6 Fireplace Features That Are Instant Buyer Turnoffs, According to Real Estate Pros

published Feb 6, 2023
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A fireplace gives cozy winter vibes and acts as an anchoring higher sales price — 13 percent on average, according to Redfin. But like anything else in home design, fireplace preferences change over time. (My childhood home’s fake boulder monstrosity is definitely out, for example.) Here, real estate pros share common fireplace faux pas. 

Fake Stone

Manufactured stone has come a long way — and often looks close to the real thing — but older faux masonry from the ‘70s and ‘80s needs to be shown the door. “Old faux stone is a really ugly surface that pretty much no one likes anymore,” says Judie Simpson, real estate broker at The Agency. The good news is that giving your fireplace a refresh is an easy weekend project. All you need to do is give the facade a good clean and a couple of coats of matte latex paint. 

Gray Paint

Are buyers finally done with gray? Experts weigh in with a resounding “yes.” 

“Gray is on the way out, but white is still in,” says Paige Taylor-Hernandez, real estate agent and mortgage loan originator. The trending shades dominating this year’s color forecasts range from bright and vibrant to hues that skew on the warmer end of the spectrum. And for a fireplace, perennially popular neutrals are a stylish and safer bet, though Taylor-Hernandez says homebuyers aren’t shying away from saturated color. “Black is having a moment, so feel free to go bold and make a statement.” 

A Dirty Hearth 

Because the fireplace is a living room focal point, people will quickly notice if it needs cleaning. Stains, soot, dust, grime — anything that makes a fireplace facade look in less than tip-top shape is a no-no. A dirty fireplace may cause buyers to question the upkeep and quality of other areas of the home. On the positive side, “A clean fireplace gives the buyer time to imagine what they would like to do with the fireplace,” says Grace Carpenter, interior designer and home stager at Grace Carpenter Designs.

Decay and Disrepair

Just like a fireplace full of soot, one that looks like it’s seen better days is also a home prep faux pas. A fireplace should look well-maintained, even if it’s not operational or regularly in use. “It shouldn’t have a lot of broken tiles, loose bricks, or missing mortar,” says Carpenter. 

Maintenance also extends to other parts of the fireplace, like the mantle, chimney, and flue. “Don’t wait till you sell to find out the chimney is about to collapse,” says Simpson. 

Portable Fireplaces

In an apartment, condo, or house already strapped for square footage, a portable electric fireplace is another furnishing interrupting sight lines and creating clutter. Not to be confused with the popular built-in electric fireplace trend, the plug-in fireplace is the worst offender, according to Simpson. “It’s a [buyer] turnoff because it uses up valuable space.” 

Credit: Courtesy of Grace Carpenter

An Empty Fireplace

An empty fireplace can make a room look unfinished. Even if it’s non-functioning, a fireplace should integrate well with your living space. It’s also an opportunity to show off some personality and enhance the room’s ambiance. 

“If the fireplace is clean and unused, it’s a perfect location to add a bit of whimsy to the room. My favorite things to add are busts, extra large shells, or unusual sculptures,” says Carpenter. If you’re stuck on how to stage it, a group of candles or a stack of birch logs is a good fallback for a fireplace display.