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Curb appeal of a home Gridley + Graves

Though the term “curb appeal” entered real estate parlance during the housing boom of the 2000s, the concept has been with us since we moved out of caves. It refers to the positive impression residential property makes when seen from the street, and generally applies to a home’s façade, front yard, and driveway.

Curb appeal matters to three sets of people. Primarily, you and your family—bringing a smile and sense of pride on a daily basis. Secondly, your neighbors, who may even have a say in your home’s appearance because of homeowners association or historic district rules. Finally, curb appeal is crucial to would-be buyers you may hope to attract someday. According to a Michigan State University study, attention to curb appeal can increase perceived home value by 5 to 11 percent. Makes sense: If house hunters don’t feel enticed by what they see from the outside, they may not bother coming in.

While long-neglected houses often need major TLC, many homeowners find that smaller measures can boost curb appeal for the long run. Here’s how to ensure that your home’s good first impression really lasts.

Enhance the Exterior

While the back of your abode may be a private affair, the front is always on public display. To finesse the façade:

Tidy Up

Improved curb appeal often amounts to elbow grease. Simply sweep the porch and wash the windows to start. That ought to inspire you to rent a power washer (prices start at about $35 a day) and get the crud off the entire exterior (follow this guide to do the job done right). Afterwards, you’ll be better able to spot any damage that needs addressing.

Repair or Replace

Tackle what requires fixing—or replacing.

Examine porch flooring, posts, stairs, and railings. Moisture can wreak havoc with porch decking, but replacing rotted boards is a DIY project for anyone comfortable using a circular saw and table saw (see the how-to). Rebuilding wooden stairs is a more involved project, but doable for those with the carpentry skills and tools. Concrete, brick, or stone steps may be a job for a mason.

Check the roof for damaged shingles and replace them straightaway. Rehang a sagging door to ensure that it’s centered, but if it’s warped, get a new one.

Give it Some Fresh Paint

If it’s been 10 years since your last exterior paint job, the time has come for one of the most dramatic yet economical curb appeal improvements you can make. Aim to paint in clear weather with temperatures above freezing.

And pick colors wisely: Be as bold as you like if you’ve put down real roots, but if you intend to sell, opt for a subtle neutral.

Address the Entrance

Does your home’s main entry have an attractive, inviting appearance? If not, it’s important to address this essential element of curb appeal. Consider replacing an old, outdated door with a new model –perhaps one with divided lite glazing or sidelites.

At the very least your main entry door deserves a fresh coat of paint (as shown here):

Perhaps add an awning or arch above the door, or even bump out the entranceway.

Give Windows Some Wow-Factor

If you’re up for a larger improvement project, consider the front windows. Could they be taller, wider, grander? If that’s not in the cards now, maybe perk up the shutters.

Add a Few Flourishes

Little nuances like new window boxes, address numbers, lighting fixtures, and a mailbox are quick, inexpensive ways to refresh your frontage. Minor moves like that let you be creative without risk of offending neighborhood fussbudgets.

Liven Up the Landscape

Be it a flower-filled garden, a simple stretch of green lawn, or a whole lot of low-maintenance hardscape (structures like benches, rock pathways, fountains, walls, etc.), think of your front yard as one big welcome mat.

Mow like a Pro

Keeping grass neat is worth the work: Basic lawn care has historically been shown to increase resale value. The secret to a links-worthy lawn is keenly sharpened mower blades. Important: Don’t cut too short! Slightly longer grass staves off weeds, so only take off the top third.

Prune like a Pro

A lovely lawn next to shabby shrubs? Not on your watch! Bushes should be about a foot from the house, with no branches touching the exterior or obscuring the windows. Go here for expert snip tips:

Mulch is a Must

Mulch is material applied around plantings to help maintain soil health and keep weeds at bay, adding an attractive touch in the process. A trick for neat-as-a-pin DIY mulch beds is to “draw” the shape you want with a garden hose. Dig up the dirt and pull weeds within the outlines and then fill with your mulch of choice.

Plant a Tree

Offering shade, shape, and color, a tree can greatly enhance curb appeal. As long as it’s the right tree, that is—one that will thrive in your climate and won’t produce a blizzard of pesky berries or other debris.

Also avoid trees with widespread, invasive roots (white ash, poplar, and American elm are chief offenders) to stave off foundation damage. Plant about eight 8 to 10 feet away from your home to account for tree height and spread at maturity.

Improve the Path

A good blast of the power washer will bring a dingy brick or concrete walkway up to snuff. Once clean, look for cracks, chips, or other damage that will be walking hazards as well as eyesores; then repair promptly.

Mend Fences

It borders your property, protects kids and pets, and is the first design feature that folks see from the street, so keep your fence in fine fettle. Fence gates are particularly prone to sagging if their posts are past their prime; go here for a repair tutorial:

Make the Driveway a Winner

Everyone wants to pull up to a place that seems to sing out, “Welcome home!”

Reclaim the Concrete

If your concrete driveway is cracked, spalled (aka pitted), or otherwise weatherworn, a polymer-based concrete resurfacer can transform it to like-new condition. Tackle the task during clear, low-humidity weather, ideally between 70° and 75°F; the concrete itself should have a surface temperature of at least 50°F (go here for the full how-to:)

Replace the Surface

Tired of a plain Jane drive? Pavers made of brick, stone, or concrete come in a host of shapes, sizes, and textures. Or go with a mix of gravel and grass or other plants. If a full driveway replacement isn’t possible now, add attractive edging with bricks, plants, or low metal fencing.

Upgrade the Garage Door

A new garage door is an investment—from $250 to $2,500 for steel and $1,000 to $10,000 for wood, plus installation (this is not a DIY-friendly job). But with about 33 percent of average street-side frontage given to the garage door, it deserves its due. Go sleek and modern with aluminum and glass, country chic with carriage-house, or explore other styles to suit your home’s architectural style. Visually interesting elements including hardware, windows, and relief patterns can further dress up a garage door. (Dive deeper here:)