Curb appeal can yield big results

It’s the golden ticket of real estate: curb appeal, that special alchemy of siding and windows, front doors and porches that allows an ordinary, even bland home to become extraordinary.

It is common knowledge that home improvement investments don’t always yield money-in-the-bank results when it comes time to sell. That is unless you add a steel front door, which typically recoups 135.5 percent of the cost on resale, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2010-11 Cost vs. Value Report. A garage door replacement is the second best option, with a return of 91.6 percent. In other words, when it comes to improvements, changes to the facade top the heap in terms of investments with the best rate of return.

“If it doesn’t look good from the street, they’ll never get out of the car,” said Inman Park’s Sanctuary Real Estate agent Derrick Duckworth. “If you have $1,000 dollars and you’re trying to get your property to look good, my advice is it’s probably better spent on the exterior than it would be on the interior.”

When financial advisor Mary Williams bought her home near Historic Roswell in May 2009 for $85,000, she spent $100,000 gutting and renovating the home with Kayler Construction in Powder Springs. For the exterior of her 1940 bungalow, she wanted it to harken back to her grandfather’s Mississippi farmhouse. That meant re-using the original siding and installing historically correct French gutters. The original windows were replaced with more energy-efficient ones, but contractor Tom Kayler made sure the style was consistent with the home’s origins and added working shutters with shutter locks. Kayler also consulted Dunwoody interior designer Cari Lynn Dick of DL Designs when selecting the final exterior paint color and red-stained mahogany front door. (“There’s a rumor that red doors sell,” notes Duckworth.)

That dramatic facade change has been a hit with Williams’ neighbors, who watched the home go, as Williams’ sister puts it, “from crack house to doll house.”

"A lot of people have mentioned, ‘Is it for sale?’” said Williams.

Julie Collins, who works at the Advance Technology Development Center renovated her 1947 bungalow in downtown Decatur to make better use of its space. But the most dramatic change to the home was the exterior, which contractors Steve Prittie and Deborah Coleman of Morningside’s Hawthorn Inc. Design and Construction made more consistent with other homes in the neighborhood, a key component of curb appeal.

The Colemans recommended Collins add a second story so the scale of her renovation would not be overwhelmed by her neighbors’ recent makeovers that towered over her tiny bungalow.

“You want to try and do with your house not only something that enhances your property but also the standing of the community,” said

An essential element is a clear pathway to the front door when thinking about enhancing curb appeal, Prittie said. “Start at the street and ask a friend: ‘Is it obvious where you need to go?’”

Typically done as part of interior renovations, new facades start at $3,000-$5,000 for the basic addition of a modest covered entry while a large covered porch with masonry and columns like one Prittie recently did in Ansley Park could cost as much as $40,000.

Curb appeal was an important factor when Dr. Dallin Randolph, an emergency room physician for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, renovated her postwar bungalow in downtown Decatur two years ago. For the project, architect Bryan Jones of Jones Pierce Architects wanted to design a second story addition with a steep roof so he made it a Tudor style that blended well with the neighborhood. Randolph is particularly pleased with the second story windows, the arched front door and the subtle green exterior paint, executed by her contractor, Renewal Design-Build.

The end result? “I love, love, love my house,” said Randolph. “There has never been a single solitary person who hasn’t passed the house and said, ‘Love the color.’"

Proof positive that curb appeal attracts attention? The home won a 2009 Decatur Design Award from the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission.