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From the Outside In

By Melissa Goslin and Erin Pesut

            As the saying goes, “You only get one chance at a first impression,” and in the real estate game that idea translates into two words: curb appeal. An inviting view and a well-maintained lawn can get potential buyers in the door, but even if you’re not selling, how does your house make you feel? Do you feel at home, or do you have some more work to do? With a little planning, your outdoor space can deliver some serious impact, and really make it feel like your house is your home.


An Appetite for Curbing

            If the sun is out, Shani Gates is somewhere around town with her truck loaded up with raw materials for curbing. After her frustration with the garden edging products on the market—plastic didn’t hold, metal was downright dangerous and other options meant more work than reward—Gates looked around for a company offering concrete curbing, which was common in her hometown in Washington State. When she couldn’t find what she was looking for twelve years ago, she created Curbing Creations.

            For years, Gates worked as an interior designer, but she realized how clean lines could transform yards, creating easier ways to mow and trim which could free up her customer’s weekends. She taught herself how to mix and pour the curbing and went door-to-door convincing other residents to give it a try.

            Of course curves and shapes depend on each individual homeowner’s lawn. Colors and styles can be selected to compliment existing elements of the house or the yard. The end result for curbing: a perfect combination of appearance and utility.

            “Women typically like the look; men like the utility,” Gates said. “It does exactly what it’s supposed to by keeping the mulch in and the grass out. Plus it looks great. It really creates an overall look that’s more than curbing—it changes the whole house.”

            Increasingly, she’s getting requests from people who want to put their house on the market. Gates said that curbing helps sell houses. It organizes the yard, which helps potential buyers envision the possibilities instead of feeling overwhelmed by looking at a hard-to-maintain yard. 

            “Right now, buyers can be as picky as they want. It’s definitely a buyer’s market,” Gates said.

            To enhance curb appeal, Gates recommends adding a 1/8” layer of topical glaze to existing concrete to spruce up driveways and sidewalks. With several coloring and style options, this simple application can breathe new life into porches and other outdoor spaces. And the best part is adding sealer every few years keeps everything looking brand new.

What the Neighbors Say

            Around town, we’ve got good neighbors with great advice. If you’re thinking of selling, Tiffany Pennick of Coldwell Banker Advantage says that the home buying process really begins online and that making sure the picture your real estate agent uses to showcase your home is really the best it can be.

            “If it doesn’t draw their attention, the potential buyer will click onto the next available property,” she says.

            If potential buyers make it past the online search, chances are they are going to be driving by the property to check it out in-person at least once before scheduling an appointment.

            “A clean and well cared for exterior lets the home buyer know that you’ve taken care of the property. I would suggest inspecting the roof, siding, gutters and shutters and make any necessary repairs prior to putting your home on the market. If the items aren’t addressed, this could ultimately lead to a low offer.”

            Pennick says that maintained lawns often lend to a great first impression, and she suggests keeping it easy.

            “Enlist the service of a lawn maintenance company to alleviate the stress of staying on top of your home’s curb appeal while it is on the market.”

            Lenore Johnson, Broker Associate at Townsend Real Estate, says that curb appeal is “key” in marketing a home for sale.

             “If the home is inviting from the outside, it is very likely that it will be inviting on the inside, as well,” Johnson mentioned.

            She suggests mowing and edging the lawn, putting down fresh pine straw or mulch and keeping the bushes trimmed.

            “The next step would be to add seasonal flowers,” she said, “either planted or in pots, but they must be kept watered.”

            Johnson also said that she personally loves to add a wreath or a seasonal banner on the front door, plus a bench with coordinating pillows.

            “I can almost guarantee that potential buyers will slow down and call their agent to see home before it is already under contract.”

Appealing to Greater Nature

            As a little girl, Melissa McIntosh loved reading The Secret Garden. She relished the way each corner of the garden grew something unique. Growing up in the south, she was drawn to the magical courtyards of Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Each one seemed full of their own secret mysteries.

            After McIntosh purchased two adjacent buildings downtown Fayetteville to expand her company, Minc Interiors, she found herself designing a new sort of space—an exterior courtyard.

            Much like the English garden she read about as a child, the courtyard would have distinct areas that seemed to take their cues from the sun, the shade and the shape of each section. Luckily for us, her green thumb and eye for design provides plenty of easy-to-follow tips for homeowners looking to increase impact and downsize the upkeep.

            According to McIntosh, the key to great design is starting with something that inspires you.

            “Outside is an extension of the interior,” she said. “The yard should be treated as another room of the house, as an extension of your personality.”

            Whether you’re looking to sell your home or stay awhile, a yard full of personality helps other people see the unique characteristics of your home. First, determine what you want to highlight about your house. Is it sleek? Palatial? A charming southern cottage?

            From there, creating curb appeal is all about the richness and depth of what goes into the ground. Leaves of different shapes, plants of various colors and trees and bushes a variety of heights can provide a year-round landscape that doesn’t depend on the whims of Mother Nature.

            “Even in the winter, I want to look out onto something pretty,” she stated.

            McIntosh encourages novice landscapers to experiment with varietals, selecting colors that play with expectations. For example, McIntosh chose magenta bougainvillea—instead of the common tropical pink—to climb the trellis over the gate that leads into Minc’s  courtyard.

            “I adore placing deep, rich leaves against something silvery. It creates a dramatic effect that you don’t get when everything is just green,” McIntosh said.

            Grouping is another simple strategy that McIntosh says makes a big statement.

            “Instead of spreading one plant you like all across a yard, get several of them and bunch them together. Make them stand out,” McIntosh said.

            To bring in seasonal elements, McIntosh is a believer in the power of pots. Use several different plants and layer their textures and colors. By potting marigolds and pansies in the fall, then replacing them with tulips and other bulbs in the spring, you’ll keep your house looking fresh and seasonal with minimal effort.

            Whitney Allen Austin of Green Side Up says that perennials are a great addition to any yard.

            “With perennials,” Allen Austin said, “you plant once and enjoy the spring and summer flowers for years to come.”

            When creating containers, she suggests using the Thrill, Fill and Spill technique.

            “Thrill can be a plant with height and lots of color. Fill adds fluff, volume and more color, and Spill is a trailing plant that grows over the side of the container. The key is to have all angles of your container covered,” Allen Austin said.


          If you don’t have a green-thumb or don’t want to get your hands dirty, focus on other aspects of your house. Adding outdoor lighting, fencing, stepping stones, water features, hammocks, pillows or hanging a flag can do wonders for a front or back yard.

            Angie Hott of Chapman-Wilson: Pools, Spas and Home Improvements said that adding in new elements can really spruce up your home.

            She said, “New windows and vinyl siding can give a house a clean, fresh finished look, plus it’s maintenance free.”

Your own Curb Appealing

            Adding curb appeal to your home is up to you. Focus on what you like. What colors do you prefer? What plants do you love? Curb appeal is all about enjoying the atmosphere around your house so you will ultimately enjoy spending more time outside.

            Maybe it’s hanging some twinkle lights in the trees to illuminate your walk to the middle of the yard when you look up at sky full of stars. Maybe it’s hanging an American flag in honor of our country for the year and not just the 4th of July. Maybe it’s planting a hibiscus, your mother’s favorite flower, right beside the front door, so when you see it you will always think of her.

            No matter if it’s a welcoming wreath or a banner for your favorite baseball team or an artistic wind chime, curb appeal is about you. It’s about the simple transformations that will make your house feel more like your home.