A Little Curb Appeal Goes a Long Way

What do people think when they pass by your home? If their first impression could stand to be better, here are a few of the best places to get started.

When someone comes to your home or just drives by, what they see can form a lasting impression – for better or worse.

Ask anyone who specializes in home design and decor, landscaping, lawn care, windows and doors, and they’ll have a lot to say about curb appeal.

When it comes to real estate, Mike Lunde, a broker for Team Lunde with Gambino Realtors, in Rockford, believes one quick overview is all it takes to set the tone. And in today’s housing market, making a good first impression is everything.

“In real estate sales, the first showing of a home is online because people are looking for certain features in a home,” he says. “Once they decide to set up a showing, what a buyer sees on the outside is usually a good indicator of what the house will look like on the inside. So, for that reason, it’s important to keep a home looking good not only on the inside, but on the outside, too.”

If they see dead trees, lots of weeds, an unkempt yard, and a general sense of disrepair on the outside, potential homebuyers are more likely to be on guard, and they’ll wonder what else is wrong in places that aren’t so easily seen, says Lunde. When that happens, it’s less likely you’ll see a quick offer.

On that first visit, the front door is a major focal point for potential buyers. From there, people see how the colors of the home, roof, shutters and trim coordinate, says Lunde. Then, they see how the yard, driveway and landscaping are maintained.

The color of a front door communicates a strong message about the home and its owner, according to the National Association of Realtors. The Paint Quality Institute says blue tones convey a place of refuge or retreat; green projects health, tranquility and harmony; red conveys passion, energy and excitement, and brown tones send a message of warmth, stability and reliability.

One of the easiest ways to create a new look for your home’s exterior is to replace the entry door. At Feldco, every door is custom made to ensure the best fit and energy efficiency.

With a wide variety of styles and finishes, Feldco helps homeowners to customize their doors in a way that fits the home’s style and color palette. Maximize natural light and ventilation using patio doors and screen doors, which are both attractive and functional.

When it comes to home improvement, people are most interested in cutting their maintenance time and costs, says Liz McCarthy, senior marketing manager at Feldco’s Des Plaines, Ill., headquarters. Because they want low-maintenance, they’ll often turn to vinyl replacement windows and fiberglass doors, which come in a variety of colors including woodgrain looks.

Low-maintenance siding also comes in a variety of colors and styles, some of which imitate wood grain finishes. Just changing the color of one’s siding can make the home look like new, McCarthy says.

Decorative glass on the front door makes the home more welcoming, and changing the style of other windows creates a more open, airy look that brings in much more natural light. Large and plentiful windows will attract people from the inside and outside. If it’s been awhile since your home’s windows were updated, newer models made from quality products can do a much better job protecting against ultraviolet light, cold and heat.

“Windows are getting more energy efficient all the time, so you can have the beauty of new windows with the benefit of more insulation, making the whole home more energy efficient,” McCarthy says.

Of all the things people can do to improve their homes, the roof gets the least attention, says McCarthy. When leaks appear or shingles are falling off and curling up, it’s a good time to seek a replacement.

“People are not typically excited about roofs and only think about them when they have to, but they obviously play a vital role in protecting your home,” she says. “Replacing your roof can give your home a refresh as well – and make an old home look new.”

Given the wide variety of styles and colors, it may be difficult to make a decision when replacing a roof, but McCarthy suggests people drive around and see what their neighbors have and decide what’s personally appealing.

Some people choose a sharp contrast to the color of their home or go for more of a monochromatic look. Some homeowners associations limit the type of roof people can have, so it’s best to check with them first, if applicable, she says.

Whether you’re selling soon or plan to stay awhile, there’s much to be said for your outdoor entertainment space, especially as we all spend more time at home than usual.

At Benson Stone Co., in Rockford, the extensive landscaping and patio department offers many ideas for a backyard oasis that sets the right atmosphere. Outdoor lighting, landscaping stones, stepping stones, pavers and boulders, patio furniture and grills combine to accent a home landscape.

“Lighting, more than anything else, changes the feel of an area,” says Kim Benson, co-owner of Benson Stone Co. “Landscape lighting provides a soothing and calming feeling, wherever there are plants, flowers, bushes, shrubs and other vegetation, and it gives an entirely different ambiance compared to daylight hours.”

