Wouldn’t it be nice to approach your home’s entrance with a grin instead of a grimace? Take our tips for beating a clear, safe, and stylish path to your front door.
First impressions count — not just for your friends, relatives, and the UPS guy, but for yourself. Whether it’s on an urban stoop or a Victorian front porch, your front door and the area leading up to it should extend a warm welcome to all comers — and needn’t cost a bundle.
Here’s what you can do to make welcoming happen on the cheap.
1. Clear the Way for Curb Appeal.
The path to your front door should be at least 3 feet wide so people can walk shoulder-to-shoulder, with an unobstructed view and no stumbling hazards. So get out those loppers and cut back any overhanging branches or encroaching shrubs.
2. Light the Route.
Landscape lighting makes it easy to get around at night. Solar-powered LED lights you can just stick in the ground, requiring no wiring, are surprisingly inexpensive. We found 8 packs for under $60 online.
3. Go Glossy.
Borrow inspiration from London’s lovely row houses, whose owners assert their individuality by painting their doors in high-gloss colors. The reflective sheen of a royal blue, deep green, crimson, or whatever color you like will ensure your house stands out from the pack.
Related: Pictures of 10 Great Value-Add Exterior Paint Jobs
4. Pretty Up the View.
A door with lots of glass is a plus for letting light into the front hall — but if you also want privacy and a bit of decor, check out decorative window film. It’s removable and re-positionable, and comes in innumerable styles and motifs. Pricing depends on size and design; many available for under $30.
A way to get the look of stained glass without doing custom work or buying a whole new door: Mount a decorative panel on the inside of the door behind an existing glass insert, $92 for an Arts and Crafts-style panel 20-inches-high by 11-inches-wide.
5. Replace Door Hardware.
While you’re at it, polish up the handle on the big front door. Or better yet, replace it with a shiny new brass lockset with a secure deadbolt. Available for about $60.
6. Please Knock.
Doorbells may be the norm, but a hefty knocker is a classic that will never run out of battery life, and another opportunity to express yourself (whatever your favorite animal or insect is, there’s a door-knocker in its image).
Boxwoods are always tidy-looking, the definition of easy upkeep. A pair on either side of the door is traditional, but a singleton is good, too. About $25 at garden centers. In cold climates, make sure pots are frost-proof (polyethylene urns and boxes mimic terracotta and wood to perfection).
8. Numbers Game.
Is your house number clearly visible? That’s of prime importance if you want your guests to arrive and your pizza to be hot. Stick-on vinyl numbers in a variety of fonts make it easy, starting at about $4 per digit.
9. Foot Traffic.
A hardworking mat for wiping muddy feet is a must. A thick coir mat can be had at the hardware store for less than $20. Even fancier varieties can be found well under $50.
10. Go for the glow.
Fumbling for keys in the dark isn’t fun. Consider doubling up on porch lights with a pair of lanterns, one on each side of the door, for symmetry and twice the illumination. Many mounted lights are available well under $100.
11. Snail Mail.
Mailboxes run the gamut from kitschy roadside novelties masquerading as dogs, fish, or what-have-you to sober black lockboxes mounted alongside the front door. Whichever way you go, make sure yours is standing or hanging straight, with a secure closure, and no dings or dents. The mail carrier will thank you.
7 Pro Tips To Help Your Home Sell Faster, For More Money
It’s overwhelming to clear and sell a home that’s been occupied for many years—the piles of papers, trunks full of tchotchkes, mountains of miscellany. Nobody knows this more than Glendale, Calif.-based Betsy Wilbur, who professionally “stages” homes for sale. But with a small investment of time and/or money, homes that are set up to sell can reap more rewards than ones that haven’t been staged —and even vacant houses.
Wilbur recalls a recent client, the daughter of the owner who’d lived in a house for 50 years. The home had fallen to “fixer” status. “She was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of selling the home and didn’t know if she wanted to prepare and stage the home or just sell it as is,” Wilbur said, adding that if there were no changes, the home would have gotten lowball offers from contractors ready to flip it after making cosmetic fixes. “But by doing some simple upgrades and staging the home we could reach another buyer pool—first-time home buyers who could see the potential.”
