Boosting Your Curb Appeal

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

As a Realtor, I am constantly helping people prepare their homes to sell. One of the biggest things we talk about is "boosting curb appeal." I know it sounds like trendy TV fodder, but it really does make a huge impact.

-Did you know that mature trees can increase your home's value by up to 9%?
-Did you know that updating your exterior and having fresh paint and trim can increase your home's value dollar for dollar of what you spent?
-Did you know that having tidy landscaping and hedges can increase your home's value by up to 4%?

It really does make a big difference. And, more often than not, it's not something my clients have prioritized. My husband has an expression that I've come to love... "The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The second best time is today." 

So, when it came to considering our own curb appeal, clearly we needed some work. While we plan to be in this house for a long time, we also know that landscaping and curb appeal improvements look best with age. So, as a gift to future us when we sell this house down the road, we decided to invest in exterior and landscaping updates right away.

We've already shared the biggest transformation of all -- painting our house. You can see all the before and afters on this post. But, the other huge thing our front lawn (and side and back lawn) needed was some major landscaping overhaul.

The previous owners didn't do much other than keep the tops of their shrubs and plants trimmed. Things were pretty overgrown, and it's been a lot to manage. Did you know plants have a lifespan? Most of ours are around 32 years old, so any work we did to cut them back would likely have killed them. So, we decided to go ahead and start tackling one space at a time, completing an area as we go. Below are some listing photos of what the house looked like when we bought it. See those car sized hedges on the left hand side of the stairs? They came up to my shoulders and leaned into the sidewalk like they were trying to eat you.


So, to give the house a little breathing room and start fresh, we decided to completely remove them. We got an electric chain saw and a strong hedge trimmer and Spenser started cutting them back. Once we had all the branches cut down to stumps, and cleaned up all the debris, we (he...) started digging up the stumps. Bless his heart, this was HARD work. Now that I know he can do it by himself we'll see if I chip in next time 😉😇 You'll see in these photos that during this project our house got painted, as well! 


Once Spenser had dug up all the roots, we started planning what we wanted to go back in its place. We live in a very traditional neighborhood with a lot of colonial style homes, so we were really drawn to the idea of a Japanese Maple. Plus, having a tree in this space would give us a little privacy from the street, as well! We found a beautiful 8ft maple at our local nursery and had it delivered.

When you're planting a tree, you want to make sure you follow the growth guidelines so you don't plant it too close to the home or other plants. The Japanese Maple needed to be at least 5 feet from the house and have a hole about twice as wide as the root ball. You can find this kind of information online if you are working with specific plants and wondering what the guidelines are. Following that allows them to have the most room to grow over time, without damaging your home or having to  move it later on.

We are novice "landscape designers," but both of us have a pretty good eye for what looks good together. Typically, we like to plant things that are hearty, perennial (meaning they come back year after year), and have a variety of colors. To balance out the blood red of the Japanese Maple, we added some vibrant greens with Abelia shrubs (my favorite, feathery, hearty, fast-growing shrub!) and some small grasses (not sure what they're called... sorry!). We also planted some small geraniums in front but we planted them a bit late so they haven't taken off like we'd hoped.

 You'll see in the photo below we also removed the shrubs along the right side of the walk way (the dirt spots are where we need to plant grass in the fall). And you won't be able to tell in the photo above, but this Crepe Myrtle sprung back to life from a complete stump! It was just a stump when we moved in and it's done all this growth in less than a year. We really love him and plan to keep him pruned so he stays a little pink shrub for years and years.

We definitely have other major landscaping updates as to do, but we are thrilled with how far this area has come. I'll be honest... we often feel overwhelmed by how much landscaping work is left to do. Landscaping is different than typical renovations where once you're done, you're done. They require constant maintenance, trimming, and watering. And if you ignore one area for too long, it can get out of control! But, we're committing to our process and so far it has been working for us. Starting fresh with new landscaping has also made it easier to see what remains to be done and set our priorities. 

As far as return on investment, this has definitely been some labor intensive, back breaking, heavy sweating work. Re-landscaping 30 year old vegetation is NOT easy. But, we know it's going to be worth it, in more ways that one. We recently had our house appraised for a refinance (holla interest rate drop!) and the appraiser gave us a $30,000 increase in property value... 6 months after buying it! I like to think a GOOD chunk of that came from just improving the curb appeal, alone. On top of that, we have had neighbors stop us on the street and actually thank us for what we've done to the house. One neighbor said she loves "looking out her window at our beautiful house now." I can't think of a better return on investment!

