7 Real Estate Experts Share the Biggest Home Fails They’ve Seen

published Jun 29, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Thinking of selling your place and moving into a new home? Noodling about resale value before you make a big design decision? Home renovation projects, whether adding a fresh coat of paint or choosing a patterned tile for a kitchen backsplash, are sometimes tough to decide on. But only making improvements when you’re in the market for a new home (or right before) can be expensive to finish all at once. 

“Doing them in small pieces can be less stressful and [less] costly,” says Katherine Nelson, a realtor at Allen Tate Realtors in Greensboro, N.C. “You also get to enjoy them.” 

Ahead, seven real experts share the fails they’ve seen—from wacky wallpaper to too many renovations—to make sure you’re doing things right and maximizing your return on investment.

Showing a whole house of wild paint or wallpaper  

Whether it’s bright paint, loud wallpaper, or just too many prints, real estate agents warn against adding too much of a splash to your home that feels overwhelming. When choosing a paint color, Karen Newhouse, a realtor at Coldwell Banker Realty in Basking Ridge, N.J. and certified home stager, says red is a no-no. “It zaps the energy out of a room and makes the room appear much smaller.” 

She also warns to be careful of certain prints and wallpaper. “Animal prints should be done sparingly,” she says and adds that wallpaper should mostly be for the powder room and foyer only.

Jennifer Vogel, a realtor at Beverly-Hanks Realtors in Asheville, N.C., says that multiple crazy patterns caused a struggle in a home that she was representing the seller in. 

“I once had trouble selling a property with a patterned staircase runner and patterned wallpaper, fighting for attention in the same space,” she says. “The homeowner’s mother finally told her, ‘Get rid of the damn wallpaper,’ and with that, an acceptable offer came in.” 

Having too many family photos or heirlooms on display

While you’re living in your own home, photos, family heirlooms and decorations are up to you. But if you’re making big changes, or thinking about selling, paring back on these extras is the way to go. 

Take down all personal items including photographs or personal art. Buyers want to be able to visualize living in the space with their personal items,” says Jennifer Harlow, sales manager at Verse, the Mayhood Company, in McLean, Virginia.

Choosing niche finishes and upgrades

If you’re ready for that next DIY weekend home improvement project, these experts suggest choosing your finishes wisely and make sure that others like your ideas, too. 

“Dark wood paneling in a master bedroom may be your taste, but this would not be the norm among prospective buyers,” says Nelson. “Homeowners tend to make renovations without considering that the time will come when the home will need to be sold.”

Going overboard with themes can also scare away future interest. “I once had a client who loved Morocco and decided to decorate his whole condo in Mediterranean themed tiles,” Harlow says. “Keep it neutral and clean.”

Karen Gray, a realtor for Coldwell Banker Realty in Basking Ridge, N.J. agrees that universal is best after seeing very specific kitchen remodels that might deter some buyers. She suggests “a more generic renovation with quality materials and appliances that appeals to a larger audience.”

Overloading with knick knacks or furniture

One of the toughest things for many buyers to do is to see around your stuff, so decluttering is often the solution. Whether that’s getting your coffee maker or other cooking gadgets in the kitchen out of sight, it might be time to pare down your things (or at least put some of them in storage).

“Most homeowners—unless their name is Marie Kondo—should pare and edit their collections, remove clothing from closets, and stage the closets as well. Cleaning supplies and things like that should be tucked away,” Vogel says. She adds that when you’re selling your home, it is also “the time for new towels.”

Renovating for the sake of renovating

One of the biggest ways to add value to a home is to add square footage. However, when choosing if remodeling is the right way to go—since it can be very costly and time-consuming—think of the spaces where you can get the most bang for your buck. 

“Having updated kitchens and bathrooms are where you get the most return,” says Melodee Brooks, a Minnesota-licensed realtor with Edina Realty. “Buyers will always estimate an update far more expensive than what it actually is.”