How to keep your house from looking old, neglected

(Susan Gal)
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By Elizabeth Razzi
Friday, November 12, 2010; 8:25 AM

Plenty of houses are old. Not all of them are tired.There is a difference. A well-kept, mindfully updated old home is a gem, whereas a neglected home can start to look shabby within a few years of construction. If you are trying to sell a victim of casual neglect, the resulting frumpiness will damage your sales price - and can make it languish on the market. If you have no intention to sell, keeping your surroundings fresh and up-to-date offers its own reward.

We asked some pros - home inspectors, designers and stagers, whose work takes them behind the curtains of a lot of homes - to tell us about the common signs of age and neglect that they encounter, along with some tips for updates.

Greenery is good - but not growing on the roof, bricks or siding. "Folks need to take care of the outside of a home before they take care of the inside," said Tim Bills, owner of Sentry Home Inspections in the District. That includes trimming tree branches back away from the house. "If a tree overhangs the roof, it does not allow the sun to dry out the roofing materials," he said. "It can allow lichen growth, and those can deteriorate the shingles." If unsightly lichens have already colonized the roof, he recommends leaving them alone, as trying to remove them with a scraper or pressure washer will damage the shingles.

Heavy shade can also foster growth of mold and mildew on siding and bricks. Usually the stains can be washed off vinyl or aluminum siding, but it's more of a problem with wooden surfaces, which can decay, Bills said.

Ivy growing up the walls of a home may offer a pleasant Cotswold cottage effect, but it can really speed decay. "English ivy is an invasive species; it does damage the mortar on masonry, and it will damage screens," Bills said. He added that even after you've ripped it off the walls, it can be tough to get rid of the mud-colored tracks left by the vine's rootlets. "It will damage even wood," Bills said.

A split storm door, with a solid panel (usually white aluminum) at the bottom and a glass window or screen at top, dates a home terribly, according to Debbie Wiener, owner of Designing Solutions, an interior-design firm in Silver Spring. "Everybody wants a full-view storm door - and one that's color-matched to the house," she said.

Heavy, layered window treatments(a shade covered by shears covered by draperies topped off by a valance) drag a home into frumpy territory. "Everybody lightens up now," said Wiener. If you don't have the cash to replace them with something lighter (such as a simple pair of contemporary drapery panels), she recommends cutting back on the layers. "For God's sake, take them off; you don't need them," she said. And if you're trying to sell the house, she suggests letting your windows go as bare as privacy allows because bare windows make the house look bright and airy.

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