Ask Brian: What Are Some Good DIY Projects Without Breaking the Bank?



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Gabby in Columbus, IN: Hello Brian.I expect about six more weeks of decent weather this fall. I’d like to get a couple more projects done outside but my summer vacation and activities broke the bank. What can you suggest on a tight budget?

Answer: Hi Gabby. Since the backyard BBQ season will soon be over, this is the time of year to focus more on the front of your home. If you do home entertaining, your guests will soon be seeing your front yard much more than the back yard. There are several smaller projects you can complete in less than a day and for under $100.

Solar walkway lights. This is practical as well as adds curb appeal as people walk up to your front door. Not only do solar lights improve eye appeal but these also add safety and security from your driveway to your front door. Just like anything else, you can buy elaborately expensive or very low cost solar landscape lights but you should easily find ones appealing to you for less than a $100 a dozen.

Installing solar lights is really simple because no wires, timers, switches, or power converters are needed. Each light is self-contained. The most important part of the installation is picking the location for each light. Try placing them for minimum interference with the lawnmower, take care around driveways so cars don’t run over them, and maximize sunlight exposure. Most solar lights give off 8 to 10 hours of light at night if they receive 8 hours of direct sunlight during the day.

Installing these typically only requires driving a stake into the ground to the correct depth. The main body of the light has a post the slides over the stake and some minor assembly of top light cap might be required. There is absolutely no effort required to operate them. A sensor turns them on when the light becomes low and they stay on until the battery charge is gone or until the sensor detects the sun has come back up. Trick-or-treaters will appreciate the additional lights in a few weeks as well as holiday visitors in a couple of months.

Colorful front door. Painting your door a contrasting color both adds curb appeal to your home and makes the door easy for first timer visitors to spot in low winter light. If you don’t have to make any repairs or other major preparation work, this doesn’t cost much more than a quart of paint, a brush/ roller, and some masking tape. But as long as you’re sprucing up your entryway, consider polishing or replacing old door handles and locks. Also, take a look to see if your doormat should be replaced.

Garage door rehab with paint or stain. Along with the front door, you can add some contrast with your garage door. Garage doors are made from materials different from the house siding. Some of these begin chipping and pealing long before the entire house needs a fresh coat of paint. Preparing the surface is going to take some elbow grease but scrapers, pressure washing, and other prep materials, along with paint or stain shouldn’t cost more than $100. You can simply repaint it the same color as the house, paint it the color of the house trim, or paint it the same contrasting color as your front door. Another appealing option is stripping all of the way down to bare wood to refinish it with a contrasting wood stain. If you have a metal garage door, you can check out the gel stains that give metal and other non-wood materials the appearance of wood stain.

Patch or reseed your lawn. Fall is the best time of the year for reseeding or patch-seeding your lawn. Patching even large sections should cost less than $100 and a full reseeding isn’t much more unless your front lawn is exceptionally large. This little project pays off with a full carpet of lawn in about 6 weeks. It can also help control water runoff during the rainy season as well as produce a healthy lawn next spring. This is also the time of the year for applying a full strength, slow releasing winter fertilizer to the entire lawn so that it thrives during the next growing season.

Acid stain your walkway. This is another way to add a little color or contrast for curb appeal. You can expect the cost to be about 50¢ per square foot but that doesn’t include any repairs needing to be made first. Also, if the concrete is sealed, the sealed layer needs to be removed. If you only need to clean and apply an acid stain, the project should take you about two partial days.

First, cover or tarp anything needing protection from chemicals such as shrubs or the edge of the lawn. Then give the walkway a good cleaning with a pressure washer and/or TSP solution (trisodium phosphate). You’ll be using a low-grade acid so wear protective clothing including chemical resistant gloves, eye protection, and maybe a chemical resistant apron. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to mix the acid stain solution. The best application is with a paint sprayer. Do the entire walkway all at the same time. If you try doing it in sections, you’ll end up with lines at the section points and possibly different colored sections. Before the solution dries, scrub it into the walkway using an outdoor broom. Have someone else do the brushing if the acid wash will dry before you finish applying all of it and brushing the entire walkway. After you finish brushing, apply a second coat of the acid was for an even finish that eliminates any brush marks.

The next step is neutralizing the stain with a solution of 4-cups of baking soda for every 2-gallons of water. You simply mop the solution onto the walkway. Don’t step on the walkway until the acid wash is neutralized. Wring the mop out and use it to mop up any standing water. The walkway needs to dry for at least a day before applying a sealant. The dried baking soda can leave a chalky appearance but the sealant usually brings back the full color. You might want to test a small area with the sealant first. If the chalky appearance bleeds through, you can thoroughly rinse with clear water and let the walkway dry again. The last step is applying two coats of sealant following the manufacturer’s instructions.  

Gabby, these are only a few of many possible low cost projects that will improve the curb appeal of your front yard and entryway as we head into the holiday season. Readers certainly have their own thoughts and favorites. Please share by adding your comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.