Spring Real Estate 2004

Publication Date: Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Creating curb appeal
A first impression begins with the outside of a house

by Gretchen Roberts

When it comes to selling your home, it's not just what's on the inside that counts. You may have spent thousands of dollars painting your walls, hauling your junk out and spiffing up your furniture, but many would-be homebuyers cruise through the neighborhood before calling the real estate agent.

If all that greets them at your house is a barren wasteland of a lawn, complete with a rusty swingset and cluttered porch, they might not even stop by.
Staging, or furnishing and decorating the rooms of a home on the market to make it more appealing to a potential buyer, is a well-known concept in the Bay Area. In recent years it has become more the norm than the exception in these parts. Hiring a separate outdoor stager is a surprisingly lucrative way to sell your home more quickly, and often at a higher price.

"A lot of what people are buying is the outside, especially in California," said Nancy Goldcamp, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Palo Alto.
Vicki Hyde, owner of Hyde Gardens, a garden staging and plant-design business in Palo Alto, believes in the value of curb appeal. "Buyers decide in the first 30 seconds whether or not they can see themselves in this home," she said. "If their initial impression is a turnoff, you'll be fighting an uphill battle in the sale."
Outdoor stagers typically work through the Realtor or indoor stager rather than directly with a homeowner. Hyde usually coordinates with the indoor stager's design and with the style of the home. The rest, she says, depends on the budget.

Homeowners who are moving don't usually want to invest in pots, plants, benches and other items that will help sell the home, since the pieces may not work with their new place, Goldcamp said. "With staging, you essentially just rent the materials instead of investing in them."

Sometimes outdoor staging is as simple as creating a large potted arrangement for the front porch. Hyde uses a large focal piece in each pot with fresh underplantings, which she places on either side of the porch or front door area. Such an arrangement can cost about $150 per month to rent, though Hyde notes the majority of the homes she's staged sell within the first month.

Stagers typically rent goods for the first month and then weekly. "I lease the pots, but if it's planted, it stays," Hyde said.

The goal of outdoor staging is to make the exterior look inviting and to take away any thoughts the buyer might have of putting work into the place, Hyde explained. Or the seller, for that matter. Most stagers do the lion's share of the work, but others, like Kit Davey, owner of A Fresh Look in Redwood City, involve clients in each step.

Davey does both indoor and outdoor staging work. "We start at the front of the house and I give suggestions for curb appeal. Then we walk through the house and I tell the homeowner what needs to be done, room by room," she said.
Some of Davey's typical recommendations include washing the windows, buying a new doormat, mending or cleaning fences and storing toys, tools and garbage cans.

Other indoor stagers prefer to turn outdoor staging over to a specialist. "We used to do gardens and porches ourselves, but Vicki [Hyde] is a plant designer, and we like to work with her in a custom design that blends the inside and outside together," said Jenny Bisset of Stage Right in Palo Alto.

Hyde recently finished staging the backyard of a condo that had been a rental unit for years. "Many times condo buyers are purchasing their first home and they may not have yard experience," she said. "The owner wanted someone to walk back there and say, 'Wow, what an oasis.'" The job, which ran about $4,000, included a new patio, plantings and a complete overhaul of the yard.
Hyde's philosophy is simple, but the look is sophisticated. "I like texture, color and leaves -- not just flowers," she said. "I try to create an interesting combination of containers and plants that look good to the eye. You don't have to articulate why you like it, you just know that you do."

Outdoor staging is more than just power-washing your driveway. "Many homeowners can achieve a beautiful appeal to the house," Goldcamp said. "But we use an outdoor stager to create a focal point, to give the house that extra impact."

Goldcamp said just one or two accents, from potted plants to a new garden bench, will highlight the space and draw your attention to the merits of the property.

"We push hard when we put a house on the market to have it sparkle inside and out," she said. "But that wouldn't do a lot of good if we put back the shabby rug. It's the same with the yard. If you clean it up, give it some extra punch by adding something -- a bench, some plants, a sculpture."

In a strong market, your house will sell regardless of what you do or don't do to prepare. But an attractive outside is just what gives a home the edge. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to create a first impression.