Please, I Beg You to Sell Me a Home with Personality

published Nov 5, 2023
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Bright open warm industrial Bronx loft apartment
Credit: Erin Derby

Picture this: You’ve spent your entire Saturday flitting in and out of open houses. Then, later that night, you’re sitting at home completely unable to recall the differences between each home you toured. Was it the place with the white kitchen and gray floors that you liked the best? Or was i t… the other house with the white kitchen and gray floors?

Maybe you even tried to make a pros and cons list, but kept referring back to Zillow to jog your memory. Each house somehow looks like it found a list of HGTV-approved renovation advice and arrived at the same vinyl plank flooring, subway-tiled bathrooms, and Shaker-style cabinets. Hello, millennial gray.

I should note that millennial gray has its place. In fact, a neutral-looking home can be quite sleek. But when it’s all you’re seeing day in and day out, the look sure does get old.

These days, open-floor plans, white walls, and recessed lighting have been sold to homeowners as the highest ROI renovations on the block. Want to paint your walls an emerald green? Perhaps spring for toile wallpaper or pink bathroom tile? Common wisdom says put down the paint roller — your home value will plummet. The wisest decision, so they say, is to go neutral. And not just in staging, but in every decision you make. Resale value rules every renovation project in a home media-driven world.

As someone who just went through the homebuying process, I was begging the universe to send me a home with personality. I’d walk into a home and have nothing to say beyond, “It looks recently renovated,” or, “It’s light and bright.” 

After dozens of houses, I just wanted to see some interesting design choices or original details in need of love. Then I started to notice that the few homes in my neighborhood where a developer or a well-intentioned homeowner hadn’t left their neutral fingerprints were flying off the market. 

Clearly I’m not the only one craving color, style, and individuality — and it might be because people are also craving a sense of place and belonging. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research earlier this year reported that a home used to be a reflection of a homeowner’s singularity, but now, homes have become an asset. And as an asset, a home has to appear broadly appealing. This can lead to a disorienting concept of home where there’s little connection to the individual. Home has become a business rather than, well, a home.

On the other hand, when you see open houses that feel designed or styled, you feel connected not only to the aesthetic, but to a way of life.

Credit: Viv Yapp

There’s nuance here, however. Not just any home with personality will do. Buyers demand real personality, and that’s only possible if it was created with care. Savvy shoppers know when quirky tilework or eclectic wallpaper was chosen by a person who understood the space, as opposed to a developer who probably mused, “Buyers will go nuts for this Insta-worthy mural.”

Real estate expert Jamie Manning of Exposed Brick DC has noticed this exact sentiment in her day-to-day. “A home that recently came on market in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC was dark, moody, and full of vintage finds. People identified with the home because you could tell that it was one-of-a-kind and reflected the owners,” Manning says. Taxidermy and striking light fixtures added to its appeal without alienating potential buyers who may not go so eclectic in their own design choices.

Manning points out that bold design simply for the sake of bold design can be polarizing — especially if buyers can sniff out that it was done for attention, not authenticity. A developer took a chance with some more playful design choices in another DC house, and some people thought the look went too far, she explains.

Here’s my take: Homes with character beat out neutral gray boxes any day. Still, some bolder design choices can feel like a ChatGPT function — akin to plugging in colors and wallpaper to get a robotic end result. But when these choices come from a human whose stamp is all over the home, it feels authentic. That’s the connection I’m searching for — and I bet you are, too.