Fun stuff like planting pansies and hanging new curtains can come only after the grunt work. (Call the kids!) Move the trashcans and clean around them. Clear the porch or entry steps and sweep. Hose everything down. Wash the windows (at least in front). Wash down doors and trim around the entry. Clear the gutters. Prune plants that touch the house. Get rid of the end-of-winter pileup to create an outdoor room. Stow shovels and sports gear someplace else. A few traditional, well-proportioned pieces give a sense of order and invite rest, for a nice “welcome home.” Consider a hammock, outdoor wicker, a lineup of green, white, or primary-color rockers, a bench or table, all arranged for conversations or napping.
You don’t have to paint the whole house to spiff it up. The entryway, especially door and threshold, may need a touchup long before other areas. Paint is the ultimate cosmetic, and inexpensive if you pick your spot and then do it yourself. Rejuvenate a worn entry or add new personality with a punch of color. (Historically, the entry door was often done in an accent color, different from body and trim, perhaps the same color as shutters.) Other rewarding places to paint: porch parts (rails and posts in trim color, balusters or spindles in house body color), porch decking (medium value to hide dirt), ornaments (don’t go crazy picking things out), and window sash (try dark rather than light). When the time does come to paint the house, use paint colors and placement to highlight (or fix) proportions and make even the blandest house worth a second look.