May 8, 2013
Curb Appeal (Connecticut Post)
John O'Connor bought his home at 13 Settlers Road in Bethel in 1981, and while he's maintained it over more than 30 years, he knew that when it was time to sell he'd have to boost the curb appeal.

It was the common sense things, he said, noting he did some of the work himself and brought in some pros. "I probably invested about $3,000 to $4,000," he said.

That included touching up the paint on the exterior of the house, power washing it and cleaning the windows.

"Did all the flower beds, mulching, edging," he said. "Planted some flowers. They're blooming now, it looks nice."

He also reset the paver stones leading to the home. Inside, his fiancee, Karen Short, tackled staging the home, decluttering and painting. With their children now grown, they've decided to downsize.

It's a lot of work, but improving the curb appeal of a home is worth it, according to real estate pros. When prospective buyers arrive to look at your home, the outside is the first thing they see.

The couple has more than adequately prepared the house for sale, said their broker, Patty McCarthy, of William Raveis' The McCarthy Group in Danbury.

"I always advise my sellers that the first impressions are lasting impressions," McCarthy said. "When buyers drive up to a home on the market, they are making an immediate decision about whether the home is a perfect fit for them."

You have to know your potential buyer as well, she said. Many would-be buyers aren't interested in a fixer-upper unless they are being rewarded with a lower price.

Several Realtors note that clients also balk at the potential cost associated with maintaining large and complicated landscaping, so keeping your yard simple can help.

McCarthy also said investing in exterior staging, as she calls it, communicates that the house is well cared for and that's important to buyers, who still have choices in this market.

"Though the market has picked up, buyers still have many homes from which to choose, so sellers need to recognize the need to position their home on the market in the best possible light," she said.

Banks could also learn from this, according to Francine Brown, of Norwalk-based Brown Estate Realty, which has expertise in foreclosure and short sales.

She said a bank-owned home in Bridgeport she worked on was selling for less than $50,000, but if the owner had just spent a little money to spruce it up and maintain it, it could have sold for $125,000.

A willingness to improve the curb appeal is also good for the economy.

As O'Connor noted, he did a lot of work himself, but had to bring in a tree expert for the big stuff. "I'm not climbing 40 feet up," he said.

The building and grounds trades were hit hard during the recession and employment in many trades remain much lower than it was in 2007. But landscapers in Southwest Connecticut have pretty much recovered.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5,220 landscapers earning an average of $15.32 an hour in the Bridgeport-Stamford region last year, up from the 4,700 landscapers working in the area in 2007 for $13.79 an hour.

The Danbury area was still lagging its 2007 numbers, according to the BLS. There were 610 landscapers earning an average of $13.79 an hour in 2012, compared to 620 earning $14.23 in 2007.

Making these improvements can really make a house look new again to even the sellers, maybe tempting some to rethink putting the house on the market.

"I'm pretty nostalgic about the house," O'Connor said. "I raised my kids here. I'm the first and only owner. But I'm ready to move on... It's an acre and a half (of yard work)."

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