Free and cheap ways to build curb appeal

So many people think their home sells itself. And of course, the blood sweat and tears you’ve put into your home does help.  But there is a standard you must meet.  You have to meet the competitive standard.  And for most cases, your home is up against others that are being sold with the help of an agent.  Agents walk through a potential client’s home and tell them the things they have to do before they’ll even list the home.  You have to do the same.  Depending on the age of your home and the shape that its in relative to your competition, the level of effort will vary.  But, let me be clear.

YOU CAN DO A LOT OF THE PREP FOR FREE …or for very little expense.   Here are a couple For Sale By Owner homes that I’ve toured recently…very nice contrast!


HOUSE #1:  A couple facts.  This home is priced over $500,000.  It’s price was competitive with the other listings in this area.  It’s in an upscale community in San Diego.

Front driveway

Front yard

side yard view









HOUSE #2:  In contrast, here’s another For Sale By Owner (FSBO) home that was in a much less appealing neighborhood at a significantly less price.  This owner did it right.


Front Entry

Front yard; view from front door








Contrast is obvious right?

Let’s first talk about the FREE ways to prepare your home for sale first.

1.  Manicure the yard you have: House 2 had a very well manicure, albeit sparse, font yard.  The lawn had some rough patches but the fact that it was mowed and the edging around the walkway and sidewalk was pristinely cut, it created a very clean look.  Look at House #1!  What an opportunity to rip out the dead plants on their front hill.  The ivy and what I think was ice-plant, had grown together and grew right up and over the front wall in big mounds.  There were dead trees on the side yard which was in perfect view from the street given that it was a corner lot.  Yes, this would have taken time, but if there is no money to spend in prepping your home (which in this economy is absolutely a possibility and I feel for you), then clean it up.  In this case, they need to trim the crazy ivy to show some semblance of a front porch and then pull out all the dead trees and ice-plant/ivy mix.  My personal opinion, I would rip out all of the ice-plant mix in the front down to dirt.  I’d rather have dirt than what looks like a very unwieldy job for the potential buyer. If you can’t do it yourself, get your son to do it!

2. No Plants?  No problem.  Just clear the planters of weeds and debris:  House 2 had maybe 5 plants in the front yard…but the planters were weedless and the dirt a bit damp.  Again, clean and simple allowing the eye to go straight to the house as opposed to dwelling on poorly maintained planters.  The lack of plants and weeds also did two things for me.  It showed that there was an irrigation system in place and it allowed me, as a potential buyer, to visualize what types of plants I’d like to add.  Versus “oh gosh, I wonder what’s in there. I’m gonna have to clean all that out before I even think about doing any planting.”  I don’t think I need to talk too much about House 1 in this case, but let me add that the For Sale sign in the yard was dirty, had orange tap on it, was faded and the phone number was missing!  Talk about debris!

4.  A freshly watered yard adds color: Ever notice, in higher end home listing, car commercials, and even real estate brokerage commercials how everything looks damp and recently sprayed down?  Take notice.  They do this, I got the inside scoop, because it makes everything more vivid and fresh.  On the day of your showing, spraying down the plants and lawn…and even the walkway and entry (be careful of people slipping!) can add a more color and lushness to your entry.  House 2 did this.  Everything was just a bit damp and that much more vivid than the neighboring homes.  The dead plants in the yard of house 2 make this property look very dry and unwelcoming.


Now let’s talk about a few inexpensive ways to prepare your home on the outside for sale:

1.  Freshly painted trim: If the windows are the eyes of the home, the trim is eyelid/under eye.  Sounds hokey, I know.  But when you see a person with dilapidated eyes, they look a lot older than they are…right?  Same with you house.    If your front trim and door is cracked, dirty, and peeling, the buyer immediately goes on guard.  “How old is this house?”  “I wonder how well they took care of the inside?”  Trim can, when freshly painted, make the house look much younger than it is.  Even if you’re only painting the trim in the front, do it.  It’s cheap.  I’ve never seen anyone have to buy more than 1 gallon of paint for their front trim.  Unless you live in a mansion in Beverly Hills…and I don’t think they would be reading this blog!   Quick cost Paint + 2 brushes + tape + a tarp for keeping things clean:  $45

2. Clean the walls: I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve toured where the front walls, fencing, steps were a mess (check out House #1).  Rain water stains, dirt, old cob webs, etc.  I’ve seen it all.  This doesn’t mean you have to paint everything (unless your current paint is in bad shape).  Does your neighbor have a power washer?  I bet he does.  If not, rent one.  It’s not just about the house walls.  House 2 had pristine planter walls and fencing which, again, allowed me to forgive the sparse yard and get dreaming about what I could do vs. what I had to do.  Many homes in this neighborhood had not-so-tidy planters and fencing so it made this house stand out.  This house was a shining star in the neighborhood.  House #2…what walls?  Is there even a walkway up there? So if you can’t pain, then clean the walls.   Quick cost: power washer rental, one day $30

3. Splash of color: I don’t mean paint!  I mean plants.  Plants are an inexpensive way to add warmth to an entry.  If you’ve got a little money, planting a few splashes of color really adds.  In House 2 the owner bought 3-4 flax plants and another bigger-leafed plant I hadn’t seen before.  That’s really all she did.  And it added just enough greenery that it made the front entry way very welcoming.  Quick cost 4  6″ plants (Flax, as House 2 has, are very nice with a variegated leaf that adds rich color to any yard) + a bag of soil:  $40

4.  Welcome mat. Nuff said.

Now all this is lipstick on a pig, so to speak, if you’ve got bigger problems…like cracks in your foundation, paint cracking everywhere, or if you’re roof is falling in.  So be smart about where you spend your time and money.  But know that curb appeal gets people into your house without a negative filter.  For those buyers that have very little vision, and, therefore can’t see through any of the issues spotted from the street, this could be a lost sale.