You may not judge a book by its cover, but think again if you’re applying that adage to your home. Whether buying, selling or staying put, your home’s exterior greatly affects first impressions as well as market value. By properly maintaining its exterior, your home’s curb appeal is enhanced and you protect your investment. While no home is truly maintenance free, an annual house checkup keeps chores in check and rewards you while you live there and when you sell.

"Curb appeal is one of the most important factors in home sales," says Kathy Diffley, president of the St. Paul, Minn., Area Association of Realtors. "If you drive up to a house that’s well cared for, buyers become excited." In fact, Diffley asserts that many buyers make a decision within a few seconds of arriving at a home - before even entering the front door. "Buyers are busy," says Diffley. "There’s seldom time to view an interior if the exterior is disappointing."

Both the condition and color of a home’s exterior affect buyers’ impressions. According to Ray Pittman, a Chicago industrial designer and member of the prestigious Color Marketing Group, color also influences purchase decisions. Pittman, who advises Masonite Corporation on color choices for their Colorlok® factory-finished hardboard siding line, says, "Introducing a new, carefully selected siding color, or ‘tweaking’ a current shade, has been known to increase a siding’s sales by as much as 40 percent in just one year."

And maintenance of your home’s exterior should increase its worth and your pleasure. Think of home maintenance as physical fitness for your home. This enables you to take preventative measures to avoid situations that can become time-consuming, costly problems.

The best place to start your once over is with a yearly home inspection. It’s all too easy to become complacent about minor problems right under your nose.Drive up to your house, viewing it through the eyes of a buyer. As Diffley puts it, "It’s amazing what homeowners suddenly see!"

First, how do your sidewalk and driveway look? Do you see cracks or buckles? Consider calling an expert to determine if replacement is needed, or if other remedies will help.

Next, check out your landscaping. Is it neatly trimmed, or overgrown? Are foliage and shrubbery surrounding your home gangly or growing against the siding? If so, trim them to restore that "cared for" look. This also benefits your siding by restoring air circulation between shrubs and siding, and giving sunshine access to help keep the siding dry. While inspecting, check to see if algae or mildew is growing on the siding, especially behind the plants. If so, buy a mildew wash at your local hardware store and apply it to affected areas.

Follow with a close look at doors and windows. Your front door not only keeps out the cold, it’s also your home’s "welcome mat." Check its appearance and make any needed improvements. (How’s the screen door? Polish that door knob and / or kick-plate. Repaint if color is fading.) Next, take a close look at your windows. Is the trim peeling or bubbling? It may be time to scrape and repaint.

Now take a look at the house as a whole. Does your home’s exterior appear clean and well maintained? Does the siding have dents, cracks or discoloration? Check siding for any nail or caulking irregularities. If nails protrude, lightly tap them flush with the siding. If nails are overdriven, fill in with a high-quality caulk. Also, apply new caulk in places where the old is loose or cracked, after removing old caulk.

Is your paint cracking, flaking, eroding, or is the color simply out of date? A fresh coat may be the best solution. Be sure to clean your siding prior to repainting. If any substrate is bare, apply primer and follow with two high-quality topcoats. Also, remember to paint the bottom edge of the siding as well as the face. Carefully select your new color to ensure lasting appeal.

"Lifestyles influence color. In today’s working world, the hectic pace makes us seek comfort and sanctuary at home," says designer Pittman. "Colors are taking their cue from nature. Brick and stone elements and generous roof designs require siding colors that complement and integrate with these natural materials." For example, tans, buffs, khakis and warm grays work very well. Color elements and craftsmanship elements will tie it all together. Adds Pittman, "Siding color lightened five times becomes the perfect trim shade. Pastels are returning, but more like faded, stronger colors, rather than the chalkier pastels of yesterday."

Maybe it’s time to replace your siding altogether. Hardboard sidings resist the denting, cracking, rusting or corroding to which other sidings are suspectible. Masonite Corporation’s Colorlok or SuperSide® sidings are excellent alternatives. If you prefer a custom color or dramatic painting scheme, consider a siding that comes factory primed and ready to paint, such as SuperSide, which is available in weathered pine, rough-sawn cedar and classic smooth design styles. SuperSide’s color is limited only by imagination.

Finally, Realtor Diffley reminds us of the number one rule of home maintenance. "Don’t get behind. Stay abreast of what needs to be done."

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