Since it's currently eleventybillion degrees in North Carolina, we won't be doing any more landscaping until fall, but I'm sure we'll have more updates then. For now, we're enjoying watching all our hard work take root and are excited for what changes fall will bring! 


How We Saved Thousands Painting Our House

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

I was writing a post about boosting our curb appeal today, when all of a sudden I realized I never shared the full post on painting our house! I mentioned it in our quarterly update, but I owe you guys the full story about how we ended up saving over $6,000 on painting our house.

So, let's jump right in!

I'll never forget my brother coming to visit us right before we closed on this home. We took him over to see the house, and he looked at it and said, "Wait -- why are you buying an ugly house?" 😆😆

Nothing like the brutal honesty of siblings, #amiright?

I know that most of our friends and family who saw this house were like "wait, huh?" I get it. It was veryyyyy 1980s. The maroon trim and shutters were not doing it any favors. Even though we hated almost everything about this house, it felt like home. We knew it had potential and we were the ones to take it on. But, one of the first things we started saving for was to change the color scheme of the exterior. Thankfully, the siding was in really good shape, so I knew a good, professional paint job would really improve the aesthetics.

My photoshop skills borderline on criminal, but here's a rendition I did when we were thinking about making an offer to see what it might look like with different colors.

Being an advocate for getting multiple bids, I put my money where my mouth is and sourced 5 different estimates to paint the house -- before we even bought it! Knowing this house was going to be a fixer upper, I wanted to be sure that we had an idea of what we might spend going in. I wasn't about to get surprised with what things cost after we'd closed. We had a range of bids to paint going from $12,000-$8000.  These prices did not include replacing our gutters, which also needed to be done (previous owners had removed them at some point and didn't reattach on the original holes, so open screw holes leaked streams of water when it rained...). Obviously we initially went with the least expensive vendor, and asked him to bid adding on gutters. 

Once the price for new gutters was added in,  the total estimate for this exterior reno was closer to $9500. Yeesh. We definitely had sticker shock, and we knew going in we wouldn't be able to do everything at once. We set a goal to save and plan to re-paint by the end of 2020. 

A client of mine had recently found their own vendor for installing new gutters on their house, and the estimate they got was so reasonable I decided see if they could beat the $1500.00 estimate my painter had given me. When the guy came out, he quoted me at almost half the price of the other big (right around $800) to remove and reinstall new, extra wide gutters (an upgrade from the other bid!). Score! At the very least, I was happy to be saving $700 on new gutters, but when I mentioned we were having the house painted, he asked if he could provide an estimate on that too. I remember telling him, "sure, but I have had several quotes and I'm pretty sure I've got the best one." 

Lo and behold, a day or so later he came in with a total price for : new paint, siding repair, AND new gutters for under $6000.00 I couldn't believe it. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again.... s-h-o-p a-r-o-u-n-d. NEVER go with your first bid! It literally pays to get as many bids as possible. We saved over $6000.00 from the original bid I got (which was from my beloved and most used general contractor), and $3500.00 from the "lowest bid" we almost took. Mind blown! 

Since we also had some leftover money from an insurance claim for the leak that sprung in our living room, we had enough to do the painting right away. So, we did! And 2 months later when the weather warmed up they started work! OH yeah... it was also December when we were getting these bids, and I *reaaaaally* wonder if booking them in the winter helped me save some money even though they didn't do the work until spring.

This was how the house looked the morning the painters arrived. SO dark and drab. I was really over the maroon shutters, especially, and how they matched the brown/maroon roof.

We knew we wanted to do a blue/grey tone on the house -- we've always talked about having a blue house some day! We quickly decided on the color (Slate Tile by Sherwin Williams) was the one. It had the moody blue/grey tone we wanted, and seemed to go well with the maroon, which helped us decide if it would look okay next to our roof. Why they chose a red/brown/maroon roof over grey or black shingles I'll never understand. It's only 2 years old though, so we are making it work. 

Watching them start painting was exhilarating, terrifying, and gratifying all at once. I was so excited to see our home have new life, a new look, and really feel like ours, but I was sooo nervous that we had made the wrong choice. Seeing the blue paint against the dark trim color made me so anxious. At first I panicked, because I really didn't like it! I was terrified we'd picked the wrong color and it was too late to change it. 

See that dark yellow siding above? The painter's estimate included removing any pieces of siding that were rotted and needed to be replaced. Such a good deal! 

Seeing the garage doors go white really started to bring it to life. I love seeing this side by side of what it looked like with one door painted white and the other still beige. Such a difference!

