15 Cheap Ways to Improve Curb Appeal

When it came time for my husband and I to sell our last home, we knew we had to squeeze every last dime out of the sale that we could manage. At the time I did a lot of research on how to improve curb appeal, and it paid off: in a flat market, we attracted several buyers who bid up our asking price almost 10%!  Here's a summary of the tips we found most helpful.
  1. De-clutter.  Start with what's obvious and easy: remove everything from your lawn/porch/deck/carport that doesn't belong there.  This includes cars, toys, bikes, trash cans, etc.  Next, remove the items that technically belong but that have, over the years, become eyesores: old lawn furniture (especially those ubiquitous plastic adirondak chairs!), flags, yard tools/rakes, tables, fencing, and lawn ornaments of any sort.  (Yes, that includes gnome statues, ceramic animals, and wood cutouts of any sort.  There's a reason you never see these things in the yards of wealthy people.) The front of your house should be kept clear and tidy at all times.
  2. Power-wash.  Borrow or rent a power washer and use it to clean everything: your house, your driveway, your carport, your deck, your roof, fencing, pathways - basically anyplace where dust, mold, mildew, sap and/or water stains accumulate.  You'll be surprised how shiny and new your house will look after a good scrubbing!
  3. Clean/repaint/repair your gutters.  Gutters outline your house.  Buyers are looking for an outline that's straight, clean, and pleasing.  No one wants to see trees growing in your drainsprout. 
  4. Weigh your windows.  Mismatching curtains/window treatments can make the exterior of your house look junky.  If you have off-color drapes showing through your windows, buy inexpensive white liners to hang underneath.  Horizontal window treatments (blinds, shades) should be drawn to the same length - either fully open, fully closed, or half-open.  Broken/mismatching screens are also unsightly; consider removing them entirely if they are detracting from the curb appeal of your house. 
  5. Trim, Prune & Clear. Unless you live in the woods, your front yard should not look like a forest. Prune bushes, cut down scraggly trees, and clear away leaves/sticks/branches. Pay particular attention to branches near or touching the roof: these absolutely should be cleared away.
  6. Hide your guilty lawn secrets. If your yard is a sea of weeds, then you certainly don't want to call attention to the fact.  Kept the weeds neatly mowed and/or trimmed back.  If areas of your yard are barren, muddy, or otherwise unsightly, consider concealing them beneath mulch or stone.  Ornamental borders can be used to create beds, paths, and other features.
  7. Paint.  Painting your trimwork is a quick and pretty inexpensive way to spruce up the look of your house.  If you can afford to, however, consider giving the whole exterior a paint job.  Pick a color that's not too bold but don't be afraid to pick something other than white; ideally, you want a shade that is faithful to the house's location, architecture, and character, but that will blend with the landscape and other other houses in your neighborhood.  If in doubt (at all), consult a professional.
  8. Spruce up your front door area.  For better or worse, your front door is the focal point of your house, and nothing says "neglect" like an entranceway that's crumbling, stained, painted an ill-advised color, or out of character with the rest of the house.  Since the title of this entry is "10 Cheap Ways to Improve Curb Appeal," am not advocating a major rebuild here.  However, do recommend attending to the following:
    1. Power-wash door area to remove stains, cobwebs, etc.
    2. Caulk (or re-caulk) gaps
    3. Clean crumbling areas and repair if possible (this includes moulding, rails, pillars, retaining walls, stairs, etc.)
    4. Touch up (or repaint) painted surfaces
    5. Make sure screen door is in good repair
    6. Replace doormat if worn
    7. Remove plants/limbs that may be encroaching
    8. Polish hardware; or, replace dated/inappropriate hardware
    9. What you can't fix, conceal!  Plants in decorative pots make excellent camouflage
    10. Hang a tasteful wreath on your door
  9. Add shutters and/or trim. If you have shutters or trim, make sure what you have is in good repair, painted, and hanging properly. If you don't have shutters, consider getting them. A window without shutters looks a little like a face without eyelashes or eyebrows - functional, but stark and unfinished. You needn't spent a fortune on expensive shutters. Assuming you don't live in a hurricane/tornado zone and so are never actually going to use them, you can get by with inexpensive options.
  10. De-emphasize sidewalk/driveway flaws.  Tidy walkways/sidewalks/driveways by pruning back weeks/overgrowth, killing weeds that are growing through cracks, and making repairs as feasible.  If your driveway has enough fissures to rival Mt. Pinatubo, consider paying to have them resealed: this is a fairly inexpensive process that will create a nice, seamless look.  If your concrete continues to look stained even after cleaning, consider concrete stain. 
  11. Create symmetry. Studies show that people find symmetry inherently pleasing.  Are there ways that you can add symmetry to your yard, entrance, or facade?  Consider adding fixtures, trim, potted plants or landscaping features to enhance symmetry. 
  12. Create a distraction with flowers.  If you have the kind of soil that supports flowers, plant them.  If you don't have that kind of time, though, build a few quick raised beds (create beds out of railroad ties & fill them with planting soil) or array flowers in containers in key areas around the driveway, mailbox, porch, and front door.  Nurseries often sell "ready to display" container gardens that add instant beauty wherever they're installed.  Window boxes are another option, particularly if you have just a few windows and want to set them off to good advantage.
  13. Improve the your evening curb appeal.  Consider investing in low wattage lighting to illuminate paths or other features of the house.  But first, make sure the lighting you already have installed is adding rather than detracting to the appeal of your house.  Remove unsightly spotlights, reconsider "novelty" colored bulbs, and clean/repair/replace fixtures that have become outdated or unappealing.
  14. Beautify your mailbox.  A small thing, but with the potential to make a big impact.  First, make sure the architecture of your mailbox compliments the architecture of your house.  (If not, design one that does.)  Next, spruce up your mailbox by repainting the box and/or post, repairing broken/weathered items, ensuring house numbers are straight and appealing, and adding landscaping around the post. 
  15. House number.  A small thing, but also a chance to add that "finishing touch" to your curb appeal project.  Choose numbers that blend with your home's color and character.

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