There’s a reason Chip and Joanna Gaines make a big deal out of the curb appeal reveal on HGTV’s Fixer Upper: the front of a house is the first hint of its personality.
If curb appeal didn’t matter we would be faced with rows and rows of identical gray bunker-like houses. Instead, victorians, craftsmans, eichlers and mid century moderns, among others, developed throughout art history. The way a house looks is art in its own right.
You wouldn’t deface a Monet painting, or a Calder sculpture, so why would you let the outside of your house fall into disrepair?
It’s difficult to keep the siding free of grime, the exposed brick from cracking, the lawn pristine. Maintaining great curb appeal takes time (and money). That’s why we created this guide to curb appeal for you.
We made each improvement easy to follow, made sure they won’t take boatloads of your time, and we focus on projects that get you the most return on your investment when you sell your home. This exhaustive curb appeal guide walks through each area of the exterior and dives into:
- How to identify problem areas
- What potential buyers are really looking for
- How you can make adjustments and fixes that buyers will appreciate
Ready to bump up your home’s curb appeal? Let’s get started. Read this curb appeal guide from top to bottom or jump to a specific area of your home to work on:
- Common Problem Areas
- The Entrance
- Siding and Roof
- Driveways and the Garage
- Photography Tips
- Quick and Simple Fixes with Big Returns
Curb Appeal Isn’t All Roses and Daisies
If you’re thinking that high-cost upgrades will make your house look amazing and you’ll get back all the money you spent when you sell to a high paying buyer, think again.
According to the 2017 Cost vs Value Remodeling Report, a garage door replacement only gets you 76.9% back on your investment, and new siding only gets you 76.4% back. Even if you’re worried you won’t get a buyer, you shouldn’t burn a ton of cash just to close the sale.
We looked to one of the best real estate agents in the nation, top 1% Washington real estate agent Jenah Mahan, for advice:
“It’s good to prioritize because sellers want to minimize their investment to get the home sold…so I always tell them to focus on the items that would make a buyer walk away. A buyer isn’t going to walk away from your house because you don’t have a cute bench with pretty pillows on the front porch…so focus on the things that would kill a deal.”
Jenah says that anything the home appraiser is going to call out is what’s going to kill a deal. This includes maintenance like standing water around the house, roof issues, peeling paint, or anything that could hint at foundation instability.
Keep this in mind before you get too far into making the house beautiful. As Jenah says,
“It doesn’t really matter how much bark you put in the yard and how many flowers you put in…because if it has flaking paint or loose shingles or a gutter falling off or anything like that, then that is going to trump anything that you make pretty.”
At every stage of this whole curb appeal face-lift, remember that your money should first go into exterior fixes to repair what’s broken or remove anything that could signal hidden damage. Only after you make those repairs, should you invest in minimal fixes that will make your house look clean, put together, and that give it a little bit of pop.
Make a Grand Entrance
Curb appeal is like the opening chords to a song you’ve never heard before. If the piano or the guitar catches your attention and you like the melody, you’ll listen on. If the first note jars you, you’ll change the station and, potentially, never want to hear that song again.
According to the National Association of Realtors 2016 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report (NARGS), the average homebuyer visits ten houses before they make an offer on one. The first experience they have when they visit your house? They walk up the path to your front door. Your front door (and front walk) is the metaphorical first note in your song. Get it right, and buyers are going to want to come back for a second listen.
Curb Appeal Tips for Pathways & Steps
Pathways and steps are important features in your home’s aesthetic and safety.
The biggest problem areas to watch out for here are: cracked or uneven pavement and missing brick pavers, broken steps, steep stairs, and missing or broken handrails.
Broken pavement and stairs are a top signifier of disrepair. Even if the inside of your house is well taken care of, cracked concrete and an unsafe entryway could signal negative feelings or safety concerns.
You’ll want to get this fixed ASAP. According to HomeAdvisor.com, nationally, the cost most homeowners spent on these repairs ranged from $644-$1,957. The lowest homeowners spent was $300 on pathway repairs. Check sites like Yelp for reputable handymen and repair services.
Curb Appeal Tips for The Front Door
The color of a home’s front door holds a symbolic significance for a variety of different cultures across history. The Taos blue doors in the American Southwest are believed to keep evil spirits away; the doors of traitors and criminals were painted yellow in Loth Century France. The President of Pitzer College painted her door pumpkin orange to match the school’s white and orange color scheme.
Whatever your belief (in color psychology or not), the front door should invite a buyer in.
Check in with your neighborhood homeowner’s association to see if you have any restrictions in terms of color. If you don’t, make sure to also check in with your real estate agent. Though painting your front door is not a necessity, a fresh coat can make the exterior look bright and clean. According to Home Advisor, the cost to paint a front door ranges from $100-$300, so it’s usually a worthwhile expense.
Curb Appeal Tips for The Front Porch
Make sure your front porch (if you have one) looks stable, sturdy, and clean. As Jenah told us, “I always tell people–if I see a sagging front porch or something that doesn’t look correct on the front porch it’s immediately going to make me think that there might be a foundation issue even if there’s not…Fix it so that people don’t look into something that maybe isn’t there.”
According to Pro Referral, the average cost to fix a front porch costs from $220-$980. A website like Yelp or Angie’s List can help you find a reputable contractor who can give you an estimate for the repairs. This fix is high on the list–don’t let buyers negotiate a lower price or walk away because of a sagging front porch that isn’t connected to any larger issues.
Curb Appeal Tips for Exterior Lighting
41% of buyers see lighting as an important part of outdoor living space, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Good lighting welcomes guests. Would you want open house visitors to run from orange flickering lanterns out front that make your home look like the haunted mansion?
