Curb Appeal, Schmurb Appeal. These Buyers Didn’t Care About the Home’s Exterior.


When Tamela Greene started her search for a second home in New York’s Hudson Valley, she knew exactly what she was looking for: ugly.

She found it near Copake Lake. Various additions to the home had created multiple rooflines and siding materials that looked disjointed, plus it was painted a kind of beige-yellow and had dead trees in the front yard. No surprise, it had been on the market for about two years. “We looked at 30 homes and this was the ugliest on the outside,” says Ms. Greene. “People would drive by the house and say, ‘Ugh, that’s awful!’ ”

It isn’t that Ms. Greene has peculiar tastes, it is just that she reasoned an exterior that would make other buyers think twice might translate into a great deal. In a recent study, 76% of consumers surveyed said they would buy a house they deem ugly on the outside, but perfect on the inside, according to HomeAdvisor, an online marketplace for home services. 

Tamela Greene completed a renovation of her home’s interior and exterior this year at a total cost of more than $1 million. The interior upgrades included updating the bathrooms. Erica Gannett for the Wall Street Journal (4)

Terrible exteriors should never be a deal breaker, says Drew Meyers, a real-estate agent in Los Angeles. It isn’t easy to get past the desire to find a home that engenders love at first sight. But clients who can’t look past a home’s outside often overlook the more important, and harder-to-find, aspects: a desirable interior with a good layout and a nice neighborhood.

“I tell my clients that we can always add curb appeal,” Mr. Meyers says, “but if you can find a good floor plan, that’s more than half the battle.”

Ms. Greene says she lucked out with her 1.7-acre lakefront property. She bought the 1985 home for $780,000 in 2012, some $70,000 under the asking price, she says. The turnkey homes in the area of a similar size cost closer to $1 million at the time, she recalls. “I didn’t spend much time outside looking at the horrible yellow color,” she says.

Inside, the home was 2,600 square feet, with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. It had a double-height stone fireplace and offered lakefront views on three sides.

Ms. Greene started on the renovations right away but just finished the project this year. She closed in a carport to create a game room, and did a 1,000-square-foot addition that expanded the second floor and added two bedrooms and a bathroom.

Finally, the renovation, which cost a total of more than $1 million, dealt with the issue of the look of the exterior. She got rid of the yellow color, adding black paneling and painting the front door green, and put in vintage lighting. She also replanted trees, added bushes and created a modern stone-paved walkway from the front to the side of the house.  

The home’s current estimated value is just under $2 million, according to Zillow.com, and is on par with similar homes nearby. 

Some buyers actually prefer a disconnect between impressive interiors and a modest exterior, says Filippo Incorvaia, a Miami real-estate agent. In the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, such as Buena Vista, properties without overly polished exteriors help buyers blend into the existing housing stock. “The lack of curb appeal helps them maintain a sense of anonymity,” he adds.

Tamela Greene’s Hudson Valley home overlooks Copake Lake.



Photo:

Erica Gannett for The Wall Street Journal

Ellie Pezeshki prefers the unimpressive exterior of her Seattle home, which is partially obstructed by a steep driveway. The upper floors disappear from view from the street, making the 3,180-square-foot home seem less substantial on the outside. She says she feels the subtle exterior is a better fit for the neighborhood, and she wanted to focus on modernizing the interior.

“It was just a blue-and-white house and wasn’t something that we would ever have stopped to look at,” says Ms. Pezeshki, who lives with her husband, David Pezeshki.

Ellie Pezeshki says the subtle exterior of her home is a better fit for her Seattle neighborhood.



Photo:

Emily Keeney for The Wall Street Journal

The inside was anything but subtle. Seattle’s Space Needle and Puget Sound can be seen from three of its four floors. A top-floor party room and outdoor deck offer a backdrop for entertaining. “When I walked in, I thought, ‘this could be killer’,” she says of the $2.15 million home, purchased in 2019 for $100,000 under the list price.

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The family has kept the plain exterior but last year finished an interior renovation that includes bold wallpaper, refinishing the staircase and expanding the kitchen.

“Its relative quietness on the outside now belies a very chic urban living experience,” says Courtenay Gebhardt, co-owner with her husband, Ben Gebhardt, of Blue Sound Construction, the local company that did the renovation.

The four-floor Pezeshki home includes a modern living and dining area with bold wallpaper, a rooftop entertaining space and a walk-in pantry off the kitchen. Emily Keeney for The Wall Street Journal (4)

Overall, the focus for home buyers has been shifting to interior space ever since the start of the pandemic lockdowns. Layouts that include work-from-home spaces take center stage, says Judy Lin Young, a Los Angeles real-estate agent. “They are considering how the floor plan meets their lifestyle more than anything,” she says.

Her client, Jasmine Taylor, overlooked her condo’s somewhat drab exterior to get a loft-like layout. From the outside, the gray building in Marina del Rey, Calif., seemed to have too-few windows, with an entrance that led into the garage. But once inside, the interior showed off an airy, two-story living area with 17-foot ceilings, and a spiral staircase leading to the bedrooms. And it turned out the entrance to the condo units was on the side, not facing the street.

“The curb appeal is slim-to-none,” says Ms. Taylor, an actress who purchased the 1,780-square-foot home for $1.27 million in August. “When you open the door, you get this
unexpected ‘wow’ factor.”

But buyers beware: Some homeowners who think they can just paint over ugly, come to find it isn’t always a quick fix. After taking off the vinyl siding of her beige waterfront home in Emerald Isle, N.C., Kristi Hocutt realized she didn’t know how to move forward.

Kristi Hocutt of Wilson, N.C., took off the vinyl siding she disliked on her second home in Emerald Isle but ended up also not liking the turquoise color she had painted it. Interior designer Grey Joyner convinced her try a dark gray with white details. ‘We get people stopping by wanting to know the color,’ says Ms. Hocutt of the new look. Grey Joyner;Michael Jones

She painted the house turquoise to “feel bright and happy” and learned too late that she had made the wrong move. “The turquoise color felt too expected and predictable for a beach house,” says Ms. Hocutt, of Wilson, who bought the second home in 2014 for $405,000 with her husband. “I was still not happy.”

In 2020, Ms. Hocutt enlisted interior designer Grey Joyner, who convinced her to paint the exterior a dark gray with white details. “It’s got a different vibe,” says Ms. Joyner of the new look.

The darker color made the house more prominent on the street, while helping to highlight the pool and waterfront at the rear of the home. Inside, they lifted the house to add another floor—at a cost of nearly $500,000. The contemporary additions to both the interior and exterior make the home feel more cohesive.

It took some time, but her property went from ugly to envy. “It’s intriguing,” she says. “We get people stopping by wanting to know the color,” says Ms. Hocutt.

Corrections & Amplifications
Kristi Hocutt’s waterfront home is in Emerald Isle, N.C. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it was in Wilson. (Corrected on Oct. 20.)

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