RESA 2016 Top 10 Home Staging Team of the Year

Good curb appeal helps sell a house

Terry and Maureen Ferrante of Sea Cliff had always taken pride in the property around their painted-lady Victorian. But after they placed the house on the market early this month, they worked even harder to ensure the gardens were impeccable.

'We pruned all the trees and bushes and planted flowers,' Maureen Ferrante, 58, a mental health counselor, says. 'Terry planted about 150 impatiens in various colors and put down wood chips so it would look neat. He cleaned everything up and made sure that when you pull up to the house, you see how beautiful it is.'

That's exactly the approach homeowners should take in landscaping their property to speed up the sale of their house, says Barb Schwarz, creator of the home-staging philosophy and founder of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, which educates stagers, or stylists, to prepare houses for sale.

'We've found that staging the outside is crucial because otherwise you can't get people inside,' Schwarz says, adding that homeowners who stage the outside of their houses will garner a 3.95 percent higher selling price than those who do not.

John Langone, a partner and associate broker with Richard B. Arnold Real Estate in Sea Cliff, says some buyers won't even go into a house if they don't like its outside appearance.

Something as basic as an unobstructed view of the house can add to its appeal, Langone says. 'If bushes and trees are blocking the house, it definitely detracts,' he says.

Neatness counts So how can sellers entice shoppers to get out of their cars and come inside?

One thing many homeowners forget to do, Schwarz says, is to declutter the yard of toys and little pots. 'It's far better to have fewer bigger pots than the clutter of smaller hanging pots,' she says. 'They just weigh down the house.'

Another tip from Schwarz, who reminds sellers that buyers only know what they see: 'If the grass is dead where the dog has urinated, paint it. I recommend using Sherwin Williams Emerald Green. That's the right color.'

Just as you'll likely vacuum more often and keep your countertops clear while your house is on the market, Val Allocco, owner of Staged 2 Sell NY, a home staging company in Northport, says the same effort should be put into the garden.

Changes don't have to be upscale or expensive, she says.

She suggests that sellers aim for a neat and well-manicured look: Be sure the grass is cut and bushes are trimmed, that nothing is overgrown and that garden beds are free of weeds.

If there's no color in the garden, plant some flowers and place planters outside the door or along the walkway. She says adding color can be as simple as purchasing an inexpensive hanging planter filled with impatiens. Clip the hanger and set it on the porch.

Landscaping touches Allocco also recommends paying a landscaper to do a good weeding and to edge the lawn. 'This is where people get their first impression,' she says. 'If the yard doesn't look well-manicured, then they feel the home hasn't been well maintained.'

Schwarz recommends trimming trees from the bottom to allow the house to be viewed through them. 'Don't chop off the tops,' she instructs. Foundation plants, on the other hand, should be rounded off and trimmed from the top so they don't block windows.

She also recommends looking at your house from across the street. 'It's a different view than you'll get from your own driveway,' she says. 'It's the only way to see what buyers will see.'

Cindi Wardell of Huntington recently went into contract on her four-bedroom Colonial near her asking price of $849,000 in less than eight weeks. Although she didn't hire a stager, she did arrange to have her garden designer, Marie Knapp of Laurel Hollow, visit more often. She did more weeding and kept the garden more spruced up than usual and she changed the flowers in the planters to keep them fresh.

'I always start with annuals,' Knapp says. 'I added spring flowers in pots and along the edges of borders. When they faded, I put in summer annuals like Vinca periwinkle, and I jazzed up her pots.'

Knapp recommends dressing up bare spots in the garden with flowerpots. 'The great thing about pots is you can move them around,' she says. And if there's time to plan ahead, she suggests a trio of shrubs that provide season-long interest: Lilacs, roses and hydrangeas.

Knapp, who favors annuals like Plumbago and Angelonia, also took care to ensure the willow and Annabelle hydrangea in Wardell's garden match the off-white trim on the house and the picket fence.

Her pet peeve? 'I think it's such a turnoff when you go to a house and the foundation plantings are out of scale. It's so uninviting,' she says. 'If something is overgrown, I would consider removing it and putting in something smaller.'

Planning far in advance Wardell, 52, who is retired from the real estate industry, says she believes the presentation of her house helped counter its location on a busy road that might have been unappealing to some shoppers. 'I knew it needed something extra because of where it was situated,' she says.

'When I bought the house three years ago, there was no landscaping at all,' Wardell says. 'What I did was mostly for myself, but I also thought about resale value. In the backyard, I put in 12 of the fastest-growing evergreens ever - Leland cypresses - so you can't see any of the homes behind me anymore. I think the secluded feeling really added to my selling price.'

In addition to landscaping, Allocco says other front-yard items often are overlooked. The driveway should be clean and presentable. The walkway should be free of stains. If it isn't, she recommends power-washing. If it's made of cement, be sure there aren't any weeds growing through the cracks, she advises.

For a finishing touch, Allocco says buyers should purchase a new front doormat. 'The little things really make a difference,' she says.

The bottom line, Langone says, is pride of ownership. 'When people take care of the outside, it shows that they love their home. When buyers see that, it gives the impression they take care of the inside as well.'

Tips for a snip-shape yard
Even if you think you already have good curb appeal, Northport home stager Val Allocco says 'styling' can help you get top dollar. And you don't even have to spend a lot of money.

Here are five elements you can borrow from successful seller Cindi Wardell's Huntington home for creating an inviting entrance and getting you on your way to that coveted 'sold' sign.

For a winter wonderland
What about winter?

There isn't much you can do by way of landscaping during the winter months, but these tips from Northport home stager Val Allocco might make your house more inviting: