101 Worthwhile Home Improvement Ideas (Part 3: Exterior & Landscaping)

Exterior home improvement tips

This is the final installment of our three-part home improvement series and it looks at profitable upgrades to your home’s exterior and landscaping.  There’s two reasons why exterior and landscape improvements are important.  First, your home’s exterior appearance unavoidably sets a prospective buyer’s assumptions regarding general level of maintenance your house receives.  When they view your property, they can’t inspect everything so they make an assumption about your home’s overall condition based on appearance.  You can shape these assumptions, and improve your likelihood of receiving a competitive offer, by creating a positive first impression from the moment prospects pull in the driveway.

Second, certain exterior and landscaping improvements also produce consistently positive returns on investment.   In this article we will steer you towards projects that are proven winners rather than those that are more speculative.  Examples of speculative projects are swimming pools, spas and water features.  That’s not to say they’re not enjoyable amenities, we’re only saying that they are more financially speculative and their value might not be recognized in the market.  As previously discussed, planning and cost control are key to profitable home improvement projects.  Labor is always the biggest line item of any project, but, if you’re planning to do-it-yourself, only undertake projects that you are certain you can finish.  It’s better not to do something than to leave it unfinished.

Here are our suggestions to create a crisp, clean and polished appearance that prospective home buyers like to see:

EXTERIOR IMPROVEMENT IDEAS

Dress the main entry door up with a brass kick-plate and brass door knocker.  A brass kick-plate looks great and helps protect the paint at the bottom of the door; a brass door knocker adds elegance.  You might also want to consider an ornate brass mail slot – much more attractive than ordinary mail slots and mailboxes.

Get a new front door or refinish the existing door.  The front door is important  because it is the first thing people see up close.  An attractive door is more inviting.  If the door is old or in poor condition, get a new one.  If it’s in relatively good shape, paint it to either match your trim or a complimentary color.  For example, if your home is light gray with white trim, consider painting your front door burgundy or blue-green.  Other good colors for doors besides standard white or wood grains are red and dark green.

Enhance your porch or doorstep with pots or baskets of blooming annuals.  An inviting and fragrant way to boost visual appeal and add eye-catching color.

Accessorize the front of your home.  Limited use of simple items found at a garage or rummage sale can turn drab to charming and add character to your home. For instance, a cast-iron dinner bell or whimsical weather vane.  Don’t overdo it.

Install matching shutter and window box sets.  Use a window shutter design in a contrasting color that compliments that of your house.  Shutters and window boxes add charm and character to a home.

Un-clutter the area surrounding the house.  Use garden hose holders to coil water hoses neatly off the yard and trash cans in bright colors for storage of toys and sports equipment in the garage or on the patio.

Clean windows.  As simple as it sounds, keeping windows clean and sparkling is something many homeowners overlook when preparing to sell their home.  Dirty windows make a house look uncared for, both inside and out, reducing the chances of a positive reaction from prospective buyers.

Replace or repair windows.  Not only important for home curb appeal, but insulated window choices make your home more energy efficient.  An important selling point and one of your best investment return options.  Window style and appearance can significantly enhance  the house exterior yielding an increase in your home’s market value.

Clean the roof of debris.  Use a stiff janitor’s broom to remove leaves, sticks, and other debris.  Afterwards, use a garden hose to spray-clean the eves and downspouts. Never use a pressure wash to clean the roof unless you have wood shingles or clay, slate, or concrete (and even then, only with caution).

Roof shingles.  Repair any roof leaks.  If shingles are old and unsightly, replace them. Whatever type roofing you select, make sure style choice and color compliments the house and landscape design.

Pressure wash the exterior of the home.  Get rid of dust, debris, and cobwebs.  You’d be surprised how much brighter and newer the siding will look.  Use a low-pressure nozzle to avoid washing paint off wood.  If you have vinyl siding, use a brush or sponge instead.

Siding.  The biggest curb appeal impact factor is the house exterior.  If siding is old, faded, chipped or damaged, replace or repair it.  Although it’s a big project, new siding usually has a high return on investment because it can so dramatically upgrade a home’s appearance if done well.  Research, planning and cost control are the keys to a successful outcome.

Paint the house exterior.  A high-impact, cost-effective way to improve overall house appearance is to paint it’s exterior.  House painting also has a very high return on investment, usually in the range of 100% to 200% depending on a variety of factors.  If you can’t afford to paint the whole house then just paint the trim, gutters and downspouts.  Select a tasteful color combination to achieve the best results in terms of market value. Get color combination ideas from home decorating magazines and websites, new house construction, and exterior remodeling projects around your neighborhood.

Build a patio deck.  Another high-return improvement with an average recoup over 100% for a moderate 16 X 20 foot deck using pressure-treated pine, concrete footings, and composite deck material.  Add a built-in bench, planter, and railings to the design for optimum appeal.

Get rid of old, faded, or broken patio furniture.  Repair (if possible) or replace.

Give your old BBQ grill a makeover.  Degrease it first then rinse well.  Repeat if necessary.  Once totally clean and dry, refinish it using a bright fireproof/high-temperature paint.  Select a color that matches house trim or shutters.  You could try something fun that will really stand out such as yellow or orange.  Or just throw it out and buy a new one.

Add a fireplace to your deck or patio.  An increasingly popular feature for outdoor entertaining.  Make sure it’s permitted under local zoning laws.

Add gravel to a dirt driveway.  If you’ve never seen the difference this makes, you’d be surprised how much better a gravel driveway looks.  Remember, there are different grades and colors of gravel, so give your selection some thought.  Try to imagine how each type will look on your property as you decide.

