Color Psychology: Choose the Right Color for Your Listings

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Is there a science behind selecting the right colors for your listings? In this month’s Realtor® Magazine, I spoke with experts in the field of design psychology to learn how the color on the walls may affect buyers’ moods. (Read the article: “Can Color Cost You a Sale?”)

For years, psychological research has been offering insights into how the brain reacts to color choices. Such research is often tapped by the marketing field in making products more desirable to buyers.

Can these same studies be applied to motivating such big purchases as a home?
It’s a leap, but at a subconscious level, certain colors on walls may evoke buyers who enter a home to feel more welcoming and even warmer (which may be particularly nice for rooms in chilly areas of the home).

A recent study by lead researcher Juliet Zhu of the University of British Columbia found that red seems to improve attention to detail. (The findings appeared this month in the journal Science.)  The researchers speculated that we’re taught at a young age that red means danger so red might slow us down and prompt us to zoom in on details (so would that make it a good choice for, say, surrounding the fireplace or to bring out other key details in your listing?).

While color preferences and psychological responses vary, research has revealed some of the following commonalities, according to The Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute and Architects Design Group (also included below is suggestions of what rooms the color may work best in).


  • Red: Increases energy and heart rate, creates excitement and stimulates the appetite. Best for: Dining rooms
  • Orange: Adds comfort, warmth, and cheerfulness and too much can bring about feelings of cautiousness. Best for: Living rooms and family rooms
  • Yellow: Brightens mood and promotes welcoming and joyful feelings; increases positive thinking. Best for: Poorly lit foyers and dark hallways; buttery shades of yellow for living rooms
  • Green: Most restful color. Reduces nervous system activity and muscular tension, calms and relaxes, offers reminders of nature. Best for: Living rooms (light greens); accent for kitchens and dining rooms (midtones).
  • Blue: Promotes feelings of calmness, security, tranquility, and cleanliness; lowers blood pressure, cools a room, and serves as an appetite suppressant. Best for: Bedrooms or any restful, peaceful area in a home.
  • Purple: Boosts creativity, imagination, and meditation, but can have unpleasant subconscious responses. Many adults dislike purple walls, particularly lighter shades of purple that are perceived as more youthful. Best for: Children’s bedrooms and play areas.

So, what do you think? Should science guide our paint choices?

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. RC Stafford

    Stick with neutrals, most people react differently to color and why risk losing a sale, especially in this market? Same goes for decorating, keep it simple and let people see the house, walls, floors, woodwork, windows, cabinets and what it is that they are buying.
    Adversley, one accent color here or there is easy & inexpensive to paint over, could create a little “oomph” and take the boredom out of too much neutral. Matching up the accent color with an interesting prop might help the buyer who is looking at a lot of property to remember this one, but don’t overdo it. Buyer’s don’t want to have to do a lot of things after purchasing and most don’t have the ability to see the property differently.

  2. I love this type of information not only for sellers, but for new buyers to give rooms that “something” that makes the house feel like home to them! I even picked up a couple of ideas for my personal home!
    Thanks so much.

  3. I agree, neutrals are the way to go. Potential buyers have favorite colors and you may turn them off with the selection of a particular color. The goal is to showcase the houses architecture and focal points such as fireplaces, beautiful views. If you don’t have a focal point create one with a great piece of art or a special furniture piece. You can always add punches of color with art, pillows, etc. You want the buyer to picture their own items fitting into the house and present a move-in ready appearance.

  4. I agree that neutral colors are the best but perhaps you may want to introduce other colors by painting one wall in the room or painting mouldings etc. Try it It works.

  5. What buyer doensn’t love “move in condition” when the’re looking for the house of their dreams? Packing, looking at homes, moving…it’s all so much work. The houses with fresh paint are a dream for buyers! Phew! One less thing on the to-do list. As an ASP Stager, I have multiple foam core boards painted my favorite neutrals that I leave with sellers overnight. We select the best choice and get the walls painted. Bolder colors come in with accessories.
    Paint….it does a listing good.

