What Is Curb Appeal, Anyway?

butterflySpring is officially here, and the real estate market is responding just as it’s supposed to. Home prices are up across the United States, even reaching new highs in some areas. (Go, Colorado!)

Home sellers who’ve decided that now is the time to sell are, among other tasks, sprucing up their front yards in search of that elusive selling factor known as “curb appeal.”

What exactly is “curb appeal,” and how important is it in selling your home? The late, great real estate journalist Broderick Perkins called it “the first impression your home conveys to prospective buyers,” which “should arouse shoppers’ desire to own the home and entice them to cross the threshold.”

Crossing the threshold is a big deal, apparently. As Washington real estate agent Patricia Wangsness told me, “If the home doesn’t look good from the outside, buyers don’t want to get out of the car.” Many real estate agents have described the same experience.

That raises the question of what goes into making a house look “good.” A Coldwell Banker checklist of ways to improve curb appeal breaks it down into such categories as:

  • paint and siding
  • other parts of the home exterior, such as gutters, front door, and windows
  • flower beds, and
  • lawn.

In other words, it’s not just one thing, like landscaping, but a combo platter. Folks who like to measure things, and ask questions like, “What financial difference will it make if I invest in making my home’s exterior look better?” should not expect easy answers.

For instance, while a study by Clemson University reportedly found that upgrading landscaping from “good” to “excellent” could add 6% to 7% to a home’s value, a home with great landscaping could still have lousy curb appeal if the shingles and gutters were falling off.

Texas real estate agent Greg Nino confirms, “A home’s overall value can be raised, lowered, or destroyed depending on curb appeal” and related factors, but the exact difference is “impossible to quantify by percentage.”

Perhaps it would help to think of it as a combination of maintenance and aesthetics. The latter lures buyers in, while the former assures them that they’re not taking on a fixer-upper. Massachusetts real estate agent Nancy Atwood explains that curb appeal can be critical to home buyers who “feel that folks who take care of the outside of their home are more apt to do critical updates on the inside. So when they do drive by’s on homes, if the outside looks messy, unkempt or neglected, they tend to avoid those homes.”

When you come right down to it, the concept of curb appeal has a lot in common with that of judging a book by its cover—in both cases, the insides may be better than buyers expect, but that first impression is hard to shake. It may end up being the only impression.