Curb appeal. It’s that combination of good upkeep, overall charm, and nice detailing that makes a home beautiful and inviting from the street. It has an almost magical effect on people — and on property values.
In surveys by both Zillow and Consumer Reports, real estate professionals said that when it comes time to sell, curb appeal is one of the most important factors. And in a recent report by Remodeling, nine of the top dozen projects declared best bets for return on investment (ROI) were exterior projects.
So you know you want curb appeal. And you know it when you see it. But how do you create it? Especially on a budget?
To help you get started, here are seven broad rules for adding curb appeal. It’s a layered phenomenon that can take time to build, so even if you don’t expect to sell anytime soon, you might want to get busy. As you’ll see, small investments can mean a lot, so don’t let a modest budget stop you.
BTW, do you know about HGTV’s six seasons of Curb Appeal? The before and after pictures are inspiring. But be warned: this show is addictive.
1. Maintenance comes first
Maintenance isn’t an investment so much as a way to protect your investment. If you let your home get run down, you can lose any equity you might be building. But still, keeping it in pristine condition can actually add value. Because a home that broadcasts “I am loved and taken care of” has curb appeal.
So resist the temptation to pass over the basic, boring stuff in favor of flashier cosmetic enhancements. Are the gutters in good shape? How about the driveway and walkways? The windows? Do you need new paint or siding? Does the roof need to be cleaned or replaced?
You don’t want to be scrambling to catch up on all this stuff — possibly at significant expense — if you end up selling your home. Especially if you find yourself in a buyer’s market. When the market dips, it’s the beautifully maintained homes that buyers will compete for.
2. Make the most of paint
Paint is a maintenance must-do that’s also a great opportunity to amp up your curb appeal. Many real estate pros and experts say that a good exterior paint job is the single most cost-effective improvement you can make before selling. If it’s time to paint, make the most of it.
It’s usually smart to make your home look different from its neighbors — but not too different. A recent Zillow analysis found that photogenic “greige” (between light beige and gray), boring as it may sound, seemed to sell especially well. Which suggests that you should save the statement colors for detailing. Does your home have appealing columns or other decorative architectural elements? Play them up with a contrasting color. On the other hand, are there elements you wish would disappear? Paint them the same color as the house.
Visit Consumer Reports for the hottest exterior paint colors (and other tips on paint and painting).
3. Don’t overlook the garage door
The garage door might not be the first thing you think of when you think curb appeal, but upgrading it topped Remodeling’s list for ROI. Think about it: the garage door is a prominent feature of many homes, really in your face from the curb. When that’s the case, you want a good-looking steel door that matches the style and color of the house and has a lifetime warrantee.
Note: Do you live in a hurricane-prone area? When garage-door shopping, consider springing for one that’s wind- and impact-resistant.
4. Dress up the front door
The front door is a natural focal point, and a new or custom door ranked third for ROI on Remodeling’s list. Further down the list is a more costly “grand entrance” — which involves widening the entry and installing a door with decorative glass and matching sidelights.
But you don’t have to spend that kind of money to make a meaningful difference. Even if your front door is already pretty nice, simply painting it in a contrasting color will enhance your whole home’s curb appeal. Your home will instantly look better in pictures too, which is key to “web appeal.” Check out HGTV for advice on front-door colors and trends.
To complete a mini makeover, consider a new handle and lockset that says “quality.” It’s the front-door equivalent of buying a higher-end faucet for your kitchen sink.
5. Turn your entry into an invitation
Once you’ve got the front door covered, what about everything that’s around it and leads up to it? An entry with curb appeal is, in a word, inviting. It draws the eye, and the people, right to your front door. It says, “Come on, this way! Welcome!” Any investment that helps create that vibe can have an outsize impact.
The nice thing about upgrading your entry is that you can do it over time, as your budget allows. Each fix will boost curb appeal and eventually add up to a full-on makeover. Here’s a range of ideas to get you thinking:
- Cool modern house numbers, maybe oversized ones
- An unusual doorbell cover; Etsy is teeming with them
- An appealing mailbox; again, Etsy is a fun place to start
- Replace dated or cheap light fixtures
- Symmetry is eye-catching; think potted plants flanking the door
- A sculpture adds style, and if you have an eye for found art, can cost nothing
- Path lighting; wired lights are best for brightness and reliability, but solar options are a quick, affordable fix (lighting is also a safety issue)
- A stone or brick walk is a dramatic improvement over asphalt or concrete
- Define the space with a fence, trellis, and/or raised beds
- Replace cheap railings with something more stylish (and more sturdy)
- Ditto any stairs
- If there’s no overhang or porch defining the entrance and shielding the door from the elements, consider investing in one
6. Carve out a place to sit
Outdoor living space is way up there as an equity-building project — decks came in fourth for ROI on Remodeling’s list. But while private backyard space is important, the curb appeal of some semi-public space out front adds value to your home too.
A cozy seating area on the front porch, complete with pillows and potted plants, may be the ultimate. But if you don’t have a generous porch, or a patio doesn’t make sense, something as simple as a bench by the door or in the front garden will make your home look more domestic and welcoming. Just be careful not to end up with a cluttered or crowded feel, which could undo the effect you’re going for.
Bonus: If you start hanging out in your front yard, you just might turn your neighbors into friends.
7. Landscape the front yard first
Without a doubt, nice landscaping builds equity and increases the market value of your property. Since curb appeal is so important, your front yard is the place to start, and you don’t have to do a lot to get results. In one seven-state study, less than $250 in “flower color” added almost $1,000 to perceived value. Talk about ROI!
In most cases, you want to frame your home, not obscure it, so choose plants that won’t get too big and tall. Consider hiring a professional landscaper to come up with a Pinterest-worthy yet low-maintenance plan that will help you get top dollar if you sell someday. One way to save money is to pay a pro for a plan and then execute it yourself as your budget allows.