  6. Well, I’m going to have to agree that neutrals are GREAT, espcailly a nice tan/taupe instead of white anywhere, but an accent wall at least can make a sale. As a former new home sales consultant selling new construction including inventory homes, we saw a dramatic increase in sales of an ‘inventory’ home after adding color to the walls and colorful accessories. It could sit for months w/out even a glance and then we’d paint a room or accent wall around the fireplace and stage it a bit more and take new pictures . . . huge difference in interest and much quicker sales. You can’t go wrong with a nice, soft sage green. Without color, I just don’t think it felt enough like ‘home’ b/c it was too neutral or ‘vanilla’ as we called it, and even if it’s not their choice, it IS that move-in ready appeal that is driving sales today. Happy selling!

  7. Jodi Gregg

    An orange family room? Not in this market!

  8. I agree that colors play a large role in how you feel in a house. However, this advice I believe is best suited for someone who is already living in their house and wants ideas about how to redesign their space to suit their personality. As a professional real estate investor and home stager I have found that the majority of buyers respond more favorably to neutral colors. The main exceptions I have found is sage green (baths and kitchens) and soft pastel blue (baths and children rooms).

    The best way to incorporate color into a house that is on the market is through the careful use of artwork and accessories.

  9. I find that most resale homebuyers are interested in the value that a home brings to their family ” does it feel like home?” and part of that is accomplished with the warm,fuzzy feeling they get when they enter a home that makes them feel wrapped in that welcome home feeling with neutral colored walls instead of gothic black /dark walls that makes them feel like they are walking into Count Dracula’s castle.

  10. I believe that color has it’s place in larger and more upscale housing, but on the whole, neutrals work best in the general marketplace. Everyone sees color differently and therein lies the problem. It pays to keep in mind some of the points in the article in choosing the correct neutrals to use in various spaces. All neutrals are not created equal and selecting ones with either a warm or cool base tint can make the difference in rooms that have little light or conversely a great deal of light. I was recently in a house which has been on the market for quite a while and although entirely painted the same neutral, in the major living areas, the walls became almost pink and not pleasing at all. Same paint worked fine in the bedrooms with less natural light. My feedback to the listing agent as a realtor and staging professional was to have the seller repaint the living areas a shade that truly became neutral in natural and artificial lighting. Reminds me, I need to check and see if that house ever sold.

  11. Sarah Rose

    I also think that neutrals are the way to go. I am currently putting together a new package for listings and wanted to check this article out. I think that all of the comments by the agents really show that all of these colors have the ability to turn off a potential buyer. The accent wall is a great idea but not in a different bright color, just maybe a few shades darker that the neutral that is currently on the walls.

  12. A Fitzgerald

    I agree 100%. In this tough market, I did the above and sold my place at full price at the top end of its market in less than 2 weeks. I had done all the critical stuff – furnace, roof, kitchen remodel, new doors and trim, etc. … and had a white house. I painted neutral with just a few accent colors, such as red in the dining. It evoked warmth, a difference from the crowd, yet something easy to change if it doesn’t work for the next guy.
    I think the major difference was a draw to the eye in advertised pictures. I got 10 showings in a week-and-a-half, when most are lucky to get 1 showing per week.
    I’m not going to be afraid to recommend a touch of a color to any of my clients ever again. I truly believe that a “move-in” condition home is critical today and well worth the effort and expense.
    I still would, however, stay away from murals and truly “personal” style.

  13. I agree the colors should be toned down enough to not be offensive…but not white. Have been a Realtor for 33 years and “relocation beige” is still the accent wall is great ….puts a little “pop” in the mix.

  14. We just received multiple offers this week on a upgraded 1950’s cottage in East Sacramento. The sellers took it upon themselvese to hire a professional painter to paint the exterior and interior of the home.

    The living room is gorgeous cream color, with one soft green accent wall–the moldings and baseboards were painted a lighter shade of cream with a sheen base. Additionally, each room was painted with a nice custom color–soft yellow, soft mocha, the kitchen is soft white, with a pop of red and brushed steel appliances. Overall, the “wow” factor is there. Buyers loved it…and as other realtors have mentioned, it was one less thing to do when moving in. Happy sales!

  15. Color is relative, but I would stay away from bright bold colors. I’ve always thought soft greens (not mint, moss nor hunter) are nice in kitchens, a dark navy, burgandy or royal green is nice in a study; if you must use yellow, keep it mellow. Neutrals are always ‘safe’ especially if set against stark white crown moulding.

