After I finally quit my dead-end office job and started my own fitness-based business, I began to feel like my life was on the up-and-up—even though I knew that it’d be a good number of years before I saw any real profits. I was patient, though, and scrimped and saved and shared a room (and at one point, I even rented out my parents’ basement), but all of the personal strife was worth it in the end. I slowly nursed my bank account for several years until I was in a position to get a place of my own. It wasn’t anything fancy—in fact, I was probably under the influence of one too many “fixer-upper” programs from HGTV when I signed that bottom line—but it was mine. As I was looking for my home, I ensured that I stayed well within my budget so that I’d have plenty left over to tackle some of the biggest projects that I’d undertake as a first-time homeowner. Trust me: no matter how lovely your new-to-you home’s bones might be, it’s probably going to require some upkeep and upgrades if you’re ever to return on your investment.
Getting Started: Appealing the Curb
I will admit, the place did have good bones, but the landscaping—including the barren lawn—was bone dry. I spent a few seasons nursing my yard back to life. An adequately managed lawn is more drought-tolerant, out-compete weeds, and is less susceptible to insects and diseases. I live in an area that gets plenty of snow, so I started by lightly raking my lawn as it melted off at the beginning of spring. This lifted and dried the grass—breaking up matted portions—and prevented “snow mold.” I began mowing my new turf as soon as it started growing: and the trick was to really let it grow. Taller grass competes with weeds better, making it easier to remove the weeds at the root by hand. I called in some professionals for the troubled spots where weeds had gotten out of control, and they combined the right weed killers with the perfect fertilizer for a truly emerald lawn.
Raising the (Value of) the Roof
When I redid the exterior and roof, I replaced everything I could find; I removed the old insulation and hidden electrical junctions from the outside and ran new lines for future use.
I have a brick home, and the structure required me to check the tuckpointing, as well as the attic trusses and the floor joists in the basement. I noticed some damage to the mortar, and again I called in some professionals to “repoint” the brick. It’s not something I dared do on my own, because my home was so old: and older, softer, more porous bricks need a mortar to match; a type probably mixed with lime. Nothing can hurt your structure more than a spotty patch job using the wrong kind of hard, modern, portland cement: when it cures, it will allow for a devastating amount of water damage.
Don’t Drive on By
After tackling the basics—like my lawn, and the integrity of my home’s structure—I had to figure out which steps to next take that would both beautify my house, and keep me within my modest budget. I noticed that my driveway could really use an upgrade: it was cracked cement and seemed like it had upheld the weight of its fair share of oversized vehicles over the decades. I decided on a beautifying, natural material that would also fit with my low-maintenance lifestyle: gravel. With a bobcat rental, I broke up the old cement and pulled it all out, and leveled down the area. I purchased some heavier gravel—in a bold, unique color—to add a dash of excitement to my home’s exterior: all while staying under budget.
A Not-So-Secret Garden
I removed some old concrete steps, and built a front porch area that allowed room for a garden bed where I used to have a concrete path. I added a modern trellis with a good amount of height and planted a climbing hydrangea that added visual interest, while “softening” my brick walls. I also planted a tall bush evergreen that added a lot of color and life to my home’s exterior, and strategically placed it so that it wouldn’t block light to my basement window. To keep them healthy, I edged a bed for them and filled it with black mulch. Updating my old windows was easy: I just added a modern window box design and planted some trailing vines beneath the structure.
Guide My Path
My front walkway used to be an eyesore, so I decided to update it with paver stones. I had to clear out the old, worn-out bricks that made up the previous path (and there were plenty), so I opted to load them all onto a pallet, and rent a forklift to dump them later. Beneath the bricks was a thick layer of sand that needed removing, so I got to shoveling. I wanted my pavers flush with the level of my lawn, so digging out the old soil was both a labor-intensive and time-consuming step in the project, but totally worth it. After tamping it all down (and then, tamping it all down some more), I double-checked the level with a screen-rod I’d made with some scrap wood and installed the pavers.
All in all, with a lot of elbow grease—and the help of trusted professionals when appropriate—I updated my home’s exterior to look warm, inviting, and well-appointed.