Put Your Home's Best Face Forward, for Less
Curb appeal isn't just about impressing the neighbors or snagging a buyer. It's also about the feeling of calm and satisfaction you get every time you come home. With a bit of effort and little to no cost, you can enhance the exterior of your home, boosting its value and making it more welcoming for visitors, potential buyers, and—most important—for you.
Declutter the Yard
Rule number one for curb appeal: Keep the driveway, walkways, and lawn free of clutter. This includes (but is not limited to) kids’ toys, yard tools, forgotten newspapers, excessive garden ornaments, and sloppy, uncoiled hoses. Simplify, simplify, simplify so your home’s architecture and landscaping can really shine.
Wash the Windows
Windows are the eyes of the home, and when they’re dirty and streaked, the whole house looks tired and sad. Make your house look bright and cheerful instead by giving the windows a thorough cleaning. While this isn't the most glamorous chore, it's certainly budget-friendly. It just takes time and elbow grease. You don't even need any fancy cleansers—just mix one part water and one part white vinegar in a large bucket, and then get to work with a large, soft sponge. Wipe dry with a dry cloth or squeegee. Fighting grime? Add a dash of liquid soap. For windows on the second floor and above, if you don't have tilt-in windows, you'll need to haul out the ladder. Just be sure you have a work buddy to hold it steady and hand you supplies as needed. A long-handled brush can also be helpful to clean hard-to-reach corners.
Repaint Trim and Fascia
If the exterior of your house is looking drab but you lack the time or money for a complete paint job, focus on strategic touch-ups. Even a small project like painting window and door trim can increase a home's value by 2 to 5 percent—and if you have leftover trim paint sitting in the garage, the project's essentially free. While you're at it, don't forget to paint the fascia, the horizontal board that runs along the roof edge. Before you start painting, be sure to clean the trim, ridding it of cobwebs, dirt, and debris. Sand any cracked paint or damaged wood. Use a 2- to 2½-inch brush (nylon-polyester bristles are best for most exterior latex-based paints), and choose a day with moderate temps and low humidity for best results.
Camouflage Utility Meters
While you're sprucing up your trim, use leftover exterior paint to hide unsightly electrical boxes and gas meters. These utility boxes are typically metal, so you’ll need to apply a thin coat of rust-preventing primer first. Once they've been painted the same color as your house, they'll fade from view, making the exterior look cleaner and more cohesive. Just be sure not to paint over the glass covers of the meters!
Clean Up the Landscaping
A tidy yard is a hallmark of a well-maintained house, and it can boost a home's value 3 to 5 percent, according to Consumer Reports. Though you could pay a landscaper upward of $1,000 per year to keep your yard in shape, this is one of those tasks that you can certainly do yourself. If you go that route, expect to mow weekly during the growing season, and plan on pruning shrubs, trees, and vines as needed to keep them under control and to promote the health and appearance of the plants. Above all, ensure that the path to your front door stays clear, and keep foliage from covering the mailbox or house numbers.
Love Your Blooms
A little TLC will keep your flowers blooming and first impressions bright. Make sure you water and weed your flower beds, and remember to deadhead—remove withered blooms—to encourage new buds. To do this, pinch or cut the spent bloom just below the dead flower and above the first set of leaves. You can also encourage flowering by adding compost (such as grass clippings, raked leaves, and other organic material) to the soil to boost nutrients.
Mulch Your Beds
Tired of pulling weeds? Heavy mulching can help control the spread of those annoying invaders. To get mulch on the cheap, try contacting local tree services, which may be willing to deliver their extra wood chips for free. Remember to compost before mulching.
Find Free Plants
Keep your landscaping colorful and lush without having to spend more money on plants by dividing and replanting your favorite flowers. Many perennials, including yarrow, artemisia, asters, daylilies, and hosta, are easy to divide and replant. Early spring and fall are the best times of year to divide perennials.
Perfect Your Edges
The human eye likes a clean line, so edge your garden beds like a pro. Create a perfect line (using a garden hose as a guide), then cut your line with a spade. Alternatively, use an electric edger. Remove any extra turf with your spade, then mulch. If maintenance-free results are what you’re after, consider adding brick edging around the beds. While it's more labor-intensive to install, brick edging is beautiful, and it will help keep the mulch in place.
Barter and Borrow
There are plenty of inexpensive ways to get hold of the tools and know-how you need to spiff up your property. First of all, get acquainted with your neighbors. They're excellent sources of advice, and they may be willing to lend you their expertise—or the occasional tool. (If you do borrow from your neighbors, be sure to return the favor.) Also, check out local garage sales for useful tools to add to your arsenal, and consider sponsoring a neighborhood garage sale. It's a great way to foster community spirit.
Shine 'Em Up
Elbow grease is always free, and what better way to put it to work than in getting all your exterior metal accents clean and sparkling. Pay special attention to exterior light fixtures, door hardware, and the mailbox. Use a gentle abrasive like Bar Keepers Friend and a damp rag or toothbrush to remove dirt and rust as well as the patina that can form on bronze and copper after exposure to the elements.
Curb Appeal for Cheap
Better your front yard within your budget.
Whether you're a lawn care novice or a master gardener, everyone can use a little help around the yard. Subscribe to The Dirt newsletter for tips, recommendations, and problem-solving tools that can help you tame your great outdoors.