4 Big Design Turn-offs of Home Buyers

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Certain dated design features in a home can really make some home buyers cringe. Could your listing have one of them?

A recent article at AOL Real Estate spotlights a few pet peeves of home buyers when touring homes today. Among the items making their list:

1. Popcorn ceilings: The speckled ceilings can attract dirt and be impossible to paint. Plus, if the home was built prior to 1980, the ceiling may contain asbestos and need to be tested by an inspector. Fix it: Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for removing popcorn ceilings; it can get messy. It’ll have to be scraped off and the ceiling then will need to be repaired. Plus, you’ll want to have it tested for asbestos before scraping. Home owners will likely want to consider hiring a professional to do this.

2. Carpeting everywhere: Many home buyers today have a fondness for hardwoods over wall-to-wall carpeting. Carpeting can show spots and dirt, which can serve as a quick turn-off to potential buyers who prefer the more polished look of hardwoods. Fix it: Have the carpet professionally cleaned if your seller can’t afford to swap out the carpet for hardwoods. Make sure the carpet is spot-free and looking new. If sellers are willing to spend some money, they might consider installing hardwoods on just the first floor or in just the dining room (pre-finished laminate can cost less). This allows the home to be marketed as having hardwoods, which could possibly draw in more potential buyers who won’t consider a home without.

3. Brass fixtures: Shiny brass fixtures are viewed as out-of-date by most people’s standards nowadays. More on trend is satin-nickel or oil-rubbed bronze finishes. Fix it: Big-box retailers offer plenty of affordable lighting options nowadays to make this an easier, more budget friendly do-it-yourself project with big impact.

4. Vanity lighting strips: The Hollywood-style strip with a line of bulbs of rounded lights hanging over your bathroom mirrors can also quickly date a home. Fix it: Find a lighting fixture that has shades for each bulb in a finish that matches your faucet. It’ll make the bathroom look more contemporary.

See other home buyer design pet peeves at AOL Real Estate.

Chime in! What home features are making your home buyers’ stomachs turn whenever they spot them?

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. Great advice. RE: Shiny brass fixtures, another option is to use metal paint on them. I found a very shiny brass chandelier at a Habitat store for about $10 — great quality, just out of date. I bought a can of matte white metal paint for $5.00 and it looks modern and really nice in my home office now. Popular satin-nickel or bronzed spray paints are available, too. One can would easily cover a number of fixtures. Thanks for the great tips as always!

  2. Dated wall paper is a big turn off for many buyers. They look at it and think it will be too expensive to have it professionally removed or to much work for them to remove themselves. Sellers please remove it before you list so that your home will appeal to a much wider audience of buyers!

  3. Yes — and buyers in our local market loathe wallpaper.

  4. And if you do have the Hollywood vanity lights…do not, I repeat Do Not replace the bulbs with 60 watters. 1st thing in the morning will blind you for sure:(:(:(:(
    Now to tackle the brass door handles.

  5. Deb Plant

    Great tips! Kelly, great point about painting the fixtures, I did the same thing with the ugly brass chandelier in our dining room- spray painted it cream and added some inexpensive embroidered shades, looks terrific! Love that they have the brushed nickel paint now too, definitely worth trying before replacing! Many sellers have very tight budgets so all these tips really help!
    As for popcorn ceilings- sheetrocking over also an option instead of scraping and disturbing any potential problems!

  6. Love these tips, and the comment idea for spraying the brass fixtures is great.

  7. Outdated cabinets, ceramic tile floors with dark grout, wallpaper, Formica countertops, vinyl siding.

  8. But nothing beats clutter and bad smells like cigarettes, mold, cat and dog pee.

  9. As a full service floor covering vendor covering the niche market of the real estate community I work with the absolute top 500+ agents here in the greater bay area. Our experience shows that new carpet normally provides a return on investment of $3+ for every $1 spent. For example, in a 2,000 square foot home (with approx 20% being hard surfaces – entry, kitchen and baths) that leaves 1,600 square feet. Even the cheapest new hardwood project will be over $12,000. Laminate is still moe than carpet at approx $8,000. Carpet on the other hand is the most cost-effective solution as the client can usually spend well under $5,000 and create a perfectly marketable home. Bottom line, let’s not voluntarily suggest that home sellers spend more than really necessary – hardwood is nice, but not necessary in the best (financial) interest of the home seller. Leave the hardwood project up to the new buyers.

  10. Amy Weldon

    Too many mirrors anywhere and everywhere…especially those that are floor to ceiling in the bedroom’s sliding closet doors.

    Trendy colors: peach and mauve were popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s; now they scream “old lady, old lady!”

    The “country” look (aka barnyard chic) featuring ducks with ribbons, chickens with hats, pigs with shoes.

    Cheap crystal anything, but especially light fixtures.

  11. Premarking the ceiling or floor joists & installing 1/2″ drywall overtop the existing popcorn ceiling is a cost effective solution & minimizes dust. This approach negates the required asbestos abatement cost to remove plus has added benefits such as sound deadening & the ability to update lighting.

  12. Lynne Tomlinson

    Great advice on painting the fixtures!! My seller is just about to replace them all! Probably not necessary. How about new hardware on slightly dated kitchen cabinets (like oak)

  13. Pat Howell

    Very good suggestions; especially installing 1/2 ” drywall on top of popcorn ceiling.

  14. Dave Erickson

    On applying drywall over the popcorn ceiling; installing 1/2 inch drywall is overkill. Why not use 3/8 or 1/4 inch drywall? It’s a lot lighter and easier to handle. It can also be used to cover beat up walls; which results in a better finish than skim coating and sanding the original surface, and usually takes less time.

  15. Linda Dean

    Dated sinks, bathtubs, and toilets. Teal, gold, avocado green, pink, blue etc. Replace the sink and toilet they are inexpensive. If you can’t afford to replace the tub you can have it professionally re-finished in a neutral color. We all know that bathrooms and kitchens help to sell houses.

  16. K Dixon

    Biggest turnoff is painting every room a different color. Go neutral for buyers but not bright white. Dated counters are also bad.

  17. Too many window curtains, valances, shutters, etc. A dark home is not welcoming…let the light in!

  18. I agree about different color walls in every room; however I’m a firm believer in an accent wall. The color of an accent wall becomes the wall decor. If it’s a vibrant color, the only accessory should be a small, off center metal and or art glass accent piece. If you paint a wall dark pumpkin, light metal with blue accents works beautifully. Stay away from large mirrors or paintings – it’s serious overkill