Wilbur outlined the client’s options, which ranged from $3,500 to $10,000. The clients wanted the works, so Wilbur:
- Removed tile covering the original hardwood floors
- Painted interior walls, front door and trellis, bathroom cabinets and shower tile
- Updated the kitchen floor and light fixtures
- Provided landscaping for added curb appeal with landscaping
- Brought in temporary furniture, art, plants and accessories
In the end, the home had 16 offers, and sold in 14 days for $62,500 over asking price–not a shabby return on investment.
Which is not unusual for a seller who stages her home. Wilbur says her clients’ properties sell for an average 6.3% over asking price in 12 days. The area average is 97% of asking price and 56 days on the market.
According to the National Association of Realtors, for every $100 invested in staging, the potential return is $400 . Compare that to the average sale price, which is a reduction of 10-20% from asking. So an average home with a $400,000 asking price will be reduced by $40,000 to $80,000.
“Staging can save you from a costly price reduction,” Wilbur says. “A staged home will sell for 17% more on average than a non-staged home, and 95% of staged homes sell in 11 days or less. That is statistically 87% faster than non-staged homes.”
How Home Staging Works
Home staging is considered a marketing technique that turns the home into something that will appeal to the greatest common denominator or buyers so it will sell quickly. “This involves ‘neutralizing’ the home and portraying a lifestyle that buyers want to have.” Wilbur says. So even though you may love your beautiful and expensive taxidermy collection, not everyone else will, and it can have a negative psychological effect on a potential buyer.
Stagers will use specific techniques to highlight the home’s architectural features , and make rooms feel large and inviting, Wilbur says. The stager will also take into account the target market for the home: Spaces designed for young singles, empty-nesters and families will all look different.
A stager will do a walk-through and make recommendations on which existing pieces in the home will be assets and which should be removed, and come up with a list of high, medium and low budget options for re-design. Stagers will bring in some of their own pieces, or rent them.
One of the hardest things to do is to get out of your own habits and preferences and into the mindset of a buyer seeing the home in person or on the Internet for the first time. Maybe the TV has always been the focal point for the living room, for example, but for a buyer, the fireplace would need to be highlighted. “When we are getting ready to sell, we want to rearrange that so the room is balanced and furniture is not blocking pathways, windows or great features of the home,” Wilbur says.
She offers these tips for staging:
- Keep décor neutral: Neutral does not mean boring, but it does mean staying away from shocking colors, and even avoiding all-white and all-beige walls. “I’ve staged some fantastic rooms with deep purple or black walls – it’s all about knowing how to make it work.”
- Remove clutter: Clutter makes people feel uncomfortable. “Think of it as getting a head start on your packing.”
- Remove personal items: All personal pictures, family plaques, framed certificates, etc., should be packed. “I also suggest packing up anything smaller than a cantaloupe. We want the buyer to envision themselves living there right away, and a house full of someone else’s pictures doesn’t do that.”
- Never put an empty home on the market: “One of the challenges of trying to sell a vacant home is that buyers can often have a hard time visualizing themselves living there.” When rooms are unfurnished they actually feel smaller than they are; so a buyer might be unsure how to position furniture or if their current furniture will fit. Buyers also notice more flaws when a home is vacant and might incorrectly assume a home needs a lot of work when it really needs minimal cosmetic updating. Finally, a vacant property can give buyers the impression a seller is desperate, which could result in lower offers.
- Don’t remodel before you sell: You may think you have great taste in kitchens, but the new owner may not agree. It’s better to spend the money doing cosmetic fixes than worrying about getting the full return on the investment of an extensive remodel.
- Avoid divisive décor: When staging an occupied home we are always careful to remove religious and political items, as well as any other items that might be offensive.
- Stay timeless: It’s good to be “on trend” with pops of color in, say, pillows and curtains, but avoid anything that’s too trendy. A stager can help draw the line.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that staging isn’t creating illusions—it’s about revealing truths . “We are simply showing the buyer the potential of the home through simple and inexpensive upgrades,” Wilbur says. “A buyer reaching to the top of their price range might not have additional money for remodeling, so if the home looks ‘good enough for now’ and doesn’t seem like an overwhelming project, then they will throw their hat into the bidding ring, resulting in higher offers for the seller. I had one home where the agent told me going into the project that it was probably going to be considered a tear-down property, but when we were finished it ended up selling for $110,000 over asking price.”
Go From an Old Deck to New in 4 Steps
There’s no secret to deck maintenance—repair the deck, clean it and protect it. But learning tricks the pros use can make the job go faster and the results last longer
BEFORE: The damage and the appearance were bad enough for the Johnsons to consider ripping the whole thing up and starting over.
