McLEAN, Va. (5/19/10)--The home buyer tax credit has expired and home prices are expected to fall--leading to even more seller competition in today’s housing market (USAToday.com May 12). If you’re trying to sell your house, boosting its curb appeal can help make--or break--a sale. Tackling outdoor projects may seem daunting, but starting with these tasks can help make your yard look fresh and inviting, according to CNNMoney.com. Mulch. A fresh layer of mulch provides visual contrast and makes foliage and flowers more eye-catching. Mulch also keeps water in the soil and provides nutrients as it breaks down, keeping your plants healthier all year long. For a large project, you’ll need more than a few bags of mulch from your neighborhood home center. Consider having a local landscape supply company deliver mulch to your home instead. Since this mulch will be local, there’ll be less chance that it will introduce invasive diseases or insects into your garden. Bagged mulch often comes from hundreds of miles away. Using a garden spade, cut a clean edge around your beds then use a wheelbarrow, pitch fork, and rake to lay at least a two-inch thick mulch bed. Seal decks and fences. All outdoor woodwork needs protection from elements. Seal with stain. Paint requires first scraping and sanding every time you need to refresh the area. Invest in premium oil-based stain--it will soak into the wood and minimize prep work for your next coat. Purchase stain that contains UV (ultraviolet) blockers to prevent sun damage to the wood. Before staining, use a wood cleaner and a soft-bristled brush to remove dirt and mildew, or use a power washer, which you can rent for about $50 to $100 per day. Touch up paint. Peeling paint makes your house look neglected and lets UV light damage wood siding--making more paint come off and leading to a more extensive, expensive project. It’s tempting to skimp and buy cheaper paint ($15 to $20 a gallon). Instead, splurge and purchase a more expensive paint ($30 to $45 a gallon). The high-quality pigments and binders in top-of-the-line paint make it last five or more years longer than economy products. Use water-based paint--it’s easier to use and more environmentally friendly than oil-based products. But purchase oil-based primer to make the paint stick better. If your house exterior has more than just a few spots that need touching up, you probably need a full-blown paint job. House painters typically won’t do touchups unless they’re fixing a previous paint job of their own. A handyman can help with touch-up painting. Doing these jobs yourself can save money. If working outdoors isn’t your forte, find a handyman to do these jobs at a reasonable cost. Once you complete the bigger projects, make sure to mow and edge the lawn on a regular basis, trim hedges, and plant flowers. If your yard doesn’t look well-maintained, buyers will assume your home isn’t either and drive on by. To learn more, read “You Can Sell Your House--Even in a Down Market” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.