Four Steps to More Curb Appeal
Columnist Kathy McCleary talks to design experts to find out how to makeover her home exterior and landscaping without spending a bundle.
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I used to live in a quaint little house that literally made my heart leap every time I rounded the corner and drove up the street. But when I moved to northern Virginia last June, my husband and I bought a decidedly unappealing looking house that had been for sale for more than six months. We were shopping in a red-hot housing market where most homes sell within hours, often above asking price.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why the house — a well built, not unattractive brick cottage — had sat for so long. It was completely surrounded on three sides by an overgrown boxwood hedge and ancient, bedraggled holly trees. (My daughters referred to our new home as "the bush," as in, "Can we go home to our bush now?") The house had zero curb appeal.
We bought it anyway, and a year later it's amazing what a difference a little landscaping and the addition of a few window boxes and welcome mats has made. And we haven't even gotten to the repainting yet. We removed one of the two driveways, the boxwoods and the holly trees. We planted a small, graceful patch of lawn and a curving bed that slopes from the front door down to the street. We bought window boxes and loaded them with brilliant red geraniums and other annuals. The house is open and bright and welcoming now, easily visible at every angle from the street. Most importantly, it's a house that makes us feel good when we drive up to it.
That's the definition of "curb appeal," according to exterior designer Pamela Berstler, CEO of Flower to the People in Los Angeles. It's that something about a house "that makes you smile when you come home." Exactly what that something is differs depending on the home and owner, because different elements trigger that nurturing feeling in everyone, Berstler explains. The key to curb appeal is balancing what makes you happy with what works in your community, since your home's yard, driveway and exterior are both private and public spaces.Many magazines and newspapers often tout the financial benefits of boosting curb appeal, citing a 1999 Clemson University study showing that consumers valued well-landscaped homes at 11 percent above the asking price. A Gallup survey, also from 1999, found landscaping could add 7 to 15 percent to a home's value. In 2003, an article in SmartMoney magazine suggested that spending 5 percent of your home's value on landscaping could yield a return of 150 percent or more. But what if you're planning on staying put or just want your home to have curb appeal for you? Here's some advice from a variety of experts on the best way to increase curb appeal without bringing in the landscape architects, bulldozers and $50,000 budget.
Next: Four steps experts recommend for increasing curb appeal.
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