Barbara and Phil Johnson, of Mobile, Alabama, faced the same problems other deck owners do. Over the years, the elements as well as their kids and pets took a toll on their backyard deck. The damage and the appearance were bad enough for the Johnsons to consider ripping the whole thing up and starting over.
But before taking that drastic step, they spoke with Danny Lipford, owner and president of Lipford Construction in Mobile, for advice. According to Lipford, the Johnsons’ deck was in better shape than many others. “This area of the country is tough on decks,” he says. “I’m sometimes asked to replace pressure-treated decks that are less than eight years old.” He adds, “Most of these decks are victims of neglect. With regular maintenance, a deck will easily last for twice as long.” The good news is that most decks, like this one, can be rejuvenated for a lot less than the cost of replacement.
Following are some techniques you can use to give an old deck a new lease on life, or to help maintain the look of a new one. For this project, we enlisted George Graf, a lead carpenter with Mobile’s Lipford Construction, and John Starling, owner of John the Painter. Hiring pros is easy on the schedule but hard on the budget—the cost of repairing a 700. deck is $700, or about $1 per square foot. Restoring a deck yourself will cost a third as much.
A deck rejuvenation project like this can be done in two days, but it’s best to spread the work over two weekends to ensure the wood is completely dry before you apply stain.
AFTER: Most decks can be rejuvenated for a lot less than the cost of replacement.
Step 1: Making Repairs
Begin by inspecting the entire deck. Pay special attention to any part of the deck that is in direct contact with the ground, such as the posts, stair stringers or joists that are at ground level. Graf uses a screwdriver to check for structural damage. “If you can sink the tip of a screwdriver into a post or joist, it means the you’ve got rot and it’s time for a major renovation,” Graf says.
Also, inspect the deck-to-house connection. “Screws and bolts can loosen and rust,” he says. “Without the proper use of spacers and flashing, moisture can cause your band joist to rot.”
Tighten the fasteners that attach the deck to the house, look for any missing, bent or rusted flashing and carefully inspect inside and out for any telltale black stains that suggest moisture is working its way into your home.
Next, look for any cosmetic damage. For example, tap down any popped nails or consider replacing them with screws. For the Johnsons’ deck, Graf used galvanized ring-shanked nails when he replaced a few damaged boards. “Screws don’t pop like nails, ” he says “but we want the new boards to match the rest of the deck.”
Tip: If you need to rip replacement decking to match existing boards, use a tablesaw. Ease the sawn edge using a router fitted with a ⅜-inch roundover bit.
Carefully inspect railings and decking for loose wood. “No one likes to catch a 2splinter on the hand or foot,” Graf says.
Use a pry bar to pull damaged boards. Remove fasteners and lift the board straight up to avoid damaging adjacent boards.
Step 2: Cleaning the Surface
Here’s the bad news: Every deck should have an annual cleaning. Assuming they have been maintained regularly, most decks can be revived with just a deck cleaner. Some products, like Thompson’s Deck Wash ($10, 1 gal. covers 250 sq. ft.), you mix in a bucket and apply to the deck; others, like GE’s Weathermate ($30, 1 gal. covers 500 sq. ft.), come in containers with integral applicators that you hook up to a garden hose. Once on the deck, most still require a stiff-bristle brush and a lot of elbow grease to work the mixture into the wood.
Always wear eye protection and gloves when working with concentrated chemicals. You’ll also want to protect nearby plants. The level of plant protection depends on the type and concentration of the chemicals you choose. For weak solutions and “plant-friendly” cleaners, you may need to only mist the plants before and after using cleaning. Powerful deck restorers can burn leaves on contact; in that case you should cover nearby plants with plastic sheeting.
For tackling tough stains, use a pressure washer (about $70 a day), which is the best way to remove sun-damaged wood fibers and tackle scrub-resistant stains. Graf recommends using a fan-type nozzle instead of a pinpoint nozzle that can dig into the wood. For removing the mildew, Graf mixes his own cleaning solution (see “Choosing the Right Cleaner,” on the facing page), which he feeds into the intake hose on the washer.
Go over the deck with a stiff-bristle brush to work the cleaner into the wood fibers, and then rinse. The boards should be kept damp in order for the cleaning solution to work effectively. Allow the deck to dry thoroughly before staining.
Choosing the Right Cleaner
There are dozens of deck-cleaning products on the market. Most contain one of the following four chemicals as their main ingredient. Each is effective for different types of stains.
