by Becky Blanton
Several years ago I was out house hunting with a friend when we pulled up to a small rambling structure with the agent and the first words out my friend’s mouth were, “What a butt-ugly house.” The agent smiled as she nodded and
said, “But it’s got a great personality.”
Sure enough, when we walked through the front door, we understood immediately what she meant. A small creek trickled through the house, creatively confined to a metal streambed topped with glass. You had to walk over a small bridge to get from the living room to the kitchen, and the stream itself came out of a rock wall that ran about 12 feet high at one end of the living room. From the kitchen, you could see a greenhouse, which extended off of the dining nook, filled with plants and, apparently at one time, a lot of birds. The bright blue carpet was moldy, and the house needed a lot of TLC throughout, but boy did it have personality!
Ultimately, the house made the top three on my friend’s list, but not the final cut. He went for a smaller house that had a larger back yard, deck, and backed up to a river. It was “butt-ugly” too, but he fell in love with the personality, the deck, the unique rooms and a wall-to-wall fireplace in the master bedroom. Over the years, the additions of wood siding, fresh paint, and landscaping changed the curb appeal dramatically and last I heard he is thrilled with the new look. Both his house and the original “butt-ugly” house taught us a valuable lesson: don’t judge a house by its curb appeal. In fact, bad curb appeal may be a sign that the house has the potential, after a few upgrades, to offer a large return when it comes time to sell.
Looking Beyond Bad Curb Appeal
There is certainly a lot of benefits to buying a move-in, live-in ready home, mainly in terms of convenience. That being said, finding an ugly or tired home with great bones or personality and tons of potential can save you thousands of dollars on the front end as the current owners may know their home is not going to sell easily and may be willing to negotiate just to unload it. Sometimes all it takes to revamp an unattractive home is a new paint job and landscaping. It can be hard, though, to figure out if a space has potential, so it is important to choose a real estate agent with vision who knows where the jewels in the rough are in your desired neighborhood. Spend time interviewing agents, keeping an eye out for one who has a special place in their heart for ugly homes or “fixer-uppers” and who understands what you are looking for and why.
It’s The Inside That Count
Consumer Reports recently reported that of all the things homebuyers value most, the kitchen is the most important component. More than one-third of respondents marked it number one when they took the survey. Also, according to the report, first time homebuyers and millennials are most likely to rank a sweet kitchen at the top of their wishlist when it comes to their new home. Bearing this in mind, when buying a home, it is worth your time to focus more on desirable features, such as the personality and function of the kitchen, over curb appeal, which you can easily fix in an “ugly home.” Resale value will depend largely on the kitchen and bath situation (the bathroom is the second most important feature to buyers) rather than on the curb appeal. At the end of the day, it is much cheaper to invest in landscaping, paint and curb appeal rather than to totally gut and remodel a kitchen (think $10,000 in paint, plants and pavers versus $100,000 in new appliances, cabinets, tile, and sinks). If you find a home that lacks curb appeal but has a great kitchen and bath, and the house truly does have a personality (bay windows, decks, fireplace, multiple bathrooms, great floor plan and a backyard with potential for an outdoor kitchen), you may have found a diamond in the rough.
Consider the Large Return on Small Changes
A lot of poor or even downright bad curb appeal has nothing to do with the house itself. Chain link fencing in the front of the house, poor choice of paint color, unattractive or non-existent landscaping, or even massive clay stains on white exteriors are all things that can lower a home’s curb appeal, but they aren’t actually that expensive or timely to fix. A boring entryway is easy to enhance with a few weekends of DIY projects. Installing pea gravel, wood planks or few shrubs is something you can do in a day if you enlist some family members or friends to help. All of these changes not only seem pretty cheap when compared to buying a home whose owner has already created a dreamy and eye-catching appeal but will also increase your new home’s value.
Caution: Take Into Consideration The Things You Can Afford to Change
Do keep in mind that while some curb appeal-enhancing upgrades are easy or inexpensive to fix, others, like a steep stairway or nearly vertical driveway, are not. A house with a garage but no driveway to the garage may look like a simple fix, but make sure to get estimates on installing a driveway before you buy. After all, you are the one holding the strings to your budget. If you’re an experienced DIY-er that’s great, but if you don’t even own a hammer, let alone power tools, you might want to get estimates from the professionals before tackling projects to improve your curb appeal yourself.
My name is Scott Grebner and I have been helping my clients realize their own personal real estate dreams. Real estate is a relationship-based business that works best when client relationships are built on trust and confidence. My goal is having clients be completely satisfied with the professional and caring service they have received.
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