Expert Tips for Boosting the Curb Appeal of Your Flat-Front House

Experts weigh in on the best methods of improving the appearance of a one-dimensional home exterior.

You may not have heard the term, but flat-front homes are easy enough to spot: They're the homes on your street, usually colonials, that appear one-dimensional. They lack depth, ornamental features, and landscaping, and a lack of porches and awnings paired with a homogenous color palette often defines the appearance of these homes.

"The thing about flat-front houses is that they suggest that the people who live there don't take pride in their home," says DC-based interior designer Annie Elliot. "And so if you are listing your house, the one dimension really does not does not help your cause."

Blue house white trim
Alise O'Brien

Anyone with a flat-front house probably does take great pride in their home—but not knowing how to dress up a lackluster exterior will prevent even the most diligent homeowner from showing off the front yard of their dreams.

While the flat-front home problem is purely aesthetic, when it comes to selling the property, the problem can be become one of sellability. That's because curb appeal often brings potential buyers in the door. A beautiful exterior is the secret to getting potential buyers to stop scrolling home sites, peek through the rest of your photos, and make a decision to schedule a tour or put in an offer. Owning a flat-front house doesn't resign you to a lengthy selling process, though: Whether you're ready to list your home or not, there are simple ways to upgrade your flat-front home and make it the prettiest spot on the block.

Dramatic Solutions for Your Flat-Front House

If you have time and money to make over your flat-front home, there are a few areas you'll want to focus on.

Elliot suggests starting by adding dimension to the home itself. You can do this by adding shutters or awnings if they fit the style and era of the home. (Don't do this with a modern home, for example.) You can spruce up your front steps or add new ones. A walkway through the front yard to the front door will increase curb appeal, as well.

"If you don't have any approach to the house, that's something you probably want to consider," Elliot says. "Try putting down brick or flagstone."

Elliot also recommends focusing on landscaping—this is where you'll want to hire a pro.

"A front garden, curved beds—with or without stone or brick edging—they add beauty, dimension, and interest," Elliot says. "So if you don't have a green thumb, engaging a landscaper is really worth every penny."

Elliot suggests adding at least two curved beds to add depth to the yard and thinking outside the box with bushes: Flat rows of shrubs will only make the problem worse. Instead, vary the height and shape of your plantings and be sure to include some evergreen options so your landscaping stays in good shape year-round.

black shutters brick colonial style home
Werner Straube

If you have a larger budget to play with, Elliot says a front porch will truly solve the one-dimensional problem. Adding a porch is a pricey and time-consuming fix, though, and if you're updating the house to sell it, you'll likely regret not having the porch sooner to enjoy yourself.

Budget Fixes

If you don't have the time or money to fix your flat-front house with major additions or landscaping, there are still some budget-friendly options to improve its curb appeal.

Elliot suggests going with potted plants or potted trees and spacing them a few feet in front of your front door on either side: There's no landscaping pro required for this upgrade, and you can take the plants and pots with you when you move.

"I do suggest looking at home improvement stores for resin or plastic terracotta look-alikes, which are far lighter and easier to move than concrete or metal and far less expensive," she says.

Paint can also go a long way to add curb appeal, Elliot says. Try redoing the front door in a bold color and painting any existing shutters with a fresh coat.

two-story front exterior front porch add-on
Peter Walters

Patsy Rios Franzi, a real estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Universal, suggests painting the trim, too. "If there's any kind of trim around the house, making it a different contrasting color [than the siding] will really make the front of the house pop," she says.

Don't want to buy paint? Then elbow grease is the best route. Elliot says, at a bare minimum, you can clean your siding, sweep your porch, and straighten any loose or crooked shutters.

"Sometimes all you need is a power wash to make everything look brighter," she says.

Courtney Klosterman, consumer insights expert for home insurance services company Hippo, also suggests fixing driveway cracks, enhancing lighting, and replacing old gutters and downspouts. The benefit of these enhancements is that they not only improve the look of your flat-front home, but also improve the home from a safety and structure standpoint.

"Not only will this make your home look cleaner, it will be beneficial for the new homeowners," Klosterman says.

If you don't want to lift a finger, Rios Franzi suggests swapping exterior photos for better features in your listing.

"The first pictures are usually the front of the house," she says. "But if it's really bad off, my first picture will either be of the backyard if it's really nice, or an interior photo of something like the living room."

This should be a last resort, Rios Franzi says, because most buyers expect to see the exterior of a home before scheduling a tour.

The Return on Investment

If you make these improvements, real estate agents say you can expect to see a return on your investment.

"You'll see a return in many ways, and not necessarily in dollars," Rios Franzi says, adding that some upgrades might be essential to making a sale at all. At the very least, you'll increase traffic to your home from potential buyers who aren't turned off by the exterior photos.

"Everybody who passes the house with the for sale sign is a potential buyer or a potential referrer, so it is critical that the front of your house look appealing," Elliot says.

In a hot housing market, you might sell your home regardless of the flat-front problem, but you'll never know how much you might have fetched with increased curb appeal.

"You're lucky, because in today's market you don't need to do a lot to sell," Rios Franzi says. "But I still recommend [upgrades to boost curb appeal], because it's my job to get you top dollar."

Whatever you do, whether it's a makeover or clever listing photos, make sure you address the curb appeal factor.

"You can't ignore a flat-front house," Elliot says. "That's the bottom line."

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