Picture-Perfect Curb Appeal: 5 Steps You Must Take

Curb appeal is something every home seller needs in spades. It's just that the reasons why you need it have changed as we've gone digital and mobile.

Let me explain. Twenty years ago, someone would take a black and white shot of the exterior of your house. This grainy image would turn up in a listing book - a telephone-sized book made out of newsprint that contained all local listings and would be printed every two weeks. (Can you imagine seeing new real estate listings just every two weeks?) If you liked the listing, your agent made an appointment for you.

When the Internet came along, someone had the bright idea of putting these black and white snaps online, and then those photos turned to color, and then one photo of the exterior blossomed into color photos of every room in your house, front and back yards, and even the neighborhood. And now, there's video, and other ways to digitally interact with the listings you're interested in.

For home sellers, if your house doesn't have fabulous, picture-perfect curb appeal that translates into digital images that can be blown up, tagged and emailed around the world, not that many folks will be inclined to actually see the property in person.

If a property is digitally photogenic enough, a buyer will then look it up on Google Maps, plot it on Zillow, and perhaps plug in BlockShopper. And then maybe, a buyer will then do what I call a "drive-by showing."

A drive-by showing gives a home seller a flat 7 seconds or so to Wow! the home buyer with his curb appeal. That's about the time it takes to drive lot line to lot line on a typical house at the local speed limit. If your curb appeal isn't picture-perfect, a buyer won't take the next step: Calling the listing agent on his or her mobile phone and making an instant appointment to see what's going on behind your front door.

Here are 5 steps you must take if you want to have picture-perfect curb appeal:

  1. Clean up your yard. If you have kids or run a quasi-legal junk yard out of your front yard, you'll need to do some heavy lifting to get your house in shape. And no, it's not okay if Cousin Rick parks Gus the Bus in your driveway - at least not while you're taking your photos.
  2. Hire a professional landscaper. Coming from someone who has cut her own grass for 15-plus years, there's something dramatically helpful about hiring a pro to get your garden in shape for its big photo-op. Get the bushes trimmed, the grass cut and edged, the flowers beds turned over, and the winter's dead leaves blown away.
  3. Make your garden match the season. If it's spring, you should have fresh spring-like plantings. Summer should have oversized container gardens and rows of color in the backyard. Fall should bring bales of hay, dried stalks of corn, pumpkins and mums. Buy a few oversized pots and plan to plant fresh each season while your home is listed. Check out this video for tips on how to plant a great container garden.
  4. Powerwash or paint your exterior. There's nothing better than a house with a good paint job. But barring that, you should certainly buy a power washer and spend some time cleaning.
  5. Wash your windows. While washing your windows won't do much for your exterior, it'll do wonders for how light and bright the interior of your home feels to prospective buyers. And, a brighter, lighter home feels bigger and happier. These are trigger emotions for buyers, and you want to tap into them.
What have you done to create picture-perfect curb appeal? Agents, what do your buyers respond to? And buyers, what is it about a house that makes you want to see more?