Top 10 low cost, high return outdoor renos

When you've invested in a home, the exterior plays a huge factor in how quickly it sells. The experts will tell you: it's all about the impact of curb appeal.

"It means when you pull up to the house, there's only one chance to make a first impression," says Jim Cleghorn, Pillar to Post certified home inspector.

"So you try to make sure what the potential buyer first sees has a positive impact."

Here, Cleghorn and Marshall McCaroll, president of Toronto's Dale Construction Ltd., give their advice on simple, low-cost work almost any everyday investor could do.

1) Wash the home's front, sides and windows

Washing a home seems like a daunting task but according to McCaroll, it's actually easy. "For most siding, you can rent a pressure washer and do a thorough clean," he says.

Consider safety first though because depending on how tall the building sides are and how experienced you are, it's dangerous to climb up a ladder while operating a pressure washer.

When a potential homebuyer looks at it, if it's dirty, they think, it's all rundown," adds McCaroll. Washing dirty windows is also an easy fix and just like the eavestroughs, re-do the window frame paint if it's flaking off.

2) Fix broken concrete walkways

Walkways and steps often come up as a concern during home inspections says Cleghorn.

"When you walk up to a house, people see it right away if they are chipped or cracked," he adds. McCaroll assumes most people would not be able to remove the broken concrete then pour a new mix and make it look presentable.

Instead, he suggests interlocking stone for the less experienced handyperson to achieve a nice walkway look.

3) Pay attention to your front door

The front door is so obvious yet easily forgettable. "Peeling paint or a dirty door is a really common oversight but it stares you right in the face when a prospective buyer walks up to the house," says McCaroll. The main door is typically sound but McCaroll has seen screen doors that damage a home's initial look.

"Anybody with just a little bit of skill could replace a screen door," he adds. Cleghorn stresses paying attention to the caulking around both door and window frames.

"It's not something you see right away as a potential buyer but if I have to do an inspection, I will say it needs to be re-done," he says. "You immediately think that cost isn't huge but if it's neglected, water damage may occur and someone will call you out on it."

4) Watch for exterior lighting

Like the front door, lighting is easy to overlook especially if people are viewing the home mostly during the day.

Upgrading an older light fixture to something more modern or classic provides an instant facelift.

But before you replace it, remember to shut off all circuitry first so as not to electrocute yourself or accidentally start a fire.

5) Fix loose railings

If the property has a porch or deck out front, Cleghorn reminds owners to tighten or fix any loose railings. This contributes to the home's overall appearance.

6) "Paint" your driveway

To spruce up a tired and worn asphalt driveway, apply a top sealer coating known as coal-tar solution or dry waste sealer that can be found at Canadian Tire, Rona or any home renovation store.

"It's a 20-litre pail, black and it just goes on like painting your driveway," says McCaroll, meaning you don't have to do any major work, such as pulling up the existing asphalt. "You would sweep off the driveway and most of the sealers require you to dampen it down with the garden hose," he adds.

"So make sure all the dirt is off otherwise it would be like painting a dirty wall. It's just not going to stick as well. The instructions are normally easy to follow and anybody just with marginal skill can do it."

7) Clean out the eavestroughs

Eavestroughs often go ignored because of their height but it affects the overall appearance of a home.  "When they're all old and dilapidated, it could make the house look rundown from the front," says McCaroll.

Typically, older eavestroughs will have paint flaking off and so they need to be re-painted properly but just ensure you strip off the old coat first.

You won't likely have to replace it all though. If it has come loose, you'll want to reattach it accordingly to the roof.

Also, if the troughs are dirty or there are leaves and vines growing in them, you must clean it up.

8) Repair roof shingles

The roof is another difficult task for the everyday investor to handle but it's still possible to take care of it.

"If you walk up and you're looking from the front street of the house, and the roof shingles are curled and it looks old because of that, it should be addressed," says McCaroll.

"I know a lot of people don't look at buying a house when the roof looks beat up because they know it's a big expense to repair. It's pretty easy to spend $6,000 or $7,000 just to do a bungalow roof."

A few shabby shingles can be recovered on your own but replacing the entire roof is a huge project. "Most people are pretty nervous getting on a roof whereas a contractor would have the safety equipment to do it," says McCaroll.

9) Tidy loose wires

Over time, telephone and TV cable wires can become loose around the house, often along brick. New ones may have been introduced and the companies setting it up don't prioritize the appearance. So don't let wires hang or droop about.

Most potential homebuyers are accepting of wires if they're tied up and look neat. All it requires is stapling or nailing them into place.

10) Maintain trees and shrubs, clean up your yard

Landscaping is tremendously important to overall curb appeal so ensure trees and shrubs are properly maintained.

"You don't want trees hanging over and touching a roof," says Cleghorn. "Sometimes too, if it's older greenery, the odd times you get ice storms, you don't want big heavy branches banging up against the side of the house. It will damage roofing material, and pull down gutters and downspouts."

Trees should be pruned regularly as Cleghorn has seen bad weather or heavy wind take down trees, which could possibly smash into the home. As for the yard, there shouldn't be any debris, garbage or casted off material in the front yard (or backyard).

"Sometimes you go to houses and people pile all sorts of stuff outside," says Cleghorn. "It just creates an image you don't want if you're trying to go for a nice clean sale and keep the value up for your property.

If people think they're going to have to rent a dumpster or go to all kinds of trouble to clean up, it's a huge turn-off." Generally, these suggestions will uphold the home value. Anything not properly kept becomes a negotiating point that brings down the price.

"You don't want to be negotiating $10,000 or $20,000 worth because the buyer says 'I have to do all of this work,' and that's what could happen if it's not clean," says Cleghorn.

"If you're in a competitive market, or you have a buyer choosing between your house and another, it might be a strike against you if the house's appearance isn't great. There's nothing better than a well-maintained home."

Don't forget to pick up a copy of our April issue, on newsstands now.

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