Lighting also plays a huge role in the safety of a home. It illuminates the landscaping and pathways at night and helps to prevent theft.
Switch out old light bulbs, clear away any cobwebs, and change out any dysfunctional lights. The cost to install an exterior light fixture ranges from $150-$250, according to HomeWyse.
Avoid Big Exterior Changes if You Can
Curb Appeal Tips for Siding and Exterior Paint
According to the Houzz & Home Renovation Overview, 7% of Houzz members who were selling their house in 2016 replaced their siding. That number is so low because the cost to replace siding on a house is massive and, as you’ll remember, you won’t get back the money you spend.
Don’t ignore your siding completely, though.
It costs about $150 to buy an electric power washer. You should pressure wash the entire exterior of your house in order to get it clean.
27% of Houzz members looking to sell their homes in 2016 upgraded the exterior paint, but again, think about the cost vs value of that change. It takes way more time and money to paint a house. Let the buyers take on the responsibility of painting their new place in the color of their choice.
Jenah Mahan also offered up another cost-effective solution. She told us, “Sometimes if you don’t have the money to paint the whole exterior, at least the trim around the windows can really freshen the whole house up.”
Curb Appeal Tips for Your House Numbers
Numbers should be visible and clean. If you have dirty, damaged, or missing property numbers, your home can appear dated or in ill repair. Plus, open house visitors may have trouble finding the place if the numbers are missing.
If you have a specific frame for numbers on the front of your house, opt for numbers that contrast with the frame. I.e. if you have a black frame, you’ll want white numbers, and vice versa. If your house number is “freeform,” you should go for a sturdy timeless font.
Curb Appeal Tips for the Roof
According to RoofingCalc.com, the average cost to replace a roof is $6,725-$9,000. Yes, a damaged roof could show up in the home inspection, so you still need to make small-scale fixes.
Roofing Calc estimates a $450 price tag per each square of roof tile you get replaced. So, contact a roofing company with a positive track record of success and get them to give you an estimate to replace only broken or missing roof tiles. You’ll save thousands of dollars and your roof should look (and function) like new.
Clean Up the Driveway and Garage Door
Curb Appeal Tips for Driveways
Your driveway should be free of weeds and grease stains. There are a few ways you can clean a driveway yourself. The most cost-efficient way to clean a driveway is to use the pressure washer you bought for the front of the house and grab the baking soda from your pantry. Let the baking soda sit on any stains for an hour and then scrub with a baking soda-water solution. Then, pressure wash the area. There are several other household products you can use, too such as cola, cat litter, cornstarch, or powdered dishwasher detergent.
Curb Appeal Tips for the Garage
The garage, like the rest of the exterior should be clean, functional and free of peeling paint. If your garage door is broken or falling off the hinges, you need to get it repaired. According to On Track Garage Service, the national average to fix a garage door is about $200.
Curb Appeal Tips for Your Mailboxes
If you have a freestanding mailbox out front, make sure it is clean from rust and grime. A cleaning product like Barkeeper’s Friend will remove any rust and cleans and polishes the mailbox at the same time. Even if your mailbox is a metal slot on your front door or garage, be sure to give it a thorough wipe down with the Barkeeper’s Friend and a sponge.
Quick Curb Appeal Landscaping Tips
First up for curb appeal landscaping: clear out any lawn clutter (furniture, old lawn mowers, lawn ornaments). Then, trim all bushes.
As Jenah warns, “Another thing the appraiser will call out–plus it darkens your home and makes it look more run down–is to always make sure that bushes are trimmed below the windowsill so that the light can come in and make things look bright.”
The next step in curb appeal landscaping? Mow the lawn. Top 1% Michigan real estate agent James Silver bills a fresh, mowed lawn as one of the best, low cost changes you can make to your house before selling.
If the weather permits it, put in some flowers along the base of the home’s exterior. Too cold? Grab a potted tree or pot some flowers to flank either side of your front door.
You Need Great Photos of Your Curb Appeal
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 51.5% of buyers under 50 found the home that they purchased online. According to the 2016 NAR Profile of Buyers and Sellers, 89% of buyers found photos of the houses they were looking at online useful. With a home-buying industry that largely starts online now, you need stellar photos of your house’s curb appeal to get the most buyers knocking at your (now repainted) front door.
Jenah gave us the inside tips to make your house the most attractive to buyers. She shared, “Really play with lighting…if you can work with a professional photographer and have your home photographed at dusk..it can make a house that’s not so pretty look a little bit better.”
You also need to make sure that the photos don’t date your house should it sit on the market for a few months because then potential buyers start wondering why the house isn’t selling. There’s nothing worse than buyers seeing your house as a stale listing. To avoid sending that message to buyers, Jenah advises:
“In the Winter…never take a picture of your house if there’s snow on the ground. I know that’s difficult for some states but it dates the picture. So then, in two weeks if there’s no snow anymore, now it looks like, ‘Well I know that house has been sitting for a couple weeks because it hasn’t snowed here for a month.’”
Work with your real estate agent to hire a professional to take the photos. Your agent most likely has someone they have had success with in the past.
Curb Appeal: Minor Fixes, Big Improvement
The best approach you can take to improve curb appeal when you’re selling your home is to take care of all problem areas that an appraiser would require you to fix. After you complete (or hire someone to complete) this maintenance, you can start on small cosmetic changes that have a big impact.
Here’s a list of the cosmetic changes you should make, in short:
- Power wash the front of the house
- Repaint trim around all windows
- Power-wash or get the front door repainted
- Clean the mailbox and driveway
- Replace the house numbers
- Remove lawn clutter, trim all bushes, and mow the lawn
- Plant flowers at the base of the house or buy a potted plant for either side of the door
- Photograph the house at dusk for optimal lighting