Peterson said. Ditto with the nests that insects build. “They look like a big daub of dirt. Gotta go.”

Siding gets dirty, and sometimes mossy on the north side of the house. “A house with green mold — it has to come off,” Ms. Peterson said. Rent a power washer and spray away.

Consider landscaping.

The Schneiders’ outside fix-up on their present house includes a “landscape plan” with new trees, shrubs, plants, and decorative brickwork.

For those without big budgets, curb appeal means lots of time weeding the lawn and trimming shrubbery. Plant lots of flowers and put planters near the front door, agents say. “Mums ... have bright colors and they’re hardy,” Ms. Johnson said.

“Check the deck,” Ms. Johnson said. 

Shaky steps and wobbly banisters say the home needs repair. If there’s a nasty-looking fire hydrant on your curb, call the city. Maybe they’ll paint it.

Buyers also will check out your neighbors, real estate agents say. They’ll notice the ratty junkmobile in the neighbor’s driveway, not to mention his overgrown lawn.

This requires diplomacy, and sometimes volunteer labor.

“One of my clients asked if he could go pull their weeds,” Ms. Peterson said.