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What could stop your house from selling

  • Story Highlights
  • Buyers will reject a house based on its outside appearance, agent says
  • Denver realtor says buyers often connect with sellers with similar taste
  • Most curb appeal projects take a weekend
  • Sellers should re-examine areas of their home they don't often go
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By Steve Almasy
CNN
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MARIETTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Pat Junod knows why this home in an Atlanta suburb has been sitting empty for months. It isn't the market. Even during this nationwide downturn there are still plenty of potential buyers. So what is it?

art.mailbox.bush.jpg

Potential buyers will have a hard time finding the mailbox. It's inside the bush.

She sees the problem from her car as she drives up the street. The yard is, well, in need of some work. OK, a lot of work.

The neighbor's tidy, weed-free front lawn is quite a contrast to the seller's yard, Junod points out. In fact, they already have bales of pine straw ready and waiting for spring-time sprucing -- even before their spotless Bermuda grass has started to green.

At the very least, the sellers need to repaint the house and trim the overgrowth in the yard, says Junod.

As she walks toward the front door of the Marietta, Georgia, house, Junod points more out-of-control shrubs.

Overgrown bushes are a huge enemy of curb appeal, according to many agents.

"If you have something that's totally overgrown and wild, it doesn't look good," says Darlene Colone, a real estate agent in Austin, Texas. "You just have to keep it trimmed."

"Buying a house is an emotional process," says Junod, a veteran real estate agent, as she walks up to the mailbox obscured by an overgrown bush.

"People don't go out to fall in love with five houses. They look to reject five houses and the sixth one is the one they buy. So they are looking for negative things: 'Why should I discount this house?' "

Victoria Macaskill, an agent in Denver, Colorado, agrees that buyers bring certain romantic notions to the purchasing process.

"Every home has a personality that speaks to the buyer," she says.

"You'll find that it's uncanny how much the home buyers have in common with the sellers."

Selling a home can be tough at the moment. In February, new home sales were down 29.8 percent compared with a year ago and existing home sales were only up slightly despite much lower prices. Real estate buyers have plenty of properties to look at, so curb appeal is more important than ever, according to the agents.

"I'll go in houses and [the owners] say we've replaced the furnace and we've done this and we've done that," Junod says. "But unless someone is, from the street, going to be into buying this house emotionally they don't care about your new furnace."

But Macaskill says buyers also have an analytical side these days. And they have the tools to do the analysis.

Almost all of them start their search for a home online. So if a buyer is scanning a page with 60 small images, your house needs to stand out. And buyers are also looking to see how long a home has been on the market, in hopes they can get a discounted price on "stale" listings.

Macaskill says in her area homes usually sell in 20 days -- it's actually been a good market, she says -- but the ones that don't, often are less visually appealing.

People need to take a new look at their homes when they are thinking about selling, Junod says. Too often they come home at night, pull the car into the garage and never come through the front door -- exactly the place a real estate agent takes customers.

She says it can be difficult sometimes to convince a seller that the curb appeal of a house needs help. Sometimes the cost factor is an element but sometimes the homeowners don't see a problem. Agents sometimes hire a third party to convince sellers of the value of home improvements.

"We see thousands of houses, but a third party often brings that credibility some people don't see in realtors," Macaskill says.

Most curb appeal projects take only a weekend, but a few can last weeks, especially when longtime homeowners finally decide to sell. Macaskill says it can depend on how motivated the seller is and whether or not they can foresee the value added to a final sale price. But a home that sits on the market because it is not visually appealing also strikes the financial bottom line too.

Occasionally agents will pay for landscaping or other improvements and build those costs into their commission.

There were many problems at the home Junod was showing. There was a huge growth of bamboo -- a non-native, fast-growing plant -- near a corner of the home. It obscured another tree -- a Japanese maple -- from the sun, and prevented a holly tree from growing properly. The roses need to be trimmed, there are stumps visible in the yard and the driveway needs cleaning.

"The homeowners just have to get out here and get it done," Junod says. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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