First impressions make or break a deal. Sarah Beeny offers Telegraph readers 10 tips for adding instant impact to your home;
It doesn't work for books, but it does for houses – judging them by their façade I mean. A property's outer appearance, its kerb appeal, is often the deal maker (or breaker) when it comes to buying a home. It takes potential buyers no more than eight seconds to decide whether or not they like a house. During my recent hunt for a new flat I often found that a split second was long enough to write off a property; the flat approached via someone else's gnome-filled backyard, and the one up a fire escape with plaster peeling off the front of the building, for example.
At the other end of the scale, Sarah Beeny, the Property Ladder presenter, and her husband had decided to buy their house before they'd even reached the front door. "We were halfway across the garden and were already saying to each other, 'how do we make this house fit our family?'" she says. "It was May, and there were forget-me-nots everywhere. It was such an unusual plot to find in London."
But imagine if the garden was over run with brambles and there was rubbish blocking the pathway. "First impressions count for a lot," Beeny says. "A bad appearance can do a lot of damage. It doesn't take a great deal of effort to change this though."
Some houses have natural kerb appeal; the wisteria-clad Queen Anne rectory with a tree-lined drive, for example, will attract potential buyers even if it's a little dilapidated. "For the best country houses, the setting is the kerb appeal," says Crispin Holborow of Savills estate agency.
But on the whole, kerb appeal is more than just a good-looking house – even the ugliest house can have it.
"A house with real kerb appeal lifts your spirit – it's a house where the front garden is well-presented, the railing is in perfect condition, the door immaculately painted, perhaps with roses growing over it," says Lindsey Cuthill of Savills.
Unfortunately, improving the kerb appeal of a house is unlikely to add much to its value. "But if you can get someone in a positive frame of mind before they've stepped through the front door it can help sell to it," Beeny says. She has recently set up tepilo.com, a home-selling website, and has been advising vendors how to present their properties. So far, more than 10 properties have sold. "Buyers look for evidence that the house has been well maintained. Any sign that they will need to spend time or money may put them off," she says. Rotten window frames and cracked plasterwork, for example, present an obvious bartering tool.
Improving the appearance of a property doesn't necessarily have to be an expensive project, she says – but there are a few rules. "No DIY is better than bad DIY," she says. "Badly painted front doors with drips running down them or dirty looking houses are a no-no. A lack of cleanliness can be very off-putting."
1. Paint your front door. It sounds simple but this is the first thing that people are going to look at. "Go wild with colour, it's the one place you can," says Sarah Beeny, whose favourite door colour is currently cerise pink. Strong, bright colours in full gloss are popular at the moment but if you haven't got the nerve, black is always a safe bet, or a flat, dark plum colour such as "Pelt", by Farrow & Ball, says Tacina Smith of interiors shop Smiths of Kensal Green . For a contemporary look, matt, muted and washed-out colours are favoured in smart London streets.
2. Invest in quality door furniture. "Spend an extra £100 to get really good things," Beeny says. "Cheap generally looks cheap." Try to choose furniture in keeping with your property; heavy Victorian door knockers and Victorian letter boxes will look ridiculous unless your home is Victorian. For a more contemporary look go for brass letter plates or chrome door knockers. MORE HANDLES has a huge range to choose from. Avoid tune-playing door bells.
3. Lighting is vital, placed either side of the front door to add symmetry, or a lantern in a portico entrance, says Alex Michelin, of swanky London developers Finchatton. Don't be afraid to try out lights in situ before you commit; if they're too big or too ornate they can look brash. If your property is approached via a garden, light it sensitively. "Good garden lighting is unseen," Beeny says. Hide lights in the trees or conceal them in the garden path or drive. Carolyn Trevor, an interior designer who has a long list of celebrity clients, recommends Charles Edwards for wall lanterns and lights (www.charlesedwards.com ) or Phillips and Wood (www.phillipsandwood.co.uk )
4. The approach to the front door (steps, a path and/or a driveway), should be swept of leaves, and free from rubbish. Cars, bicycles, horse boxes must be neatly parked. Alex Michelin recommends marble, sandstone or Portland stone for steps and paths, and newly painted railings. Porches can give an air of distinction but can become dumping grounds for clutter. "They can be awful if they are stuck on as an afterthought – they must be in proportion," says Crispin Holborow of Savills. Or improve exterior woodwork and wooden furniture with Osmo wood oils.
5. Numbering or naming a house can easily go wrong. Wonky numerals, badly painted names, or plaques with pictures (such as birds, trees) do no justice to the front of a house. For houses with fanlights, Carolyn Trevor suggests the number or name is acid-etched into the glass. Or for an affordable alternative, Tacina Smith recommends number stickers from http://www.simplystick.co.uk/. Holborow would steer away from putting a name plaque on a country house. "If they don't know where you live you don't want them there," he says. For those who insist, names can be wrought into gateways, or inscribed tastefully on brass or slate, and screwed to the gate post or porch.
6. Windows look sad when they are dirty, so make sure yours are cleaned regularly. Rotten window frames are also unacceptable and if you're putting in new ones, make sure they are appropriate with the design of the rest of the house. "The position of the glazing bars is massively important," Beeny says. "And don't feel you have to paint them white. They look great in lots of different colours from stone to dark green to black." Bear in mind the colour of the brick/stone work before choosing a colour though. Finally, all curtain linings and blinds should match when seen from the street or driveway (try www.theblindscompany.co.uk or www.eclectic-interiors.com )
7. However small the space is, add some greenery. "You don't need a big garden to plant a creeper, and houses look beautiful with plants trailing up them," Beeny says. "And you can easily make window boxes yourself. Just paint a plastic planter and plant it with some draping ivy." Landscaped beds with colourful planting and box hedges set off the front of a house; or for smaller spaces, such as either side of the front door, planters with box topiary. Remember though that some creepers are not good for brickwork as they can pull the mortar out of the pointing.
8. An impressive entrance gate is a "must have" for a country house, Holborow says. But entrances should reflect the period of the house; wrought iron electric gates are in keeping with a new-build home, while a white-painted gate with simple stone pillars is better suited to a manor. Carved owls and eagles should really only adorn the entrance pillars to stately homes and castles.
9. Spruce up a tired façade by repainting, re-pointing, or rendering over ugly brickwork. Don't go too crazy: paint colours should be more sensible than on the front door, and in keeping with the period of the house (and the ones either side, if you live on a street). This doesn't mean to say that they have to be the same colour (unless you are in a heritage area).
10. Don't let the house next door ruin your kerb appeal. If your neighbours have rubbish outside their house, suggest you remove it, rather than whinging about it, Beeny says. "And if you're trimming your hedge, ask if you can do theirs while you're at it – 10 minutes mowing, or rubbish collecting is worth the effort." Try to conceal their rubbish bins (and yours) behind a hedge or a small fence. If you have to have them on show, make sure they are clean and the lids are on.