What makes for attractive houses? Well, it all depends on your point of view…

Attractive houses... Hmm... To an investor an attractive house may be one that is low maintenance right from the start, being a new build.

It might also be one that allows them to solve a problem and make a profit, by buying a property and renovating, or by completely rebuilding to make more space.

Then, of course, there are the houses that have lots of kerb appeal. You probably want one of those, but something you bought cheaply might need a little (or a lot of) help to get there. That's what I am going to concentrate on here: making attractive houses from the proverbial ugly ducklings.

It's horrible! Where do I start?

Say you have a battered old brick home. It's had aluminium windows installed in the 1970s, the gutters are mission brown and the paint it peeling, the garden is overgrown, and the driveway is all cracked…

You might, instead, have what might once have been a lovely old Federation (1900-1915) house. Unfortunately, at some stage, it's been rendered with pebblecrete, and when the timbers rotted on the verandah rails, back in the 1950s someone thought it would be a good idea to put in metal ones that were trendy, but didn't fit in. Windows may have been replaced unsympathetically with something too small or large for the style, and made from an inferior material, and the final insult to the poor old place: When some of the 1950s railings rusted, someone thought it would be a good idea to add concrete "Mediterranean" pillars to the front verandah, and tile it over with lava red tiles… Ouch.

Or, you might have an older property made from fibro. Usually these properties are unattractive to buyers because of concerns about asbestos. It doesn't matter if the stuff is totally untracked and stable: people will undervalue a property just because it is fibro.

On the other hand, there are things you can do about it.

Take a look around your area

It's very true that most areas have houses that are of a similar shape and style. Sometimes you'll even find examples of attractive houses right next to a house that might once have been identical, built by the same builder, but have not weathered the years - or the renovations - quite so well.

So take a walk, and take your camera.

Keep an open mind.

You're looking for properties that have been recently renovated and are looking really good. You might also want to get other similar houses to compare for what else not to do to your investment property.

You're also looking for examples of houses which are totally modern, so you can get an idea of what colours are most favoured by buyers at the moment. Remember that some colour schemes are too modern for the style of house you're renovating, but you're looking for a happy medium. These will all help you pick colour swatches at the hardware store later!

Consider different materials

Remember that there is always more than one way to "skin a cat" as they say. Fibro buildings will tend to lend themselves as much to cement render as they will to insulated clapboarding and other methods. It just depends on whether you want a cottage or a really classic modern look, and which will be more sympathetic to the general shape of the house.

If you're finding that a property has lost its sparkle because it's built from bricks that look dated (red brick cladding being one of the most common), then an option is to render them with a coloured render that looks similar to the finishes on more modern properties.

Don't be half-hearted about it.

I have scores of examples of properties that have had the overall finish (render/clapboard) done, but have ignored the rest of the details.

If you want to own, sell, or rent out attractive houses, please don't ignore the following exterior details:

  • Windows: Don't leave the ugly old brown aluminium frames in place when you render or add clapboarding. Replace with new steel frames in a nice style (country windows look nice with clapboards!), or explore a way to get the same look by repainting the frames and adding the paning detail without replacing the entire window.
  • Gutters: please paint them a colour that fits in with the colour scheme of your render!
  • Roof Tiles: Consider getting roof tiles cleaned and refinished with a more contemporary colour than the sky blue that was popular a couple of decades ago. It just looks frightening now…
  • Verandah Rails: Find something that suits the overall look you want to achieve. Don't just paint the 1970s metal rail a different colour and hope for the best (unless it actually suits!)
  • Verandah Tiles: Gone are the days when it was okay to grab the last non-slip bathroom tiles from the hardware store and slap them on your verandah. Concrete verandahs are rarely good either, especially if they're cracked. Stick with something classic, like terracotta exterior tiles (the ones with the nice lip on the front of the steps), in a colour that will age gracefully!
  • Remember the front fence: A fence creates a nice line between your property and the street. It can also draw the viewer's eye to an attractive house, or repel it before it even gets past the boundary-line. Just because the fence is a serviceable metal hurricane fence doesn't mean it's pretty. Consider changing it, or getting rid of it completely, if you can't afford to replace it with something nicer. Remember that some areas don't allow you to have front fences, so if no-one else has a front fence on the street, check with council before you install one!

By looking at all of these elements, you have a better chance of making your makeover last for years. You'll probably make more money from it too!

Remember: Keep it Classic. Keep it Stylish. Keep it together!

Ask for a second opinion.

If in doubt, take your pictures down to a real estate agent and ask their opinion on what sells best.

The clip below shows my own research around an area where I invest in western Sydney. It's something I keep on file, to remind me of what can be done with different typical types of houses in any area. It can even help save you from choosing a "lemon" or from rejecting something because it looks harder than it really is.

Still stuck?

If you're still not sure about how best to proceed with a difficult-looking property, it may be worth considering property styling.

A professional property stylist - such as Property by Bess (that's me, folks!) will usually have design training, and can produce a report on how to tackle your investment property renovation for as little as AUD$300.

Sylists can also offer services ranging up to and including full project management. They often also have a reliable set of tradesmen and landscapers on their books to help you out.

Remember to do your costings…

Some of these cosmetic fixes to create attractive houses may be affordable, but others may not. Remember that you need to work out how much more you will get for a property after renovation.

If you're planning to keep a rental property for the long-term, it may not matter if you spend a bit more to make it one of the attractive houses on the street.

If you're wanting to make a quick turnover, make sure the market is booming enough to make the expense worthwhile. Otherwise your ugly duckling could become a dead duck.

It may be more cost-effective for you to knock down and start again (perhaps with a duplex or units instead of a single dwelling). Don't discard this as an option either!

Attractive houses are what you make of them.

Do you have a question about this subject?

So... ask away!

Do you have a question about property investing that's not answered here or elswhere on this site?

Ask it here and we'll try our best to answer it for you. Sometimes there's some research involved, so please forgive us of we take a little while to post back.

Others can also comment (politely, please!) too and help you out. It's a bit like a forum and FAQ rolled into one!

Just remember, we're not financial advisers, so you should use the information we give here as a guide only (in relation to your personal circumstances) and see an accountant or financial adviser before proceeding further.

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