On the never-ending list of projects you could tackle as a homeowner, exterior home improvements deserve a spot at the top. Additions like patios provide the perfect place to enjoy a morning cup of coffee, while a well-maintained lawn keeps the neighbors happy.

An inviting exterior will also preserve your home’s value and make it infinitely more appealing at resale. Given the broad nature of what you can do with a home exterior, we’ve boiled down potential upgrades you could pursue into three main buckets of work: yard, curb appeal, and outdoor living — with clear and recommended improvements for each.

Exterior improvements for a beautiful yard

  1. Do a basic clean-up
  2. Trim shrubs and bushes
  3. Apply mulch liberally
  4. Plant low-maintenance perennials

Exterior improvements that enhance curb appeal

  1. Replace or paint the front door
  2. Add hardscaping to your entryway
  3. Install a new garage door
  4. Freshen up your siding

Exterior home improvements for better outdoor living

  1. Put in a pool and hot tub combo
  2. Dine al fresco with an outdoor kitchen
  3. Build a deck or patio
  4. Provide a shade element
A cleaned-up backyard that is a great exterior home improvement.
Source: (sir_jarvis / Unsplash)

Exterior improvements for a beautiful yard

A majority of real estate professionals surveyed by HomeLight agree that well-landscaped homes are worth anywhere from 1%-10% more than homes with no landscaping. You don’t need to turn your lawn into an English garden to see results, either — start with these basic tasks to give your yard the TLC it needs to look tidy and vibrant.

1. Do a basic clean-up

Yard work is a familiar chore to anyone who owns a home. However, in the bustle of daily life, it’s easy to let the lawn slip now and again. So before you move on to any other exterior home projects, cover the basics:

  • Mow the lawn
  • Add fertilizer
  • Pull weeds
  • Pick up sticks
  • Remove debris and leaves

An investment of $268 in lawn care service adds over $1,200 in resale value for an ROI of 352%, according to research from HomeLight. Basic yard care service is also recommended by 91% of top real estate agents before listing.

2. Trim shrubs and bushes

Overgrown shrubs and hedges can be a serious eye sore, while trees with dead limbs or branches pose a hazard.

If you haven’t already, invest in a cordless battery-powered hedge trimmer to give your landscaping a quick manicure, being careful not to over-cut. Hire a professional tree trimming service to clean up mature trees every three to five years.
According to our research, low-end landscaping adds $1,500 in property value, while professional tree care adds an additional $1,400.

3. Apply mulch liberally

Mulch is a homeowner’s best friend. It protects the garden while warding off weeds. Investing $340 in fresh mulch for your plant beds can add $800 in value for a 126% ROI, our estimates show. Pick up some bags of brown shredded bark from your local hardware store and spread it where appropriate as an easy upgrade.

To prevent weed growth in large areas, put down a landscaping fabric that acts as a weed barrier for lower maintenance in the future, then apply two to three inches of mulch on top. For mulching of large areas, it may be more efficient to call in a local company that can deliver mulch to your driveway in bulk.

4. Plant low-maintenance perennials

Popping up like magic for three or more growing seasons, perennials offer the least amount of work for the best landscaping improvement. For sunny spots, go with coneflower, coreopsis, sage, or false indigo. In the shaded areas, plant your hostas and astilbe.

A freshly painted front door that is a great exterior home improvement.
Source: (Chastity Cortijo / Unsplash)

Exterior improvements that enhance curb appeal

According to 94% of top real estate agents surveyed nationwide, great curb appeal routinely increases what buyers are willing to pay for a home, while 76% of agents report that curb appeal is often the no. 1 thing that improves home marketability overall. Below are tasks specific to improving the exterior of the home itself that also help with curb appeal.

“Without curb appeal, you’re just not going to get any attention in your home,” advises Stephanie Termine, a top real estate agent in Cleveland, Ohio. “The exterior is the first thing buyers see, so if it doesn’t look good, people are just going to ride right past it.”

5. Replace or paint the front door

Adding a fresh coat of paint to your front door is a project recommended by 70% of leading real estate agents. When a buyer views your home, they will spend some time examining the door as they wait for their agent to unlock it. Chipped or faded paint will fail to impress.

Thankfully an affordable $150-$350 paint job can work wonders. When you pick a front door color, consider your home’s architecture, neighborhood trends, and whether you’re aiming for a classic or contemporary look. You typically can’t go wrong with traditional colors such as navy, dark green, or black. Red doors are also eye-catching and welcoming while adding a pop of color.

If your door is sticking, sagging, or has a drafty frame, it likely needs more than a facelift. In that case, a replacement may be in order. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2021 Cost vs. Value report, you’ll recoup 65% of your investment in a factory-finished steel door valued at $2,082.

6. Add hardscaping to your entryway

There’s nothing wrong with a front door that drops off into a basic walkway, but this simple entrance style does pose an opportunity.

Kevin Manning, president of KD Landscape in the Chicago area, sees a lot of homeowners that lack a more defined entryway add a basic 4-foot-by-6-foot landing or small front porch.

A concrete slab only costs $4-$8 per square foot to install including labor, while giving you more space for seating and decor. Style the area with a bench or chairs and some containers full of blooming daffodils, tulips, or hyacinth.

Elevate the experience by connecting your new landing to a walkway that meanders creatively to the entrance. The total cost of a walkway will depend on its material and length. Some options include:

  • Brick pavers ($8-$20 per square foot)
  • Concrete pavers ($8-$15 per square foot)
  • Natural stone ($15-$30 per square foot)

The ultimate goal of these hardscaping upgrades, Manning shares, is to create a “welcoming experience — one that oozes warmth and grandness.”

