10 tricks for a low-cost, high-impact home upgrade
to fix up the old place but don't have a bucket of money to spend? Luckily,
if you focus your resources in the right areas, little changes can make a huge
difference in the way your home looks -- to yourself or potential buyers. Here
are some low-cost ideas to get you started:
1. Begin with the front of the house. It's the first thing
you, and your guests, will see. "Always repaint the front, the trim and
the door," says Robert Irwin, author of "Improve
the Value of Your Home Up to $100,000." His trick: Pay special attention
to the front door and the door handle. For potential buyers, "that's the
first time they touch the house," he says. Twenty-five dollars worth of
paint makes a door look new. And another $50 to $75 for a shiny handle on a
freshly painted or stained door "makes an enormous difference," Irwin
2. Dress up the porch. Place two large planters on either
side of the front door, with a profusion of healthy plants spilling out. "Think
of your pots like clothes -- you want something that's going to go with the
house," says Rebecca Kolls, master gardener and host of the nationally
syndicated television series "Rebecca's Garden."
When you choose the plants, look for foliage colors and blooms
that complement each other, just like you were assembling an outfit. "You
wouldn't mix polka dots and plaid," says Kolls. Her rule of thumb: the
plants should be twice as tall as the pot. Since you're literally assembling
a garden in a pot, look for different textures. Mix perennials and annuals,
blooming and nonblooming varieties. Include tall plants, to give the arrangement
height and shape; ground covers, to spill out of the pot and down the sides
to soften the edges; and an abundance of medium sized plants to fill in between
the two and give a lush look. Squeeze in as many plants as you can manage, says
Kolls. "Just pack them in there."
If you want to add another touch later, you can tie it in to the
front door with a coordinating wreath, says Kolls.
3. Paint. "The biggest change you can make in a room
is painting the walls, changing the color," says Linda Holmes, certified
remodeler and president of Creative Carpentry Remodelers Inc., in Aurora, Ill.
New paint "makes it look clean again."
"And paint the ceiling anything but ceiling white,"
Some pro paint tips:
- Paint the trim a contrasting color. "It gives a little
bit of punch to everything," says New York interior designer Michael
Love, FASID, president of Interior Options Inc. Or stencil a crown molding
onto the wall with paint. "It's not so tough," says Love. Just go
slow and be accurate.
- Another option: Paint a wall three different shades of the
same color. Measure equal sections and use painter's masking tape to mark
off each area, says Judy Pickett, ASID, owner of Design Lines Ltd., in Raleigh,
N.C.. Do the bottom of the wall first with the darkest shade. Once it dries,
do the middle section with the next lightest shade and so on. Want something
really different? Go for big squares in various colors.
- Paint the kitchen cabinets. If you're the handy type, also
think about adding a new kitchen counter to give the room a whole new look.
"It makes a huge impact," says Deborah Houseworth, ASID, president
of DLH Design Studio in Chevy Chase, Md.
- And don't limit the paint to the walls. Inexpensive, unmatched
furniture gets a whole new look with a coat of paint -- especially white,
says Love, who uses the technique in her own home. The trick also works with
lamps, especially if you add a little glaze for an antique look.
4. Display photos. Have some favorite photos blown up,
pick up some inexpensive frames at a discount store and line a wall, says Pickett,
who used this trick in her own office. "Pop them into frames, and it's
the cheapest thing you can do," she says. "They really do have an
impact." Her secret: Black and white photos are even more dramatic.
5. Shine a little light on the subject. "Add accent
lighting, instead of the two ordinary lamps that flank both ends of the sofa,"
A lot of discount and home stores are stocking inexpensive lighting
options that can make a big difference in a room. Spotlights that plug into
existing outlets can direct light to features you want to emphasize, like art
Houseworth lined a room with track lights, forming a perimeter
about two feet from the walls, and painted the ceiling within the tracks a different
color. "It looked like a gallery," she says. Cost: about $400 to $500.
Pro tip: look for tiny lights, about two to three inches in diameter, that just
add a nice sparkle.
Or you can pick up on another hot trend and get a couple of candlestick
lamps, says Holmes.
6. Make rooms instantly more spacious. Go through your
rooms and get rid of one-third of your furniture and junk, says Irwin. Whether
you need a little breathing room or you're getting ready to sell and move, this
will give you more free space. And it makes it that much easier for potential
buyers to picture their own furnishings in the home, says Irwin.
7. Give the yard a good clip. Trim back the trees and shrubs
that block the street view of the house and especially the windows. A well-groomed
yard that lets light into the home "looks a lot less sinister," says
8. Create areas of interest in your yard. Start with one
small section and create a focal point. "Small spaces can become terrific
spaces and look much grander than they are," says Kolls, who advises picturing
the yard as a series of "little rooms." Just do a piece at a time.
Install a birdbath, bird feeder, arbor or bench with copious amounts of flowers
and plants around it to create a mini-sanctuary. "You've got this great
look for an inexpensive price," she says.
9. Trick the eye. To make an area of the yard look larger,
use curving pathways and sidewalks instead of straight ones. Curves fool the
eye and "make an area look bigger," says Kolls.
10. Use everyday objects in new ways. Sometimes the secret
to less-expensive decorating is to look at things differently. Love had been
searching for a set of long, silver-colored pull-handles for a large cabinet,
but everything she found was at least four figures. Then she spotted exactly
what she wanted in a package labeled "towel bars." Cost: $69.
Looking for a cart to serve as a bar in a study or dining area?
Check out an office supply retailer or the office furniture area of your favorite
home store, says Love. Chances are the wheeled cart being sold for a fax machine
or computer would also make a stylish little mini bar.
Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based
-- Updated: April 15, 2005