First impressions do matter, especially in real estate: It’s called curb appeal. Buyers might be less likely to check out the rest of a house if the outside is rundown or unattractive, or the porch decor is lacking. Even if the interiors are stunning, a house that lacks curb appeal will feel unwelcoming to guests and potential buyers alike.
You know curb appeal when you see it, and you definitely notice when it’s lacking. Yet sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes a particular house on the block so much more welcoming than the next. “You don’t need a big budget to create outstanding curb appeal,” says Deb Cohen, who runs the popular Instagram account @thefrontdoorproject.
What you do need: color and contrast, balance, and good old-fashioned TLC. “Contrast dictates what our eye sees first, like a pot of yellow flowers against red brick,” explains Paula Monthofer, a real estate agent in Flagstaff, Arizona. Balance—a thoughtfully composed garden bed, symmetrical window boxes—affects our first impressions more subtly. “Balance and symmetry convey stability,” Monthofer says.
Beyond what guests and neighbors have to say about the plants for the front of the house you’ve chosen, if you’re looking to sell your house, a few quick, inexpensive changes to your home’s exterior could help make the process easier for you, from being able to sell faster to adding more value to the asking price.
“Whether you’re getting ready to sell, or you’re just looking to add a little extra pizazz to your home’s exterior, boosting your curb appeal can be quicker and easier than you might expect, you just have to pick the right projects,” says Kerrie Kelly of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab. “Many of these quick-fix projects can be done in an afternoon, and without professional help. But be careful—anything that requires electrical work, fencing, or major landscaping are best left to the experts.”
Take a look at top curb appeal ideas, including tips from pros and research from real estate site Zillow. You’ll be ready to put your best house forward with these expert tricks.
First on your to-do list should be the front door—use it (with the right front door colors) to greet any potential buyers. “Let your front door speak to your home’s style with a new coat of paint,” says Kelly. “A beautiful front door color can completely refresh your home.” You can go with a tried-and-true classic like black or charcoal, or pick a bold hue like bright red or yellow.
It’s all about the details, so if your mailbox looks like it’s going to topple over or is rusty, it might be time to bring a new one in.
“Replace your street numbers,” says Christina Salway of 11211 Interior Design. “Don’t underestimate the impact of little details like swapping out junky old street numbers for something fresh and modern. It can be transformative and only takes about $15 and 15 minutes!” The same can be said for door hardware (doorknobs and door knockers).
Give Garage Doors a Lift
In many neighborhoods, garage doors dominate what you see from the street, but they often lack the detail or depth of the rest of the home. One fix that requires zero commitment (and almost as little effort): temporary or magnetic decorative hardware—like handles, hasps, and faux window panels. These accessories add interest and remain secure, says DIY expert Jenna Shaughnessy, creator of the blog Jenna Kate at Home. (Try these magnetic hinges and handles.)
Garage doors are also paintable, and shifting away from basic white (or worse, dingy whitish) can have a huge impact. Paint the garage to match your siding so it blends in (it can help that sometimes-eyesore disappear), or opt for the same contrasting shade as your front door. This can be a weekend project if you use a fast-drying exterior semigloss paint, like Sherwin-Williams SnapDry Door & Trim Paint. Some door finishes may require a coat of primer first; ask at the store if you’re not sure. Save this project for mild, dry weather—not humid or rainy—so the paint can dry properly.
Plants can breathe some life into a space and make it seem lived-in and well cared for. “Varying heights of annuals or perennials grouped together at either side of the walkway can make a huge statement for your curb appeal,” says Thee.
A marathon cleaning session can also do wonders for your curb appeal. “Power wash or hose down your exterior, driveway, and sidewalk,” says Leslie Ebersole, a real estate agent for Baird & Warner in Illinois's Fox Valley region.
Refresh Your Outdoor Furniture
Any outdoor furniture that’s old and in need of repair should be tossed out or updated. “Try a quick coat of spray paint on front porch benches or outdoor seating to freshen it up,” Thee says.
Illuminate the Front Path
Don’t rely on a single post lamp or garage-mounted floodlight. “A clear path to your front door adds warmth and provides security,” says Gena Kirk, vice president of design for the development company KB Home. Rather than flanking the path runway-style, tuck solar-powered spotlights into garden beds and aim them along the walkway.
This can instantly improve the look of your home, both day and night. “Exterior lights are worth a little extra investment, since they get quite a bit of abuse from the elements,” Cohen notes. “Inexpensive fixtures and hardware may show wear more quickly and need to be replaced much sooner.” Choose brass or copper fixtures, which are typically more resistant to corrosion than aluminum ones; Hubbardton Forge and Rejuvenation offer sturdy picks trusted by architects and designers.
Uplight Parts of the Yard or House
Think a specimen tree, the front porch, or a neat row of shrubs. Angle a spotlight or “bullet” light toward the canopy of a tree to add depth to your lighting scheme.
“This is the opposite of uplighting,” says Blythe Yost, cofounder and head designer at Tilly, an online landscape-design company. “Place fixtures in trees so they shine down on the pathway and lawn for a soft, natural glow.”
Mulch doesn’t just give beds color and contrast—it also helps prevent the spread of weeds and keeps the soil moist. Avoid dyed mulches, which can contain contaminants, and go for simple materials native to your region, like tree bark or wood chips in the Northeast or crushed shells in Florida. “Layer about two inches of fresh mulch onto your beds each spring; it’ll break down throughout the year and provide vital organic fertilizer for your plants,” Yost says.
As for pruning, if your shrubs look “leggy,” or show more branches than greenery, they likely need some extra snipping. “You want to bring light and air to the plant so it grows on the inside as well as the outside,” Yost says. “This will make it denser and fuller.” It’s best to prune manually, using very sharp tools; motorized pruners simply skim the surface, which can lead to blocked light and poor air circulation.
Granted, not every shrub in your yard has to be pruned. Popular hedge plants, like boxwood, holly, taxus, privet, and cherry laurel, do become lush and neat with regular pruning, but other favorites—like junipers, spruces, and cedars—generally don’t respond well to it. Talk to an expert at your nursery or do a quick internet search to find out how much maintenance your plants require.
Balance the Garden Beds
The prettiest gardens are full of layers. Ideally, find a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants of different heights and textures. Put the tallest in back and the lowest in front. “Consider plants with a vibrant impact, long-lasting blooms, or interesting foliage,” says Missy Henriksen of the National Association of Landscape Professionals.