3 min

First impressions

How to improve your home’s curb appeal

Darlene Hall-Barrett, president of Dressing Rooms, shows how exterior design can maximize the curb appeal of your house. Credit: credit goes here

You can sell your house in 30 seconds.

Maybe not literally, but the first impression of your home happens at the curb, and a great first impression makes a potential buyer want to move in.

Whether you’re looking to sell — or just want to spruce up your exterior — taking your curb appeal up a notch pays big dividends. From making small changes to a complete overhaul, we spoke to two experts about freshening up the often-neglected exterior of your home.

Out in the cold

Why neglect the outside? “A lot of people don’t think about it,” says Darlene Hall-Barrett, president of Dressing Rooms, an Ottawa company that does home staging as well as interior and exterior design. “You have to remind them that the outside is just as much living space as the inside.”

Begin with the basics

Just as beauty begins with basic hygiene, remember that your front entrance and front yard should be clean, free of clutter and easy to access. The pathways must allow people to get in and out easily. 

“They don’t weed, they don’t clean up, they don’t mow the lawn, or they don’t clean up the dog poop,” Hall-Barrett says with a laugh, listing the top don’ts. “If the potential buyer is tripping over themselves on the sidewalk just to get to the front door . . . they’ve already got something in their mind saying there’s something wrong with this house before they’ve even walked inside.”

Where’s the door?

“A lot of the time what I find is a total miss is the focus on the door, and it’s not very welcoming from the curb,” says Chantale Charette, a designer and landscape architecture technician with Studio 853 Design. “A lot of the time it’s kind of hidden, maybe behind a bunch of bushes. There’s just no visual colour or texture that attracts your eye to the front door.”

Shrubbery blocking the street address on your home looks sloppy and makes it hard for people to know whether they’ve found the right house, she says. On the other hand, getting some new, eye-catching lettering for your address is an easy and affordable way to make your entrance more welcoming, she says.

Hall-Barrett agrees your front door should be a focal point, not a source of confusion for visitors or prospective home-buyers. “I always believe that you should know where the front door is, especially when you have homes [with] three doors, maybe, and nobody really knows which door to go to,” she says. “The front door that you want everyone to go to, that’s the one you highlight, and you don’t accentuate the other doors as much.”

One of the easiest and most popular ways to make your front door pop is by painting it a vibrant colour — a look that’s become popular even with home-owners who otherwise don’t take risks. Hall-Barrett has a client whose whole house was brown, but she chose a vibrant red for her front door. 

“She gets so many compliments on it,” Hall-Barrett says. “She just loves it because now people see the front door . . . and it’s her fun little thing that she’s done to the exterior that makes her feel good.”

Style and safety

Improving the exterior lighting of your home not only enhances your curb appeal, but also makes your property safer, Charette points out. “The lighting will give you that added bonus of security at night,” she says. “There are some light fixtures that almost act like a piece of artwork. There are some really funky ones out there.”

Additionally, if your landscaping is looking good, the lighting will show off your yard and greenery even when the sun’s gone down.

On landscaping

From lawn furniture to landscaping, any exterior improvements you make should enhance your house’s architecture. If you have a huge, majestic house, a tiny garden no one can see from the curb isn’t the kind of greenery you need, Charette says. Mass planting will put a bigger focus on the front entrance, while lining the front walk with plants in eye-catching ceramics is also effective, she says.

Beyond DIY

Hall-Barrett and Charette agree that hiring an exterior designer or landscaper needn’t break your bank. Start with a consultation and make sure you’re hiring someone you feel comfortable with who has experience doing the type of work you want. Setting priorities, going at your own pace and choosing economical finishes will make the outside of your house look as good as the inside without the project becoming a financial burden.

Do-it-yourselfers often aren’t happy with their results — and when it comes to curb appeal, you want to meet your goals as well as your budget, Charette says. 

“Curb appeal can sell your house,” Hall-Barrett says. “It’s as simple as that.”