Sodium hypochlorite: This chemical—chlorine bleach—is good for removing mildew but isn’t effective on dirt or other stains. So mix it with an ammonia-free detergent. Thoroughly rinse the deck after using this chemical because it can eat away at the wood, resulting in fuzzing and premature graying.
Sodium percarbonate: When mixed with water, this chemical forms hydrogen peroxide (an oxygen-based bleach) and sodium carbonate, which acts as a detergent. It is good for removing dirt, mildew and weathered wood.
Oxalic acid: This is effective in removing iron stains and the brown-black tannins that frequently occur with cedar and redwood decks. This acid is commonly found in deck brighteners. Oxalic acid isn’t effective against mildew, so you may want to use it after cleaning the deck with a bleach-based cleaner.
Sodium hydroxide: Also known as lye, this is the key ingredient in most finish lifters or removers. Don’t leave it on too long, or it can eat away at the wood.
Be very careful when working with any of these chemicals, especially when they’re in their most concentrated (premixed) form. Wear the proper safety equipment and follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter. Rinse the surface thoroughly and allow it to dry before refinishing.
Here’s a deck cleaner you can make yourself. Recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory, it’s good for mildew and dirt.
• 1 qt. sodium hypochlorite solution (household bleach)
• ⅓ cup powdered laundry detergent
• 3 qts. warm water
In a 5-gal. plastic bucket, add the bleach and detergent to the water, then brush the cleaner onto the deck. Rinse thoroughly before applying a finish.
Caution: Do not use a detergent that contains ammonia. Ammonia and bleach react to form a poisonous gas.
Trim the replacement boards with a circular saw. Using adjacent boards as a cutting guide is faster and more accurate than measuring.
Step 3: Applying the Stain
Once all of the repairs have been made and the deck is clean, it’s time to apply a protective finish. Clear finishes and transparent stains are fine for new wood, but for older decks, Starling recommends using a semitransparent stain.
“The grain still shows through, but the pigment gives the old wood a clean, uniform color and helps the new wood blend in,” he says. The pigment also provides extra protection from the damaging effects of the sun and will last longer than clear finishes. Unlike paint, stain is absorbed by the wood and does not form a film on its surface, so it will not peel or chip.
Starling uses a sprayer and 2-in. brush to apply the stain. “Spraying is fast, and puts more stain on the wood than rolling or brushing,” Starling says. Most painters and homeowners are better off spraying on a generous coat of stain and then following up with a roller or brush to spread out puddles and work the finish into the wood. Starling, however, uses a modified technique. “Rollers push the stain off the wood and down the cracks,” he says. “I don’t get paid to paint dirt beneath the deck.” Starling sprays on a light coat, most of which is quickly absorbed into the wood. He uses the brush to remove puddles. “If the stain’s too thick, it dries blotchy,” he explains. Starling recycles the excess stain for use on exposed end grain.
Starling recommends starting at an inside corner and working out, applying the stain parallel to the deck boards. To avoid staining the nearby brick, he uses a small piece of cardboard as a spray shield; the brush provides even more control around deck railings and posts.
This 700. deck required about 5 gal. of stain — almost twice as much as the estimates indicated on the can. Explains Starling, “Old wood can get thirsty. On some decks, I’ll need to apply two or three coats of stain in order to get a uniform finish.”
Subsequent coats should be applied while the first coat is still wet or they will not be absorbed into the wood. Stain won’t peel, but it can wear away, especially in high-traffic areas. Starling recommends applying a fresh coat every other year. A clear water repellent can be applied between stainings for extra protection.
Mesh filters (about $1 each) catch any particles that could wind up clogging the nozzle on the washer.
Step 4: Redoing a Railing
Because the original railing on their deck was in such bad shape, the Johnsons decided to replace it with a maintenance-free railing system. They chose Fiberon, a vinyl-coated wood-plastic composite. It’s available in premade panels or as kits. The Johnsons liked the contrast the white railing offered.
Tip: After cutting the end post flush with the deck using a reciprocating saw, remove the old railing in sections.
For an existing deck or concrete slab, Fiberon makes a surface-mount bracket, as shown below. For new decks, the manufacturer recommends installing the posts before the decking and using metal brackets that attach to the joists. To conceal any minor gaps where the balusters meet the bottom rail, Graf recommends using a mildew-resistant acrylic caulk.