Pave a gravel driveway.  Obviously paved driveways are easier to maintain and far more attractive than gravel driveways.  In order of increasing cost, your options are asphalt, concrete and brick pavers.  Look around your neighborhood and see what’s the norm.  Then go one better if you can.  If the norm is asphalt, put in concrete or brick.  Everyone will notice the difference when they pull in your driveway.

Driveway resurfacing and repair.  If your driveway is already paved but is cracked or in bad condition, repair it and/or use a driveway sealer.

Change the contour of your driveway.  An easy way to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your home, particularly if your driveway is currently gravel.  Consider adding an inviting curve and additional parking for guests (including prospective buyers). 

Remove weeds from between concrete slabs and walkways.  A sure sign of property neglect and a cause of concern for potential buyers.  A 20% bleach solution works well.

Install an automatic garage door opener.  Select a model with a multi-code garage door opener remote that routinely changes the code for additional security.

Build a new garage (and make it a large one).  Every homeowner knows the advantages of a large garage.  The space never goes unused.  Since you’re literally increasing the square footage of your home, you can be sure you’re also increasing its market value, though not by as much as if it were living space.  If possible, make it an attached garage.

Remodel an old garage.  If you already have a garage, consider remodeling its interior.  Repair and paint the walls.  Seal and paint the floors.  Add storage space or a workshop complete with workbench, power outlets, and shelving.  Very few people remodel their garages but it has a big impact on prospective buyers and gives you a competitive edge against other available homes in your area.

LANDSCAPING IDEAS

Cut back or remove and any foliage that hides the house.  This includes trees, hedges and anything else that blocks the view of the front entrance from the road.  Overgrowth hints of neglect and detracts from the aesthetic appeal of the home.  It also creates a security problem by providing cover for intruders.

Weed your gardens  and turn over soil with fresh mulch.  Makes gardens look fresh and well-tended.

Keep lawn well mowed.  A height of 2-inches produces a well-manicured, uniform appearance.  If summers are particularly hot, up to 3-inches is acceptable.  The added height will help roots grow deeper into the soil where moisture is more available.

Edge your lawn.  The positive curb appeal of a green, lush, well-groomed lawn that is properly edged cannot be over emphasized.  If you don’t have time for the required upkeep, use a landscaping service.

Clear debris from yard.  That includes litter, toys, leaves and sticks.

Spread grass seed.  If grass is sparse or unhealthy, spread lawn seed.  High traffic areas may need special attention.

Lay turf.  This includes both replacing the entire lawn with turf grass or just spot treatment for persistent bald spots.

Get rid of unsightly weeds.  Pull them out (make sure you get the whole root) or use a weed-remover product.

Use liquid grass fertilizer for the greenest lawn possible.  Using a dispenser that fits onto the hose will help ensure even distribution.  Keep the lawn well watered.

Install a lawn sprinkler system.  Helps keep the lawn looking great while reducing time spent on landscape maintenance.  An automatic sprinkler system is a powerful selling point for people who don’t like yard work.  If you have extensive garden areas, consider installing a garden sprinkler system.

Keep trees and shrubs neatly pruned.  Important for curb appeal.  Cut back overgrown trees and overhanging plants.  Tame your yard so that it doesn’t look difficult to maintain.

Remove any badly damaged, dead or dying plants and trees.  Grass over holes or plant healthy, new replacements.

Add color.  Simply put, color helps accentuate beautiful landscape and makes your home look more inviting.  Plant colorful annuals along the walkway and near the front entrance.  Plant ground cover around the base of trees or shaded areas.  Research shows that color, especially yellow and pink, evokes a buying mood.

Landscape your driveway.  Landscaping your driveway makes it more inviting and draws attention to the walkway to your front door.

Arbor gardens and potted shrubs.  These can be creative ways to hide unsightly spots and draw attention away from less attractive areas of the yard.

Create a rock garden.  This is a useful option for thin lawns that don’t quite meet the curb or driveway.  Before you start, view some examples and make a plan.  Usually you’ll want a theme that matches the style of your home.  You’ll find a lot of information online. Visit a home and garden center to find materials available in your area.

Add a trellis.  These can be interesting if you want to add height and color to a landscape plan.  Most people cover the trellis with flowering vines.

Landscape lighting.  Makes your home look more inviting at night. Landscape light – whether solar, outdoor track lighting, or designer Malibu landscape lighting – provides a hospitable ambiance that highlights the house exterior.

Security lighting.  Usually flood lights or motion-sensitive lights.  Select traditional or decorative styles such as sconces.  Security lights improve safety both by deterring intruders and by lighting up pathways to reduce the risk of accidents.  Can also make property look more appealing.

Add an outdoor water feature such as a fountain, garden pond waterfall, or even just a birdbath.  Water features attract butterflies, birds, and other wildlife which makes the yard more interesting.  Such elements also add aesthetic appeal and the sounds made by water are relaxing and therapeutic.  Not typically high-return projects, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Hire a landscape designer or landscape architect if your property needs extensive work.  They can create a landscape plan complete with detailed diagrams and plant lists.  You can save money by doing the work yourself.  Having an expert draw up the plans will ensure a professional-looking outcome.  Assuming you maintain the new landscaping, your real estate value will increase.

That’s our complete list fo 101 worthwhile home improvement ideas.  We call them “worthwhile” because they’re all projects that reliably produce high returns in market value based on your investment of time and money.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  Remember that all home improvement projects (and all construction) are labor-intensive.  Labor will likely be the single largest line item in any of these projects, even if that labor is yours.  But since you don’t have to pay yourself, the projects you can do on your own will yield the highest returns.  You can add substantial value to your property with a series of managable projects that you can do yourself or with your spouse.  Keep it to one at a time.  You don’t want to take on projects that you can’t finish, especially if you’re planning on selling your home.

If you missed the two earlier articles in this series, go see Part 1, Your Home’s Interior and Part 2Kitchens & Baths.