9 cheap ways to improve your home’s curb appeal (© Stocksearch/Alamy)

© Stocksearch/Alamy

If you're getting ready to sell your home, you want it to make a good first impression on potential buyers. You may have an updated, modern kitchen and an amazing spa bathroom, but no buyer will see either without first getting through your front door. Your home needs curb appeal.

Of course, if you've spent a pretty penny for updates throughout your home, you may not have the budget or desire to spend big on that first impression. Luckily, curb appeal can come cheap.

In this installment of "Real Estate on the Cheap," we have tips and advice from experts, including a few things they say most sellers never think about. We'll also check in with a real-estate agent in Salt Lake City to find out if buyers can expect to find any bargains there.

(Do you have a question about "Real Estate on the Cheap," a suggestion for a future column or a story about how you saved money? Please email your ideas to msnrealestate@microsoft.com.)

Cheap and easy curb appeal
Here are the top nine tips for inexpensive — and often free — curb appeal from real-estate agents, lawn-and-garden professionals and other curb-appeal experts.

1. Add a layer of mulch
A fresh layer of mulch was mentioned the most as a cheap way to improve the look of your yard.

"Mulch will cover up a multitude of sins, and the darker it is, the more effective it looks," says Maureen "Mo" Gilmer, a horticulturist and landscape designer. She tells homeowners to steer clear of reddish-orange mulch, which "looks horrendous in a garden, especially next to a lawn."

In Pinellas County, Fla., where Liane Jamason is a real-estate agent — and in many other areas nationwide — free mulch is available from city and county agencies. Jamason says Pinellas County recycles more than 100,000 tons of yard waste into free mulch each year. Mulch makes an area look freshly landscaped, and it also saves water by reducing runoff and conserving soil moisture.

2. Focus on your front door
Updating your door's handle and deadbolt set with a modern-looking option is a great visual upgrade, and it can be a practical improvement, too.

"I can't tell you how many times as a real-estate agent I have fumbled and wrangled with the key in a rusty or stripped keyhole," says Lisa Vail, co-author of "Creating Curb Appeal." "That's not the energy you want buyers to start viewing your house with."

While you're at it, see if your doorbell, light fixtures and the door's kick plate could be replaced, she says. And be sure to glance up to check for cobwebs on the front porch. Vail says she sees these regularly.

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Also, make sure the path to your door is accessible. "You might use your garage or side door to enter your house, but buyers won't," Vail says. "Cut back overgrown hedges so there's plenty of space to maneuver, and fix any uneven pavement or broken pieces that could create a trip hazard."

A nicely scented, potted plant by the front door — gardenia is Vail's favorite — can make a good impression on potential buyers. "Homebuyers make decisions with all five senses," she says, "but scent is almost always overlooked."

3. Don't forget your fence
Gilmer says a homeowner may get used to looking at the back fence and not notice discoloration from water and sun.

"People don't pay enough attention to fences, but they are the biggest constructed element in your yard," she says.

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She recommends using a semitransparent stain to even out signs of repairs and to cover stains and discoloration. Pull together the look of the yard by using that same stain to upgrade other wood structures on your property, including benches, rails, decks, steps,  sheds and playhouses.  

4. Use some elbow grease
Jamason tells sellers to stand at the end of the driveway and try to view the home as a buyer would. Are there oils stains in the driveway? Is there mold on the mailbox? Grime on the front door?

Rent or borrow a pressure washer and thoroughly clean your home's exterior. You can use the pressure washer to clean your siding, foundation, patio, walkways, driveways, stairs, decks and porch. Take a bucket and scrub brush to your front door, mailbox and any other areas that need gentler cleaning.

5. Add a color to your home's palette
"If your home's paint job is decent but a little boring, see if you can add a second accent color to the window casements, shutters and/or front door," Vail says. She says the typical house has only two paint colors, one of which is usually white, but a designer or color specialist often creates a three- or four-color palette.

"Pick up one of those color-scheme cards (that) the big paint manufacturers put out if you are at all unsure how to do this well," she says.