Real Estate Question of the Day! - January 8 2019

Today I was chatting with some people online about an article from a national real estate-related website, and we all sort of agreed that the ‘advice’ being offered was a bit suspect. After some discussions, and being almost dared to write a better article, I thought I’d give it a go myself, and asked for questions from the group. It reminded me that I LOVE an assignment! Let’s see if we can make this a weekly feature!

‘Should I invest in fixing my front steps, and more pointedly, what is the value of curb appeal in general in my neighborhood. Does it really have an impact?’

My quick answer is YES! Curb appeal is huge! But I wanted to do a quick analysis of the neighborhood in question to see just what sort of numbers support my theory. This enclave of the City of Chicago is also an easy spot to analyze, with houses being similar in size, age, lot size, value, and within a fairly tight price range. To further keep the playing field more level, all the homes i compared had 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to work with buyers in this neighborhood too, so I have to admit I have a bit of insider knowledge on the condition of a few of the homes that came up in my search.

The first four pics in this gallery are homes that have closed in the area in the past year, and the last one is a view of the house my friend asked his question about. In each of these, the first impression leaves a bit to be desired, to be honest. If you look closely at the stairs, you’ll see rickety railings, evidence of concrete repairs and cracks, and materials that don’t really ‘match’ the rest of the house. If your first physical impression of a home is that it’s wobbly in your hand or unstable underfoot, it makes it an uphill battle for the seller to make a good impression inside. Not unlike really unprofessional photos on the MLS, a front entry with deferred maintenance issues is a huge stumbling block to getting a buyer to believe the house has benefitted from pride of ownership and is worth a fair price. The properties in the photos sold for between $130,000 and $187,000 - the one in the middle is even on a double lot!

Here we have the opposite end of the spectrum. Same area, same specs, but each home has had an investment in the entry and front yard. Concrete has been tossed out in favor of pavers or a wood deck, and flowers have found their place. Sale prices of these beauties range from $229,000 to $377,000! A fresh entry and a manicured lawn are the updated kitchens and baths that everyone walking by can see. An entry renovation does not have to cost an arm and a leg, especially on a small house like these, and you don’t have to move out or have your ducts cleaned after the work is done!

The next part of this inquiry, of course, is how much should a homeowner spend on curb appeal improvements? Should that investment leave room for professional installation or should it be DIY? What materials and styles should be used? If you look at the ‘afters’ in this post, pavers take center stage for hardscaping/steps. A big selection of these can be found at the big box stores, especially Menards. They are really quite affordable, and unlike concrete, they can settle and move a little without causing permanent damage. Stone and brick patios and landings can be re-laid and leveled if needed as well - we did that to our bluestone patio last year, only investing in labor for two guys for ONE DAY and the result was a brand new front hardscape. Check out the prices on this option at Menards, and use it as a starting point to figure out how much your materials might cost. If you prefer a deck, or if the house needs a ramp for accessibility, look into a composite material like Trex. You can check the prices for it at Home Depot here, but it is widely available from contractors and big box stores alike. I know it’s more expensive than cedar, but you NEVER have to stain, sand, etc. Beware of knock-offs, too, as they warp and buckle in my experience. The only other drawback with Trex, besides the cost, is that it gets HOT. I mean get-an-outdoor-rug-immediately hot. Not a bad tradeoff for never having to waste the first saturday of the sprint every year using an infernal deck sprayer, though….

As for style, that’s a little more subjective, of course. If you live in a fairly uniform neighborhood like the one in my example, take a walk and find favorites nearby. Why not knock on the door, meet a neighbor, and find out who they used to do their front entry?? If you need a larger makeover, interview a few local contractors that have references for the type of work you are looking to do. If you need to build into the house for a porch, overhang, etc, please do hire an architect. It won’t cost more to do a simple entry with the right details and proportions, versus doing one without a trained eye for proportion and balance. Any other questions? Reach out here with a comment!