A house with new garage doors that's one of the many exterior home improvements made.
Source: (DESIGNECOLOGIST / Unsplash)

7. Install a new garage door

A garage door that runs smoothly is a must for everyday function, but replacing this feature can also transform your curb appeal and add resale value.

A new door offers the side benefits of increased energy-efficiency, better security, and fewer repairs. According to the National Association of Realtors®’ Remodeling Impact Report, a new garage door costs an estimated $2,100 but will recover $2,000 — or 95% of your spend – at resale.

Illinois-based garage door company Consolidated Garage Doors offers the following guidance when selecting a garage door style for your home:

  • Colonial or Victorian pair with wood carriage house garage doors or steel
  • Craftsman style homes pair with double-hung wood windows
  • Modern homes pair with pebble glass and stained wood

If your garage door remains in decent shape, a spruce up may suffice. You can rinse down the door using a sprayer attachment on a garden hose and apply mild detergent for a quick garage door refresh.

8. Freshen up your siding

On a cooler spring or fall day, you can make your siding look like new with only a few supplies. To clean vinyl siding, grab the following:

  • A broom or soft-bristled brush with a long handle
  • Bucket of general-purpose cleaner and warm water (add vinegar instead of cleaner to tackle mold and mildew)
  • Garden hose with sprayer attachment

Start at the bottom of your siding. Move your cleaning tool along the whole length of the panel and rinse with water before going to the next section. Pressure washers can come in handy for a particularly dirty job, but make sure you limit the pressure so as not to damage your siding material.

A pool and hot tub combo that was put in as an exterior home improvement.
Source: (_nickwright_ / Unsplash)

Exterior home improvements for better outdoor living

It used to be that backyard entertaining areas were mostly for personal enjoyment, and any costs recouped were a nice bonus. But the ROI of outdoor projects has increased over the past year and a half as people took their social gatherings to the open air.

“Having some sort of outdoor entertaining space is huge today,” Termine says.

Top real estate agents report that outdoor living areas rank as the third most desirable home attribute to buyers, behind only a home office and quality school district. Gen X buyers are even more likely to seek out outdoor amenities in their home search than other generations, our research shows.

“When a home comes on the market, there is a huge X-factor when it has the perfect backyard,” echoes Ryan Lundquist, a certified residential appraiser since 2003 based in Sacramento, California. “Buyers are really responding well to that.”

9. Put in a pool and hot tub combo

Data from our Spring 2021 Top Agent Insights report indicates that the value of an inground backyard pool has increased an estimated 69% since early 2020 when COVID-19 hit, from $16,137 to $27,199 in added value. A snack bar, high-quality pool deck, and sound system only add to the appeal of this upscale amenity.

The rising value of pools reflects a shift in public mindset that they’re worth the work. Our data also indicates that if your pool has a hot tub, you’ll net nearly $7,000 more on top of what you’re already getting for the pool. You aren’t likely to fully recoup the costs spent on these amenities, however, so be sure to consider your own personal enjoyment as part of the equation.

10. Dine al fresco with an outdoor kitchen

Put on the kabobs and pour a glass of chilled wine. Having a grill, bar, countertops, sink, and standard kitchen appliances all outside and only a few steps away from the home can enhance quality of life and be the backdrop for many wonderful memories made with friends and family.

According to our Summer 2021 research, the value of an outdoor kitchen has increased from an estimated $6,156 to $9,751 since pre-COVID times. Agents report that buyers will pay the most for an outdoor kitchen in the Pacific region ($12,508). According to HomeAdvisor, you can spend anywhere from $5,500 for a basic outdoor kitchen, or up to $22,000 for a fancier one.

11. Build a deck or patio

It costs between $4,380 and $10,080 to build a deck, HomeGuide estimates. But due to the rising desirability of outdoor gathering spaces, you’ll recoup an average $7,014 when you sell your home, data from our survey shows. That means if you paid a middle-of-the-road price for a deck, you’ll recover most of that spend.

Decks are often built with a connecting patio. The average cost of a patio addition is $3,900, HomeGuide adds. As a great place to unwind outside, have a meal, sip coffee, or read a book, patios are certainly popular for buyers to see as they seek the new home of their dreams.

Patios can range from simple to extravagant, depending on size and materials you choose to use. Manning says modular concrete patios can range from $16 to $20 per square foot, while natural stone patios can range from $35 to $45 per square foot. Both prices include labor for installation.

12. Provide a shade element

Long, sunny days — though welcome in summer — don’t provide any reprieve when you want to spend time entertaining outdoors. Over a third of real estate agents say buyers in their market are seeking sun shades provided by canopies or retractable awnings, and that number rises to 52% among agents in the Mountain region where residents battle the desert heat.

“Something that shades your space, whether it’s a permanent structure or a canopy, can make it more comfortable out there on a warmer day,” shares Termine.

Manning says his pavilion and pergola sales have skyrocketed recently. Pergolas add some cover from the sun and a unique visual structure that doesn’t entirely block light or wind. These range in cost from $2,200 to $6,000 or more.

A pavilion, on the other hand, is a fully roofed structure. A pavilion can range from $8,000 to $20,000, according to HomeAdvisor. Manning adds that homeowners can add a lot of extras to pavilions, such as lighting or fans.

Two people building an outdoor pavilion for shade as an exterior home improvement.
Source: (Conor Brown / Unsplash)

The sky’s the limit on exterior home improvements

Improving your exterior can lead to some of the most rewarding outcomes of any projects you tackle at home, both from a financial and quality of life perspective.

Some outdoor upgrades will primarily help with home maintenance, while others will make a house more eye-catching from the street. The addition of amenities like decks and outdoor kitchens turn a regular backyard into an entertaining oasis. Whether you love gardening or cooking, let your passions guide your next project while keeping broader resale value in mind.

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