Seeing the dark blue against the dark trim and our dark roof though had me SO anxious. I really wasn't liking it at this point and was wondering how we were going to fix it. I was even googling "can you paint a roof?" because I felt like it was bringing out the red tone so strongly.

But, thankfully, once they started doing the trim, everything just clicked. It really came to life and the redness of the roof toned down a TON. Even some of our neighbors asked us if we had done anything to the roof. Somehow the white trim just made it pop so much and really changed the tone of it. I think seeing the windows and dentil molding painted white was when I realized I had done a good job. I had picked well and it was really going to be a beautiful home! 

The last steps of the process were for them to re-hang the shutters (which they had painted Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black), and to paint the front door (Sherwin Williams Pineapple Cream)

We really debated on what color to paint the door. We had gone back and forth about doing yellow, black, white, or red, but we decided that we would take the bold step and paint it yellow. Earlier in the week I happened to show a house with the same color scheme and seeing it all pulled together sealed the deal that it was spunky, friendly, welcoming, and us! 

And now for the finished photos... here she is in all her glory! 







I think the best part of this huge home makeover project has been the reaction from our neighbors. Several of our neighbors stopped us in the yard to tell us how much they loved what we'd done, and thank us for making the improvement. I think that's just about the best compliment I could ever receive! Renovations are loud, noisy, and messy, and I often worry that we're disrupting the people we live by. To hear that they appreciate the work we've been doing means so much to me and is so gratifying. 

So, that's the story of how we saved a ton of money sourcing multiple bids for our house painting job. If you are local to Raleigh/Durham, we used a contractor called Hilliard Builders out of Cary. Todd Hilliard was the man, and I highly recommend him! 

My Friend, Grief.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Over the last few months, I have made a new friend called Grief. She first showed up when the midwife told me, "I'm sorry, there's no heartbeat." She quickly barged into my life, inviting herself into every moment of every day. She was an overwhelming, overbearing, suffocating presence. But in time, we learned to set some boundaries. Together, we created space for Grief in my life without feeling all-consumed.

But, Grief is pushy. I have learned that when she knocks on the door, it's best to just let her in. She has things to say and she's going to make you listen. Sometimes, we'll sit together for a while before one of us will say "My, look at the time. I've got things to do." Other times, it's a quick visit, and I can move on with my day.

I've learned a good bit about Grief through the experience of having a miscarriage, and I've come to know her well. I hope this helps you get to know her better, too.

1. Grief can become a friend. 
Over time, Grief has morphed from feeling like an invader, an attacker, and a bully to feeling more like a friend with a hand resting on my shoulder. She is gently present, palpable, and -- unexpectedly-- comforting. Grief reminds me of the love I felt; that I have something to miss; that my baby Lennon was here.  Grief comes to visit much less often, now. Somedays, she still barges in unexpectedly. Somedays, I go calling for her to come over.

2. Grief will teach you. 
Grief has taught me that you never really know what others are going through. She has taught me to try to listen better, to be a better friend, to be more empathetic. Grief has emboldened me and demanded space for my feelings when I felt I couldn't. She's forced me to learn how to ask for help, how to advocate for myself, and not apologize when I have needs. She has made my worldview richer, my love deeper, and my appreciation for life stronger.

3. Grief will make you brave. 
I never knew my own strength before I met Grief. Through her, I witnessed myself suffer and persevere with a strength I didn't know I had. I have felt her fully, and I am less scared of her now. I have walked through fire with her, and she's shown me that I could do it again, if I had to. We both hope I never do.

4. Grief will bring you together, apart. 
Grief has introduced me to some of her many friends, and through her, we have become friends too. Our relationships with Grief are all different, but she unites us in a way that people who don't know Grief could not understand. In my marriage, Grief has made it clear she has a relationship with both of us, differently. She has shown us that we can visit her together, but more often than not, she wants to spend time with us alone. She visits us on different days, different times, and in different ways. Learning to know Grief together, and apart, was challenging.

5. Grief knows when you need her, before you do.
Grief knows me in a way that a friend knows me. She remembers the milestones and helps me remember too. She has the hard dates etched in her calendar and I'm sure she won't forget them. She's quietly with me, her hand on my shoulder, when we see a stroller, a butterfly, a new pregnancy announcement. Sometimes she is there waiting for me, before I even realize why.

"Welcome to your third trimester!" my email greeted me this morning. I thought I had unsubscribed from them all, but this one snuck through. An unpleasant reminder of what I already knew: Today should have been a milestone. I took a moment to let it sink in when I felt her hand on my shoulder. Once you get to know her, Grief can be a really good friend.
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