  16. It all comes down to the diffrence between decorating and staging and the importance of staging. Staging means decorating for the BUYER – the future owner of that home.

    The goal of staging is to attract the largest pool of buyers by removing anything and everything that might turn off potential buyers.

    This is why occasionally the most gorgeously decorated homes by the most accomplished designers do NOT necessarily produce an instant offer.

    For one, the oh so meticulously matched wall colors and the drapes, and the furniture, and all the other accessories that create just the right flow and the mood, that mesmerize the buyer and produce the “wow” moment, at some point of the previewing also produce that sobering question that pops into the prospective buyers mind: will it go with my furniture and accessories? How much will it cost me to repaint, and to install new carpeting, so it matches MY furniture and style?

    For example, navy blue walls and white cealing matched with golden yellow&white drapes and good quality ivory dining set and rug, plus other expensive accents in the dining room can create the most elegant, unique style – truly a spectacular design.

    But it can also be intimidating — unless the buyer has the expensive ivory dining set (and only an expensive ivory set will do for the navy walls, or the outcome can be quite the opposite effect) – the walls MUST be repainted for the buyer.

    What should the seller do?
    There is no easy answer to that question. In this case, the seller should NOT repaint into some neutral beige color, because now the walls blend too much with the expensive ivory dining set and the drapes, and the “wow” effect is lost on the buyer.

    It is better and more cost effective to offer a painting allowance to the new buyer – this way the buyer can choose the colors that match their furniture and style.

    In summary: Sellers who list their homes For Sale should assume that they do NOT own that home anymore – and should, in as much as possible, allow the buyers to make it their own home. In a challenging market like the one we are experiencing now, sometimes it is all that it takes to produce an offer.

  17. stephanie t

    eggshell or antique white are good choices, add color with staging items like flowers & pillows. Nobody wants to see themselves painting for hours to cover a black or red wall.

  18. Georgreta Bostean

    As a Realtor, I found that strong colors are offensive and a turn off for the buyers. I am joining my coleagues in agreeing that neutrals are the best.

  19. Yesterday I was in a spotless vacant home . . . that was painted all white. It felt cold, and institutional – and would remind most people of their first low end apartment. Paint those walls a warm neutral tone and those feelings would disappear. But, finding a good neutral tone from those little paint chips is harder than you think!

  20. I must see 30-50 homes a week with Buyers. The walls that are painted neutral, especially with white molding bring oohs and ahs. But the memorable ones have at least once “staged” focal point with color. Try a picture or color curtains.

  21. Mary

    White is too cold and stark! The best neutral color is “Kilim Beige” by Sherwin Williams. It is the bomb! It pops nicely against white woodwork, but the buyer can totally decorate around it–it goes with everything, and is nice and warm. I am a realtor, and I recommend it to all my clients. I love to bring some art work in, and I always use a bowl of green apples to add color.

  22. Lora Mac Alistaire

    God created color for a reason, people.

    Every house that I have painted with color, sold faster than houses that weren’t painted.
    The reason is, because the house felt welcoming. Color welcomes you in.
    White or boring beige aren’t color.

    As a designer/painter, I’ve asked numerous clients through the years, which room in their personal houses were there favorite? Nine out of ten, said, “Their Garden”.

    When I asked them to clarify, their repsonse was, because of the many colors.
    (Most of them are married to men that don’t see a connection between color and feeling & or, are color blind)

    Neutrals don’t evoke feeling or a sense of welcome.
    If they did, there would be no need to do Curb Appeal.
    How many flowers come in the boring beige color?

    Now, I’m not advocating extremes.
    But, lumping all houses into one color category, is simply wrong.

    Thank you,

    Lora Mac Alistaire

  23. bhowe

    I have looked for homes with clients and most of the feed back i get is that neutrals are ok but sometimes the pop of color is just what is needed to lead them to make a decision on this house, because it is a step up from all the neural houses they have been seeing. Get rid of the wallpaper and make the poetenial buyers very happy with some color. They will be thrilled not to have to think about what can I do with this room.

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  26. NEUTRALIZE is my favorite word to tell sellers at listing time. It has proven to be a good suggestion time and time again!

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