Curb appeal is about making your house look pretty, yes, but it’s also about making it more functional and welcoming. 

And, just like the term suggests, those improvements start right at the curb or street line. Here, some local pros offer their tricks of the trade to help you spruce up your yard and exterior, whether you’re planning to sell or just want to gaze at something a bit nicer as you shelter in place.

If you’re looking to sell

CLEAN UP YOUR YARD

Mow and edge your lawn. Weed the garden. Trim overgrown bushes. 

“Believe it or not, we have to tell our clients, every single time,” says Carol Yuan-Hung Liu, a real estate broker with Windermere Kirkland. “After living in the same house for a while, people tend to not see those things.”

Want to really make your house shine? Make sure your next-door neighbor’s yard looks great too. If your neighbor doesn’t want to mow, you could offer to do it for them, Liu suggests.

SCRUB EVERYTHING

Clean the windows, clean the roof, clean the gutters, power-wash the driveway and patio. 

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And clear the cobwebs off the front door — so many people enter their homes through the garage, it’s easy to forget that entry point.

If your house hasn’t been painted in more than 10 years, consider painting the exterior. Depending on your square footage, that job might cost $10,000–$20,000.

“It is a lot of money, but sometimes it needs to be done,” Liu says. “People search for houses on the internet first. If your house does not give a good first impression, they will scroll through, skip your house and move on.”

CHECK THE LITTLE THINGS

Be sure you have clearly visible house numbers, as well as good lighting for the front door. 

Confirm that the hardware on the door looks nice and works smoothly. You’d be surprised how many times Liu has encountered a persnickety lock. She’s even walked away from houses because she couldn’t coax the door open.

ADD A BIT OF COLOR

A pretty front door will also help draw people to your house. It could be a fun and cheerful color, or it could be black. Shannon Campbell, owner of staging company Seattle Swank and a Windermere real estate broker, helped her cousin in Edmonds pick out a new color palette for her home. She stuck with a neutral beige-gray for the siding — and then a robin’s egg blue for the front door.

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“People stop at her house on the daily to ask her about her color,” Campbell says. “It was such a simple pop of color. It made such a difference just painting the door.”

Adding or improving railings and steps leading up to your front door is one of the most welcoming things you can do, says Seattle-based architectural designer Paul Crowther. (Getty Images)
Adding or improving railings and steps leading up to your front door is one of the most welcoming things you can do, says Seattle-based architectural designer Paul Crowther. (Getty Images)

If you’re planning to stay

THINK ABOUT SAFETY

In Seattle, lots of homes are built on steep lots, and it’s not unusual to have a flight (or two) of stairs from street level up to the front door. Adding a simple, sturdy handrail will help you and your visitors navigate the incline.

“Recognize that we have to be more careful as we get older,” says Paul Crowther, an architectural designer who has practiced in Seattle for 20 years. “Making it more welcoming is just being able to get to a door where there’s a flight of steps. That’s not a visually welcoming thing, which is what I think we sometimes start with. That’s a functional welcoming thing.”

If you have a roof over your front porch, conceal some lighting in the ceiling so that the general area glows.

“That will help people get to your front door,” Crowther says. “It will add layers to the facade of your house. Good lighting becomes part of the welcoming sequence.”

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Also, think about how people will access your house in dim conditions during our dark winters. A series of pathway lights running along your front walk is a relatively inexpensive way to improve your curb appeal. 

Another cost-saving trick is to use light to highlight your best assets. Say you’ve got a ho-hum house style, but you have a beautiful Japanese maple in front. Put an uplight on the tree, so that people focus first on that part of the landscape. 

Improvements don’t have to be expansive. Here, thoughtful details, such as lights and a coordinating mailbox and planter create a cohesive look. (Getty Images)
Improvements don’t have to be expansive. Here, thoughtful details, such as lights and a coordinating mailbox and planter create a cohesive look. (Getty Images)

CONSIDER YOUR PORCH

Even before coronavirus hit, Seattleites were pretty addicted to ordering stuff online. But all those packages and grocery bags can pile up. Think about where deliveries can go so they’re out of sight and out of the weather. Consider incorporating a bench to tuck packages under — it will also serve double-duty as a place to take off muddy shoes and boots.

“A porch is one of the key parts of welcoming someone to your home,” Crowther says. “If I won the lotto, the house [I would buy] would include a porch with a good-sized bench.”

HIDE THE PIMPLES

Maybe your house has a Smith Brothers or Ridwell box out front. Arrange plants in pots so that the box is part of a grouping rather than a focal point.

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“They’re not incorporated into anything, they’re just there,” Crowther says of delivery boxes. “That’s one of the things to think about: whatever comes into your home, and how it comes in, and can it be better incorporated into your house so it doesn’t look like a pimple.”

“Pimples,” such as garbage cans in front of an otherwise lovely home, can be hidden,  says Seattle-based architectural designer Paul Crowther. (Courtesy of Paul Crowther)
“Pimples,” such as garbage cans in front of an otherwise lovely home, can be hidden, says Seattle-based architectural designer Paul Crowther. (Courtesy of Paul Crowther)

Another common pimple: trash cans, so often lined up in front of the house or garage. And if you have a young family, there’s a good chance your porch is spilling over with trikes, scooters, strollers and other things on wheels. Minimize the mess by screening it with something more attractive, such as a gate or an arbor or armature for plants to grow on.

MAKE IT YOURS

Your home should say something about you, not just reflect the latest design fads. Maybe you like a particular front door, or certain house numbers (French enamel, in Crowther’s case). Go for it. 

Uniquely styled home exteriors that say something about the owners are often the most appealing, says Seattle-based architectural designer Paul Crowther. ­(Getty Images)
Uniquely styled home exteriors that say something about the owners are often the most appealing, says Seattle-based architectural designer Paul Crowther. ­(Getty Images)

One eccentric house in Crowther’s neighborhood has a front yard filled with every imaginable garden animal.

“Despite what they tried to do to me in design school, I smile every time I walk by that house,” he says. “Whoever lives there is willing to say, ‘This is my house. Isn’t it cool?’ And it is, because it’s theirs.”