Lifestyle

Beat declining home value blues by increasing curb appeal

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It's a buyer market, but a well-kept curb appeal can give homeowners and advantage.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/John L. Scott

An inviting outward impression is an allure for both buyers and sellers, but also just nice to come to amidst the fear and loathing of the housing market.

Homeowners looking to sell in the current market may have one advantage over the flood of foreclosures: pride of ownership.

While the bank-owned lot is likely to sit vacant with a brown lawn and little charm beyond its asking price, a properly presented lived-in residence has the potential to be much more inviting, said Port Orchard-based Windermere real estate agent Brie Storset.

“It’s really amazing when you have green grass when you’re trying to sell a house over dead grass,” Storset said. “It’s the simple things you can do, like pruning back your plants, putting out some potted flowers, keeping things lively, pull the weeds, make it fresh and clean.”

Similar to the immediate appeal of a property’s asking price, curb appeal is widely regarded as one of the most important assets in selling a house. Storset agreed. She recalled horror stories of homeowners who’d put out silk flowers in the yard or let the garbage pile up, which in turn had wreaked havoc on their selling process.

Decreasing clutter, keeping things tidy, cleaning up debris and pressure washing dingy surfaces are all fairly inexpensive ways to boost a home’s attractiveness. In addition there are more expensive projects like windows, doors and landscaping. It’s all about making the place look inviting, drawing on the superficial and emotional side of potential buyers.

“It’s what sets people apart,” Storset said. “Giving that little pride of ownership.”

Brian Wilson, a Poulsbo-based John L. Scott agent, concurred. Though he didn’t have any quantifiable examples of curb appeal having a direct effect on a home’s selling price, he noted the way pride of ownership and a well-kept lawn played to a buyer’s emotions.

“Buyers are expecting a lot these days,” he said. “And for the most part, they’re getting it.”

Not only are buyers looking for the best price, Wilson noted, they want everything in and around the home to be perfect. An on-target asking price and a clean, inviting first impression can go a long way.

“You’d be surprised what just simple Windex or bleach, having that fresh smell when people walk into the house, can do,” Storset said.

In addition to maintenance and upkeep, Storset also noted how the strategic use of potted plants and patio furniture can play up a property’s curb appeal. A barbecue grill with a table set, or a hammock on the porch can give the place an entertaining feel. Potted plants can increase aesthetic value.

None of those things will be sold with the house, nor do they necessarily increase its value per se, but in a market like the present it may be one of a homeowner’s best high cards.

And even for those not in the market to sell, increased curb appeal can make a house all the more inviting to come home to.

The Kitsap County Assessors Office reported a rise in permit requests for remodels earlier this summer which points to the nationwide trend of homeowners looking bolster both the sentimental and fiscal value of their homes amidst the depressing market climate.

Frustratingly for most, however, is that an individual doesn’t have much of an impact on the assessed value of their property. A property’s assessed value is based on the most recent sales in that area.

“One thing that would help is if the number of foreclosures would go down,” deputy assessor Mike Eastman noted when probed for solutions. “That’s the mystery. I wish we knew. We’re all hoping that it’ll come back soon.”

In the meantime there are a number of simple projects that can increase a house’s appeal or actual value.

“A lot of people don’t have the money to put the fresh coat of paint on,” Shorset noted. “But there are things that are simple that you can do yourself. You know, powerwash the driveway. Maybe resurface your cabinets if they’re stuck in the 70s or 80s, just take them off and give them a fresh coat of paint, that’s something you can do yourself and it’ll only cost you $20 in paint.”

FEAR AND LOATHING FROM A FLEDGLING PROPERTY OWNER

Last month, as more than 100,000 Kitsap County property owners received the change-of-value notices in the mail, which noted an average 8-12 percent reduction in assessed values for the year 2010, it nearly sent me, a first-time property owner, into a panic.

Gripped with fear, I called up my real estate agent.

In a strangely positive tone, he said the property we’d purchased in the fall 2007 — slightly before the all-out collapse of the national housing market — was now down almost $30,000 with the county’s latest round of assessed valuation for taxes payable, announced July 1.

But all things considered, it could be worse, he said.

After all, his property was down almost $80,000.

“Let’s just hope that it’s finally reached the lowest point,” he concluded.

It didn’t feel like there was much we could do — a feeling that Mike Eastman, deputy assessor with the Kitsap County Assessors Office, confirmed.

“An individual is by and large pretty helpless in trying to avoid that reduction in value,” Eastman said. “It affects the whole general real estate market.”

But it doesn’t have much of an effect on taxes.

Property values across Kitsap, Eastman added, have been on a steady decline at an average rate of about 1 percent a month since the fall 2007.

He, too, seemed oddly upbeat, noting that just a few years back, the market had seen a similar amount of a steady fluctuation in the other direction and Kitsap hadn’t seen the catastrophic drops in value that other areas of the country had.

That’s how the market works, Eastman said: It cycles, and it will come back.

Earlier this summer, U.S. News and World Report ranked the Bremerton/Silverdale area No. 1 of the top-10 best housing markets forecasted for the next 10 years.

But who really knows? Maybe the market will never recover.

Maybe it’s best to just hang on.

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