First Impressions Count

by Lin Connery for the Calgary Herald

When you’re selling a home, the sell starts curbside.

“Curb appeal is number one,” says Karyn Elliott, proprietor of CRAZY HOUSE Home Staging. She says realtors know this basic truth: If you can’t get them out of the car, you can’t sell them the house.

“As a home stager, curb appeal is the first thing I pay attention to,” says Elliott.

The objective? “The home has to be welcoming.”

Prospective buyers will usually stand for a moment at the front door before it finally swings open.

“That’s when they’re really up close and looking,” says Elliott.

Impress potential buyers with a shiny new mailbox, a handsome light fixture, polished house numbers – even a new welcome mat can have an amazing effect.

The front of the home should intrigue and give a tantalizing hint of what might lie inside the front door, says Elliott.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much effort to add curb appeal. At one house, Elliott quickly gathered together a rugged wreath, a sturdy urn and a bunch of attractive twigs – items the owner had on hand – and artistically arranged them on the step to showcase the front door. The result was pure magic.

“All it took was setting up three things and there was instant curb appeal,” says Elliott. “That’s very easy, and not costly. And it adds a welcoming factor.”

Bob Wiseman, realtor with Re/Max Landon Real Estate, says, “ curb appeal is kind of like going on a date – you dress yourself up to make a good impression, because the first impression is the lasting impression.”

And it’s difficult to fix an unfavourable first impression, he adds.

“The front door is crucial – it’s like a women wearing lipstick,” Wiseman says.

To get you started on the road to curb appeal, Elliott has plenty of tips to choose from.

Stimulate as many senses as possible, she says. Add wind chimes or a small water feature near the front entrance. Put fresh herbs under the welcome mat for an attractive scent when the mat is walked on.

Plant an aromatic blend of sweet violets, lemon thyme, lavender and rosemary in a flower box or hanging basket close to the door.

Choose a decorative architectural piece such as a rustic sundial, birdbath or stone sphere to create a charming focal point in a blooming garden.

Make an undistinguished front step more impressive with a pair of important-looking urns.

If the weather is warm, furnish your porch with comfortable wicker or teak furniture. Drape a quilt over the chair to suggest long, lazy evenings lounging on a shady stoop.

Show people what they have to look forward to if they buy this house, says Elliott. And enhance the perceived living space by making the outdoors an extension of the living area.

Twinkle lights in the shrubs can create an impression of warmth and hominess all round. “Up-light trees in the front,” Elliott adds.

In cold weather, mound pinecones or place a bouquet of evergreen boughs in window boxes or urns.

Beautify balconies, trellises and pillars with fresh garlands of cedar or pine. Thread bright cluster of berries throughout the garlands and add large pinecones as accents.

Fill an urn with cedar or pine branches and accent with red dogwood branches for woodsy appeal.

It’s probably obvious, but sellers should clear away toys, bicycles, garden hoses and show shovels from the front of the home and keep the driveway clear of vehicles. They’re distractions and can give the impression of clutter.

Ideally, the front door will be freshly painted in an eye-catching shade, sporting new hardware and a shining brass kick plate, says Wiseman. “I believe in fresh paint.”

But it’s also a good idea to get expert advise before making colour choices. Remember, your favourite colour isn’t necessarily the one that will sell the house.

A welcoming touch, like a big pot overflowing with flowers, is always a nice touch. It’s a small expense with a big payback.

In winter, keep front walks clear and easy to navigate – if a client is watching his or her footsteps, they’re not seeing the house or the welcoming front door.

Little touches can give an impression of a well-maintained property, he says. Hose all dust off the house, hire a window washer to make the glass sparkle, cut and edge the lawn and tidy overgrown or ragged shrubbery. And take down the Christmas lights.

When shoppers are out to buy a home, they have two goals, says Wiseman – ultimately, to buy a house, but first of all to shorten the list of contenders as quickly as possible. Poor curb appeal can keep homes off the short list.

For more curb appeal tips, information and fascinating before and after home staging shots, visit Elliott’s Web site at

She has also published a workbook for do-it-yourselfers called HOME STAGING in 5 Easy Acts: The Home Staging Workbook to Help You Sell Your Home for the Optimum Price Quickly. It’s available through her site.

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