Does your house look like a million bucks? That might depend on when you’re doing the looking. In most of the country, properties shine brightest in spring and summer, when everything is in bud and bloom. But when the weather starts to cool off, “things can get dull and dreary,” says Madison real estate agent Brian Callahan.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can maximize your curb appeal—and your property value—throughout the year with a few simple projects. Here, our seasonal guide to having the best-looking house on the block.
Add interest with bark, berries, and seeds. Colorful evergreens, such as cypress (gold) and barberry (red), brighten your winter yard, says landscape contractor Ross Mastrorocco of Monroe, Conn. Choose deciduous trees with interesting bark, like birch, or unusual shapes, such as corkscrew willows.
Cost: $25 to $200 per sapling, depending on type; add 50% for pro planting.
Brighten with paint. Next time you need to do a full exterior house-painting job, add a punch of color on the walls. “In winter, paint color can become the focal point of the property,” says home designer and contractor Dean Bennett of Castle Rock, Colo.
Cost: $4,000 to $10,000 to repaint the entire home.
Light up the night. During winter’s short days, landscape lighting creates after-dark appeal. Use up lights for trees, down lights for stoops and porches, and walkway lights on your entry paths. Today’s low-voltage systems are easy to install yourself: Plug the transformer into an exterior outlet and run the wires under your mulch.
Cost: $400 to $500, or two to three times that if you hire a pro for installation.
Undo winter's damage. Cut the beds and mulch. Use a spade to cut clean edges for your planting beds and lay down bark mulch (skip the cheap tree-company wood chips, which may contain termites or carpenter ants). Go easy: Deeper than 1½ inches can smother the roots, says Mastrorocco. For a mulch that lasts, use cedar, which is slow to decompose.
Cost: $200 to $500 to DIY; $500 to $1,000 for a pro.
Get a free landscape plan. A nursery or landscaper can suggest plants to provide color throughout your growing season. In southern New England, for example, azaleas bloom in spring, hydrangeas in summer, and some roses last into fall. Add a few perennials and annuals and you’ll have three seasons of blooms.
Cost: $25 to $200 per plant, plus 50% for planting.
Spring-clean the windows. After the dust storm of tree pollen is over, tackle your windows. Use water mixed with dish soap and a glass-safe scouring pad. Invest in a squeegee rather than trying to dry with linty paper towels, says B.J. David of Mella Window Cleaning in Cincinnati.
Cost: Expect to pay a pro $8 to $30 per window, depending on whether you have storms or tilt-in windows.
Mow high. Tall grass stays greener, helping to mitigate the brownouts that are so common during the dog days of summer. So set your mower (or ask your landscaper to set his mower) about three inches off the ground. The longer turf will retain more moisture and also better shade the soil, ensuring that the roots don’t dry out—and shading out any crabgrass.
Cost: Free if you mow yourself; $30 to $50 per mow if you hire a landscaper.
Have fun with numbers. Get rid of those boring “contractor grade” house numbers. You can find interesting numerals in all sorts of fonts and finishes at houseofantiquehardware.com. Wayfair.com offers letters too, so you can spell out your low-number address.
Cost: $5 to $25 per digit
Upgrade the walk. A cracked or outdated walkway hurts curb appeal all year long, but summer is the best time to tackle replacement. Handy? Interlocking pavers make the job simple enough to do it yourself. Look for tumbled pavers if you want a stonelike look.
Cost: $500 to $1,000 if you do it yourself; $2,500 for a professional installation (compared with $4,000-plus for natural stone).
Update your flower boxes. Rotate fall bloomers, such as mums, ornamental kale, and autumn sage, into your flower boxes and planters in early autumn. When those are done, cut back the plants and poke in seasonal cuttings, such as evergreen boughs and holly sprigs, suggests Chicago realtor Laurie Gross.
Cost: $15 to $25 per store-bought plant.
Fertilize in fall. Your shrubs and lawn are having an underground growth spurt right now, developing long roots to reach nutrients deep in the soil. Promote this growth with a potassium-rich fertilizer. (Your nursery can suggest one for your climate.)
Cost: $40 for a bag of fertilizer; $75 to $150 for professional fertilizing.
Give the yard a buzz cut. Readjust the lawn mower blade to as low as it will go without scalping the grass. Short turf looks better when dormant because it won’t get folded over and matted down, says Mastrorocco. Cut back perennials and annuals to the ground to make the yard look neat—and to limit how many fallen leaves get caught up in the grass and plantings, simplifying cleanup.
Cost: Free if you do it yourself; $250 to $750 to hire a professional.