Biggest Losers: 20 Home Design Features That Send Buyers Running


By Barbara Ballinger, Architecture Coach columnist and guest blogger

Design glitches draw attention away from a home’s best features. Don’t let out-of-date fixtures and unappealing decor cost you a sale. While some buyers may actually appreciate “vintage” features, home and design experts say these 20 features almost always serve as a turnoff.

1. Dated and excessively bold or dark paint and tile colors, such as “Pepto Bismol” pink, avocado green, deep plum, or jet black. “Dark can be cool, but it has to be a color that’s popular today,” says sales associate Jennifer Ames, crs®, of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago.

2. Lacquered or high-gloss painted walls that are expensive to repaint and show all defects. Likewise, faux- and sponge-painted walls can be so passe.

3. Painted trim that’s very dark-and costly to remove.

4. Wallpaper, which is a lot of work (and potentially expensive) to remove. Most disliked: Dated flowered or striped patterns.

5. Kitchens that lack any dining space. Also, outdated, small-scale, and dirty kitchen appliances that look like they won’t perform.

6. Worn, cracked laminate countertops, and backsplashes or plastic cultured marble.

7. Outdated bathrooms with small sinks, short toilets, squatty bathtubs, and tight showers-all of which aren’t conducive to unwinding after a long day’s work, says Ames.

8. Lack of ample closet space in bedrooms, or no closet at all and no place to build one or add an armoire.

9. Dens, libraries, and family rooms without built-in bookcases or a space to include shelves.

10. Stained and worn wall-to-wall carpet in rooms or on stairs. Worst choice: shag. Also, worn linoleum that suggests a house was never updated.

11. Poorly built additions that don’t blend with a home’s architecture, such as a sunroom with tinted glass.

12. Shortage of windows or very small windows, which makes a home feels dark and gloomy.

13. Ceilings with so many recessed lighting spots that they resemble Swiss cheese and are expensive to remove. Worst offenders: big 6-inch diameter lights.

14. Too many rooms outside the kitchen and bathroom that have cold ceramic tiled floors.

15. Children’s bedrooms with a theme that runs through the carpeting, wallpaper, murals, ceilings, light fixtures, curtains, and furnishings.

16. Homes without a foyer or garage.

17. Too many mirrored walls, ceilings, doors, and backsplashes in a single room. The effect is dizzying, Ames says. One mirror magnifies, but many cheapen the look.

18. Skimpy molding and trim, such as 1-inch baseboards.

19. Noisy, grinding fan in a bathroom that’s attached to a light switch so it can’t be turned off.

20. Inexpensive gold-colored light fixtures in any room. Also,  Hollywood-style lighting with huge bulbs in a bathroom is also out of date, design experts say.

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. Good post. There are so many of these things that folks don’t get. When they sell homes, they get attached to what THEY like versus what most of the market will like.

  2. Nicole

    Do tell… what is the best way to get this home with nearly all of the above 20 faux pas to SELL in this market??? I have this listing…. please help!!

  3. That’s a great list! The other turn-offs here are the cottage cheese or popcorn ceilings and the kitchen not being open to the rest of the home. The ceilings are a relatively easy fix, but to open up the kitchen can be quite expensive.

  4. I love this entry! Add to the list colored tubs and commodes (i.e. black, dusty rose, etc.). Bleck!

  5. “Dated and excessively bold or dark paint and tile colors, such as “Pepto Bismol” pink, avocado green, deep plum, or jet black…..”

    Actually in my Los Angeles area many of our homes are charming 1920’s and 30’s charcter homes – many with pink, plum or black tile – and it works for those styles of home. Everything can’t and shouldn’t be travertine. But overall a good list.

  6. My buyers always cringe when they see popcorn ceilings or walls – I have even seen the truly tasteless popcorn ceiling with “disco” sparkles! It makes people wonder what is being hidden.

  7. Hi, this is a nice article. In short make the buyer feel that he’s bought a brand new home with great and inviting design themes for himself. If you are seling a home then remodeling it just for the sake of adding some nice value isn’t a bad idea. The list mentioned abobe can be great start. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Carol Frome

    Good list. And have you ever noticed that the “hollywood” lights, so often found in dated bathrooms, invariiably leave burn marks on the ceiling above them?

    I predict that in the future, cathedral ceilings and “open plan” rooms without definition will also be passe.

  9. Nicole: Hire an ASP stager! We can remove, change or work with nearly all of these flaws for short money and a big sale.

  10. I highly enjoyed reading this blogpost, keep up making such exciting posts!

  11. The above tips on what not to do is spot on. I sell properties in multi cultural communities and find that what you have stated above is universal.

    Thanks for writing it all up.

    Lisa Gault

  12. will

    I am not seeing the real value in this list. Small sink bad, Big sink good! A house with no garage bad. House with Garage good! Dated decoration? Bad. Neutral or up-to-date? Good! Worn, dirty or broken? Tisk tisk. New, upgraded and clean? Hurray!

    Big room better than small room. Roof better than open to the rain. Infested with vampires, probably better to be not infested. Homes near the Detroit area are also foax-pas.

    Designers recommend not festooning your master bedroom with the heads of animals and homes built over a deep chasm to Hell have historically not sold well.

    But then there is no accounting for taste, is there?

  13. Really nice thanks for your share