Lighting and stone fixtures work well together and create interesting looks in a yard, Benson adds. Landscape lighting can illuminate pathways, sidewalks and garden areas, and they pair well with wall-mounted garage lights, hanging lamps, outdoor fans, spot lights, lamp posts, lights atop brick columns and light controls. Create additional accents with remote-controlled, flameless candles and strings of small lights to define an area. Or, cluster them together in a space or see-through container.

Driveways and walkways made from patio bricks, pavers and materials other than concrete and asphalt give a custom look and add an interesting dimension to any home landscape. There are many sizes and shapes of pavers and flagstone that create unique patterns.

Stone, rocks, metal and lighting can serve as borders or form an edge along driveways, walkways, gardens and other areas that need a boundary, while at the same time making the yard look well-maintained and organized. It’s very visually appealing because one section stands out, but it can also blend well with other areas, Benson says.

Complete the look by planting ornamental grasses with flowers of different heights to make an attractive enclosure for an otherwise ordinary-looking mailbox, Benson adds.

Long before people get to the front door, visitors see the driveway, says Larry Lazzerinni, owner of Premier Pavement, in Rockford. Asphalt driveways, in particular, need regular attention and resealing at least every other year. Fall and spring would be the best times to sealcoat an asphalt driveway and get cracks filled, if any have formed.

“Some people want to seal every year, and that’s not a good idea,” Lazzerinni says. “It’s just like adding layers of paint that, after time, will crack and peel. You want to protect the driveway, but you want it to wear well, too.”
In general, blacktop driveways should last about 15 years, Lazzerinni adds, but a lot depends on where a person lives, who did the work, and the quality of the material they used. If the driveway is sporting spiderweb cracking, cluster cracking, and signs that there’s buckling and fragmenting, it’s probably time for an update.

Costs are going up on many home improvement supplies, says Lazzerini, so it’s important to keep up with driveway maintenance to help the pavement last as long as possible. Keep control of weeds and grass growing in cracks to prevent more damage.

If updating a drive is on your radar this year, know that you’re not alone. Many people are taking advantage of the time they have at home.

“Last June, we were busier than ever,” says Lazzerini. “We couldn’t keep up with the demand. Today, a lot of people are asking about replacing driveways. Whether or not they will do it is yet to be seen. We’ll see how things play out. It’s just one of those years, and the future is unpredictable.”

Sara Anderson, owner and founder of The Pickin’ Chicks, an estate sale and consignment business in Rockford, specializes in making old things new again. She knows a little creativity can go a long way in making a home attractive.

“I’ve been repurposing for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I have always been interested in the hunt for old objects I can breathe new life into. I look at old pieces of furniture or decor and think about what else I can do with them.”

The Pickin’ Chicks has a 3,000-square-foot warehouse to store furniture, clothing, jewelry, electronics, sporting goods and anything else people want to sell. The warehouse, located at 5024 Willowcreek Road in Machesney Park, Ill., is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the last weekend of every other month. The next sale is scheduled for June, but the public is also invited to visit by appointment on any other day. The June sale will have items from at least 12 families.

When preparing for an estate or garage sale, it’s important to set the stage by making sure the lawn is mowed, weeds are pulled, and potted plants are strategically placed, she says.

Potted plants and flowers can create an entirely new and interesting look, depending on how they are presented. For example, Anderson has seen potted plants and flowers get more attention by being placed in an old wooded high chair, on the seat of an old chair or bench, in an old-fashioned wash tub, and in metal watering cans. A stepladder can serve as a multi-level platform for plants or a trellis for a climbing vine. One person used a pair of old boots to hold flowerpots.

Doing things on the inside of a house can make it attractive when seen from the outside, too. Sheer curtains create a soft, flowing look, and they let in just enough natural light while offering some privacy. Setting decorative pottery, teacups, fresh-cut flowers or potted plants on the window sill, where they can be seen from the outside, gives the impression of a house well cared for, Anderson says.

Put it all together – attractive decor inside, attractive landscaping and refreshed finishes outside – and you have a home that’s sure to impress.