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Curb appeal secrets

By Lisa Martin

Like attraction and infatuation, curb appeal may seem like a grand mystery, the sort of secret element in which certain houses are welcoming while others lack the necessary spark. Why do some homes exude an upbeat aura while others look blah or even downright off-putting? Creating and cultivating curb appeal isn’t as intimidating as it might sound. Nor do you need to loot your savings to achieve a look you’ll love. The following are a few simple strategies to boost your home’s exterior appearance on a budget.

The don’ts

According to Melissa Tracey, editor of the popular real estate blog Styled, Staged & Sold, “the exterior of the home offers buyers their first impression of the property, so if the exterior looks outdated or in poor condition, buyers likely will assume the same applies for the inside, too.”

Tracey warns that, “Old fences and sheds can devalue a home. Also gardens should be weeded and lawns freshly mowed.”

Other surefire curb-appeal killers include:

  • Cracked or discolored concrete walkways
  • Broken mail boxes or windows
  • Loose gutters or downspouts
  • Dirty front doors

“Updating your home with new windows or siding is a great way to instantly boost curb appeal and reduce the maintenance of your home,” says John Stephenson, vice president of marketing for Ply Gem, an exterior building products company. The National Association of Home Builders reports that both siding and windows boast a high ROI or “return on investment” if you’re looking to sell your home.

Landscaping for looks’s 2011 survey of real estate agents reported that would-be sellers typically spent $540 in landscaping, receiving back on average $1,932 on their investment when their home sold. That’s more than a 250 percent ROI!

Your front yard consists largely of organic material (the trees, shrubs, flowers, lawn, etc.) and hardscaping (the walkways, tree circles, porch, stoop, etc.). Make sure your flora looks its best by pruning, fertilizing, weeding, and by sprucing up the landscape with seasonal plantings. Refresh your mulch at least twice a year. Reseed the lawn and rake leaves as the calendar dictates.

Then tantalize the senses with a few inviting touches. “Accent the entrance with fragrant, colorful or soft plants,” says Arkansas-based gardening guru P. Allen Smith. “A few pots of lavender, bright dahlias, or fuzzy lamb’s ear will invite people to stop and smell the roses.”

Contrast your botanicals with interesting hardscaping—a flagstone path, a paved walkway, even an alluring birdbath or statue. Keep your stoop or porch clean and clutter-free. Solar accent lights lining the walk or outlining beds enhance safety as well as aesthetics.

Ding dong? It’s your door!

Perhaps the single most important element of curb appeal is your front door. At the very least, scrub the door, dust the cobwebs off the frame, and invest a few dollars in a nice new doormat.

Next, evaluate your hardware: Does the doorbell work and look pretty? Are your handles and hinges pitted or shiny?

Finally, consider giving your door new life with a fresh coat of paint. Choose a color that pops with your exterior like charcoal against brick siding or Tuscan red against off-white stucco or siding. It’s an easy and inexpensive weekend DIY project that will yield big style points.