14 ways to make the most of your curb appeal

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Curb appeal is the equivalent of charisma in a home.

It’s that quality that makes you say “wow” when you first see it. You feel good when you pull into the driveway. You want to walk in the front door. Whether the home is yours or one you’re considering, curb appeal can make a big difference in how you feel about the property.

If your home has that star quality, you won’t have any trouble getting more for it than similar homes in the neighborhood. It also means you won’t have any trouble getting potential buyers into the home.

It works the other way, too. “A lot of people won’t go into a house if it looks bad from the outside,” says Tom Silva, general contractor on the PBS series “This Old House” and “Ask This Old House.” “Curb appeal is the beginning of getting people to look at the inside.”

If your home doesn’t shine, there are plenty of things you can do to unleash its charm.

Here are 14 ways to amp up the appeal of your home:
1. Manicure the yard.
2. Clean the windows, doors and front entryway.
3. Scope out the front door.
4. Don’t skimp on flowers.
5. Pressure clean.
6. Talk to your friends.
7. Head for the trees.
8. Paint your house.
9. Call an arborist.
10. Reseal the driveway.
11. Examine the shutters.
12. Look for elements that draw too much attention.
13. Hire a professional designer.
14. Make a plan.

1. Manicure the yard. Some of the prime elements: Nurture and mow the lawn so it’s trimmed and healthy. Make sure plant beds “are edged with nice, crisp edges, and mulched,” says Roger Cook, landscape contractor for “This Old House” and “Ask This Old House.” “It makes everything stand out. It gives the feeling that if the outside is being taken care of, maybe the inside is, too.”

2. Clean the windows, doors and front entryway. Get rid of those spider webs on the light fixtures, shine any metal work and change all the bulbs. Visitors will notice whether the front of the home looks clean, even if it’s on an unconscious level. And if everything is shined and bright, it’s not only inviting but it signals that the rest of the home is well maintained.

3. Scope out the front door. It’s one of the first things people will notice in a home, so make it count. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank because there are good options at every price level. You can paint it for the cost of your time and a little paint or have it professionally replaced for $1,000 or more.

4. Don’t skimp on flowers. “It’s always nice to have flowers in front of the house,” says Cook, whether it’s hanging baskets, beds of annuals or both. “And, for some reason, people like red flowers better than anything else,” he says.

5. Pressure clean. It can give a new appearance to walkways, driveways and (depending on the construction of your home) sometimes the house itself, says Cook. You can even rent the machinery and do it yourself.

6. Talk to your friends. “Get a fresh eye,” says Silva. “You don’t see something starting to look old or run-down because you see it so gradually.” Bring in a couple of people you trust and ask their opinions.

7. Head for the trees. “Trees, planted in the proper spaces,” can enhance the appeal and value of a home, says Cook. Consult a professional to help you select the variety, size and location. And if you want to plant larger trees, have them professionally installed.

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8. Paint your house. If you want to really amp up that curb appeal, “painting your house makes a difference,” says Silva. Use colors that are appropriate for the style of your house. For instance, in historical buildings, that often means soft colors and warm colors, he says. “You want to have a color that’s warm and inviting,” he says. “It’s one of the easiest ways to get curb appeal.”

9. Call an arborist. Get the low-hanging branches — especially those hanging over the house — removed, says Cook. And that’s an area where you do want to use a pro. If you’re ever hiring anyone to work on your home, Cook says, get several free estimates. Don’t automatically choose the cheapest one. Instead, select the one in whom you have the most confidence. And verify that your choice has liability and workman’s comp insurance. (Ask to see the certificate.)

10. Reseal the driveway. Do it yourself in a weekend or hire a pro, says Cook. For a pro, the best thing you can get is a recommendation from someone who’s had the work done fairly recently, he says. If you do it yourself, wash down the driveway one day and let it dry. Then seal it the next day. If it has cracks that you need to seal, allow an extra day for the job.

11. Examine the shutters. Many times they’re the wrong size and most people hang them upside down or put them too far away from the windows, Silva says. What that does is throw off the proportion of the house.

12. Look for elements that draw too much attention from the rest of the house. One example is the garage door. “A garage door should blend in. It shouldn’t stand out and be the whole focus of the garage,” says Silva. “You don’t want it to dominate.”

13. Hire a professional designer. If the front of your home needs a little cosmetic work, that’s a good time to call in a designer, says Silva. You might want to change the porch or add a new type of railing, or select a different style or number of columns. A designer is also a good option if you sense there’s something out of whack with the way the front of the home looks, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Prices vary. A designer can give you options, a plan and a budget.

14. Make a plan. If your landscaping lacks luster, sometimes it’s a matter of moving things around, says Cook. One good move: If you’re going to stay in the house, consult a professional to give you a long-range landscaping master plan, says Cook. “You can pick little things and keep working and after four to five years, you’re done,” he says.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer in Atlanta.

Written by
Dana Dratch
Personal Finance Writer
Dana Dratch is a personal finance and lifestyle writer who enjoys talking all things money and credit. With a degree in English and writing, she likes asking the questions everyone would ask if they could and sharing the answers — along with smart money management tips from the experts.