We’ve been told for decades that if we want to sell our homes someday we need to lean into “greige,” the combination of beige and gray that has become synonymous with playing it safe in design.
It seems like every flip-focused reality show tells us to keep our homes terminally neutral. Keep your cabinets white and your kitchen islands massive, they say. Focus on open-plan layouts, they stress, and don’t ever think about wallpaper.
Whether you’re taking on a major renovation or updating a kitchen or bath, it’s tempting to choose countertops, flooring or paint colors that you imagine will be universally acceptable rather than personally appealing.
But there are plenty of reasons to create a home that suits you and not an imaginary future buyer.
Real estate brokerage firm Redfin noted in 2022 that homeowners are staying put far longer than they did in the past. The average time spent in a home is now 13.2 years, much longer than a decade ago. Redfin noted multiple reasons for this, including a shortage of homes for sale and older homeowners who are choosing to age in place.
In addition, COVID-19 may have left us with a new appreciation for the personality and comfort of our homes. “Everyone had a backdrop on Zoom calls that provided a glimpse into someone’s life and home, and I think a lot of us wanted to be sure that backdrop said something about us,” said Atlanta interior designer Lauren DeLoach.
Tom Fulkerson has been a managing broker at Keller Williams Realty Metro Atlanta for seven years and has worked in real estate for more than 25 years. He’s planning to sell his own College Park home in 2024 and moving into his partner’s home in Atlanta’s Ormewood Park after his partner’s home gets renovated.
You might think his experience in real estate would mean that resale will influence the renovation of the Ormewood Park home half a mile from the Beltline. But Fulkerson said the fact that it will probably become the couple’s “forever home” is reason enough to make it perfect for them and not tailor it to anyone else.
He recognizes that the renovation of the two-bedroom home — and not adding a third bedroom — might not be the right choice for everyone.
“For some people, that’s a deterring factor,” Fulkerson said. “Obviously two bedrooms are less desirable than three or four.”
However, none of this means you should ignore resale value if you’re planning to sell within 10 years.
He suggests, for example, a “palette that might be more palatable for someone coming in looking to purchase your home.”
It is also key — no matter how much of yourself you put into your home — that the space is clean, uncluttered and freshly painted, Fulkerson said.
Curb appeal is essential, and he recommends choosing mature plants and bushes for your front yard instead of just plopping in a “five-gallon bucket holly bush” from a big box store.
Details are important. “Buyers still have not changed. They want everything to be done,” said Fulkerson.
It might also be smart if you are tackling an expensive project, such as a kitchen remodel, to make strategic choices in more permanent features.
“Certain things like flooring, countertops, you want to be as neutral as you can be,” Fulkerson said. “My house is neutral in wall color and trim work and flooring. But I’ve jazzed that up with artwork. Artwork can be removed.”
DeLoach agrees that you can balance personality preferences and universal appeal.
“If you are really focused on resale, keep the walls and cabinets neutral. Then, use special art, rugs and decor to add your personal touch — items that you can take with you to your next home,” DeLoach said.
“Wallpaper is a wonderful way to add interest to a home and is pretty easily removed. Light fixtures and cabinet hardware are some others,” she said.
But DeLoach believes that if you are planning to stay in your home for more than a few years, you should really design it for yourself.
Credit: Emily J. Followill
Credit: Emily J. Followill
“As a designer, considering resale is extremely limiting to the creative process,” she said. “I also find that fads in home trends seem to turn around faster and faster every year. It’s almost like we can’t keep up with it. So in my mind, it is better to go with classic choices, rooted in tradition.”
She also isn’t convinced that buyers need a blank slate to picture themselves in a space.
“I think potential buyers just want to feel a sense of home when looking for a new one. I think it’s OK if your space is personal to you,” she said. “I would be much more interested in a space that had lots of personality over one that was sterile and cold because it had been stripped of all character for resale.”
Here are the top remodeling projects for resale-minded homeowners, according to a 2022 study from the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry:
- Refinishing hardwood floors
- Adding new hardwood floors
- Upgrading insulation
- New roofing
- New garage doors
- Kitchen upgrades
Felicia Feaster is a longtime lifestyle and design editor who spent 11 years covering gardening, interior design, trends and wellness for HGTV.com. Felicia is a contributor to MarthaStewart.com and has been interviewed as a design expert by The New York Times, Forbes and the Associated Press.