Virtual Curb Appeal


In today’s real estate market, it’s all about Pinterest, Instagram, Zillow and the many websites where users can browse houses on the market. Where potential buyers once peered at a photo of the front of a house on a flyer, today’s buyers are much more likely to search for properties online, where they are presented with high-end photography that can include drone aerial shots, images taken in soft lighting, and a video walk-through of every room.

“Many buyers know everything about a house before they set foot in it because they’ve seen photos and videos online,” said Saritte Harel, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, noting that it’s critical a house shine online or prospective buyers won’t take the time to visit it in person. “People’s attention spans are so short. The photos really have to grab them.” 

Buyers are drawn to impressionistic or artsy images, as well as close-ups of charming details, such as a light fixture or reading nook, which can whet their appetite to see more. “We love photos taken at dusk because that really makes things stand out,” said Arlene Gonnella, a realtor at Weichert, Realtors.

Both Harel and Gonnella specialize in the area served by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, which is popular with Jewish buyers because of all that the community has to offer: close proximity to multiple synagogues, several day schools, Jewish community centers, kosher food, and more.

When advising those wishing to buy a home, Gonnella offers some tried-and-true real estate advice: It’s still all about location.

“Look for a great school system,” said Gonnella. “Even if you don’t have children, a strong school system will add to the home’s liquidity when you want to sell one day.” Gonnella, who has been a realtor for more than three decades, sold more real estate than any other agent in the state in 2018, according to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service.

With people’s lives busier than ever, buyers are less interested in houses that require time-consuming renovations, Gonnella said.

They’re also keen on the latest technological advances. Alarms, lights, doorbells, the heating and cooling systems — they want to control all of them from their phone, said Harel, who has been in the business for 15 years and is ranked in the top one percent of New Jersey realtors by the Garden State Multiple Listing Service.

When looking for a new home, it’s important to make a list of priorities, but not necessarily stick to it too strictly. Clients will say, “I don’t want to live on a busy street,” Harel said, but in the end, they will be charmed by a house that isn’t on the remote block they were envisioning. “You’re never going to be able to get it all.”

For buyers with non-negotiable requirements — such as a kosher kitchen or a house in walking distance of a synagogue — it’s important to be flexible on other features. These days, some of the most desirable elements are open layouts, mudrooms, kitchens with stainless steel appliances, and wood floors. “I say you should buy what you love — you won’t have any second thoughts, and you’ll feel like you’re lucky this is your home,” Gonnella said.

For prospective sellers, Harel takes them on excursions to other similarly priced houses in their neighborhood so “they can put on buyers’ glasses and see what buyers are seeing,” she said.

In recent years, “staging” has become all but required for many homes in the MetroWest area. Staging involves decluttering, rearranging furniture, and improving a house’s interior to prepare it for selling.

A fresh coat of paint brings the biggest return in terms of boosting the sale price, Harel said. “If the kitchen is red and the bedroom is orange, that’s not going to translate well online. All the colors today are gray and white.” Pulling out plush carpeting to reveal hardwood floors is another good investment, as is trimming hedges and trees and enhancing flower beds to improve first impressions.

Decluttering is essential. “The house should be immaculate,” Gonnella said. “Cleanliness matters at any price point, and it’s the most inexpensive thing you can do.” Other recommendations include removing most family photos, dark rugs, and pieces that make a space feel crowded. Furniture that is dowdy may be replaced by rented items to make the house feel more up-to-date. Spending $1,500 for a three-month rental of furniture and decorative items from professional stagers can translate into another $20,000 in the purchase price, according to Gonnella.

Harel advises those contemplating selling to begin well in advance exploring their options with a professional in the real estate field. “Even if you’re a year or two away from selling, meet with an agent, talk to a mortgage broker” to discuss how to prepare the home for a potential sale and how much purchasing power buyers have for their next residence, she said. When it comes to home improvements, replacing a roof that is old but in working order won’t necessarily translate into a return, according to Harel, but an updated bathroom will.

The goal, she said, “is to appeal to the largest pool of buyers.”