Shopping for a house is a lot like online dating. So much rides on that first photo. Whether you're looking for a potential house or a potential partner, a prospect's "curb appeal" often determines whether you cross the figurative threshold or swipe left.
As houses go, the focus of that first photo falls on the front door, which should draw you in. However, many front doors don't do their houses any such favor.
"So many people buy a house and just live with the door that it comes with, when they could really improve the whole face of their house and make it more of what they want by changing it," said Jennifer Matson, spokesperson for JELD-WEN, a leading supplier of doors and windows based in North Carolina.
"Replacing a door is such an easy and relatively inexpensive project compared to most renovations," she said. "Many studies show that replacing your front door almost always pays for itself. I don't know why more homeowners don't do it."
"I know why," I tell her. "Because most homeowners don't know where to start. They look online at door options, get overwhelmed, then go play Wordle."
Matson broke the process down. "Start by asking what you want from your front door," she said. "Better curb appeal, greater security, improved weatherability, more light or privacy, greater energy efficiency? All that is possible."
Next ask if you can get what you want by refinishing the door you have or should you replace it. If the underlying door is in good condition, a fresh coat of paint and new hardware can make it look new again. However, if you can see daylight peeking through, if hot or cold air is coming in, if rust or rot is evident, or if you don't like its looks, a new door could be in order.
If so, here's what to consider:
◼️ Choose your material. The most popular front door options are steel, fiberglass and wood. Wood is classic and beloved, but it is the most expensive and will need the most maintenance. Steel is the leading choice because it is the most secure and least expensive. Fiberglass doors are becoming more popular, because they offer the low-maintenance and durability of steel and the look of wood.
◼️ Consider price point. Steel doors are the least expensive at about $500, not including installation. Fiberglass costs between $500 and $800, and wood doors are upward to $1,000. Double doors and custom doors can run several thousand dollars. In addition to the actual door, you might need a door system, which includes a frame, plus hardware. If so, figure on about $2,000 to $4,000 for a complete system that includes a pre-hung door in its frame.
◼️ Factor in your exposure. Though steel, fiberglass and wood will all work in any climate, expect to repaint or re-stain a wood door more often, especially if you live near the coast, or if your door takes a lot of direct sun and weather.
◼️ Glass or solid. Glass inserts, sidelights and transoms will provide more light and sometimes less privacy. Glass will add expense to any door but can also add interest. About 40% of the doors her company sells have glass, Matson said.
◼️ The trends. Though door trends move slowly, trends exist, Matson said. Today's homeowners are moving away from oval or arched windows in favor of square and rectangular panes. Fewer are choosing ornate, cut or etched glass, though frosted glass remains popular. A popular door style today is the three-quarter glass door, where the bottom fourth of the door is solid, and the rest glass.
◼️ Paint or stain? A wood-stained door is beautiful and classic and the most popular choice, outpacing painted doors seven to three, Matson said. However, if your house lends itself to a painted door, that splash of color can deliver a lot of style and personality. Whether you paint or stain, choose a high-gloss sheen meant for exteriors, and apply it to top and bottom edges.
◼️ Color me classic. When choosing a door color, consider the palette of your house, its architecture, your neighborhood, and geography. Don't rely on an online list of most popular door colors. Look to classics like red, navy or gray, as well as black, which is hot in doors right now. If you live near a coast or in the South, other favorites include yellow, coral and turquoise.
◼️ Common mistakes. "The biggest mistake I see is when someone chooses a door that doesn't fit their house's architecture," Matson said. "For instance, they put an ultra-modern door on a traditional house. That doesn't mean you can't update your door, but it still needs to go with the look."
◼️ Don't do this yourself. A door is only as good as its fit. Unless you are an experienced door hangar, leave this job to the pros. The hinges have to line up just right, the close has to be watertight, with no gaps.
Marni Jameson is the author of six house and lifestyle books, including "What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want."