Finn O'Hara—Getty Images
By Trulia
July 10, 2015

When your home is on the market, first impressions are everything: An unkempt yard or peeling paint will scare some buyers away completely, while a neat, pretty exterior will bring in more potential buyers.

Escape the pitfalls of an unsightly exterior by avoiding these eight common mistakes that can sabotage curb appeal.

1. Doing nothing

“One of the biggest mistakes I see is sellers not doing anything in terms of curb appeal,” says Matthew Coates, a real estate agent with West USA Realty Revelation in Chandler, AZ.

Many sellers focus their staging efforts inside the house, but the exterior is at least as important. Spend half a day cleaning up your property to reinforce the impression that your home is well-cared-for.

2. Too much clutter

It’s one thing to have a cluttered yard most of the time, but it shouldn’t be cluttered when your home is on the market. A collection of shoes near the front door, a jumble of lawn furniture, kids’ toys — all of that should be cleared away, with only a few tasteful pieces left out to make the yard look homey and to give buyers ideas for how the space could be used.

3. Tired landscaping

Don’t go overboard and bring in a backhoe to level the lawn, but do make sure the yard is looking its best. Water the grass, trim the hedges, and put in a few perennial flowers to brighten things up.

“Adding vibrancy with fresh flowers would make a world of difference and make the yard inviting and alive,” says Coates. Backyards and gardens teeming with bright flowers are one of the main reasons the real estate market heats up in spring.

If it’s not springtime, you can still add a little color to your yard by planting seasonal flowers, sweeping up dry leaves, and making sure it’s looking its best.

4. Peeling paint

There are many theories about which renovations are worth investing in when a house is on the market. We would contend that touching up the paint on the front of your house is one of them.

New paint won’t disguise a house that’s in need of major repairs, but it will give the house a more cheerful appearance than peeling paint. It may not be practical to repaint the entire exterior, but repainting the trim goes a long way. If you can’t paint all of the trim, focus on the trim around the main door so that the buyer standing on the front porch carries positive first impressions inside.

5. Quirky art

That enormous elephant statue may fit your tastes or express your eccentric sense of humor, but you don’t want buyers to fixate on one thing that makes the house seem bizarre. Because you can’t anticipate everyone’s taste, it might be best to remove all the quirky art from your house and yard. You want to showcase your house as pretty and appealing. A trusted friend’s honest opinion will help you part with your precious treasures — even if just for staging.

6. Unusual landscaping

In some circles, front yard vegetable gardens are all the rage. You’re welcome to put tomato plants into the flower beds in your front yard — but buyers might not love the look. When you’re selling, the front yard is best served by ornamental plants only.

Similarly, the backyard should be an inviting outdoor living space. Consider removing the backyard poultry farm, the goat pen, and any other unusual pet habitats.

7. Shocking colors

Is your house locally known as “the bright purple one” or “the Easter egg house?” Bright colors are cheerful, but again, you don’t want your bold taste to scare off a solid buyer.

Consider using neutral paint colors and lawn furniture when your house is on the market. For inspiration, look around the neighborhood. Your house should complement the ones around it. Save your wildest color fancies for your next home — not the home you’re trying to pass along to its next owner.

8. Outdated fixtures

New exterior light fixtures aren’t very expensive, and they make a big difference. Not only will they give the impression that your home has been updated recently, but they’ll also cast a brighter light for evening drive-bys. Matthew Coates also recommends making sure the hardware on your front door is in working order.

“Nothing will turn off a buyer faster than if it’s a chore just to get in the door,” he says.

None of these solutions are expensive — decluttering, a bit of fresh paint, a few flowers here and there. However, all these steps will help potential buyers inside the house, where your home’s real charm will have a chance to cast a spell.

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