“This Pains Me to Watch” — Real Estate Pros Critique TikTok’s Renovation Trends
When I joined TikTok, my “For You” page was filled with financial advice, bad tropes about spousal roles, and home renovation trends. I quickly took the millennial bait for home DIY projects and fell down a deep hole of time-lapse videos featuring people peeling off wallpaper, each punctuated by crescendoing music to reveal a beautifully updated interior and a promise that I, too, could do this for under $100.
As someone looking to buy a home, I save scores of videos every day, but I often pause to wonder, “Is that really a good idea?” A closer look at the comments section reveals that I’m not alone in questioning these projects. While many users cheer the homeowner on, real estate agents and other home industry professionals often react in horror, and some TikTok creators have turned off or limited comments on popular posts to avoid criticism.
“Omg you just devalued your home by thousands,” wrote one commenter. “As an estimator for a tile and stone contractor, you effed up,” typed another. “And then when you need to resell, the people are like wtf, painted tiles?! NOPE.”
As people were required to spend more time at home due to the pandemic, interest in home improvement projects skyrocketed in 2020, and it remains strong in 2021. Many homeowners want to upgrade their spaces to reflect their taste but lack the budget and skills to do a major renovation. We asked real estate agents and home professionals to comment on popular trends and let you know trends are worth it, and when you should leave it to the pros.
TikTok recommends swapping out granite counters (or faux granite counters) for “marble” — or rather a faux finish using white epoxy paint and artful brush strokes to create the illusion of gray veins. But should you?
Nick Rossi, who owns a general contracting firm outside of Boston, is leery of this trend. He says the process is not as easy as it looks and the durability of the paint is uncertain. For those who want to try it, he recommends using materials specifically made for this purpose, not your typical household paint, and to make sure the surface is clean, getting all grease off the existing countertops.
“I would be extremely careful what you put on that finished countertop. Steer clear of hot pots and pans, wine glasses, and certain cleaning products to prevent peeling or stains,” Rossi cautions. Several commenters also mentioned that the epoxy may yellow over time.
Chelsea Gilson, a realtor in Los Angeles, is fine with this trend for laminate or lower grade surfaces, but she also is wary of pouring fake marble onto granite. “If you know the counters need to be replaced eventually, and you’re OK passing the labor on to a buyer and deducting the cost from the sale of the house, sure, have fun. Just know that if it doesn’t go well, you might have to pay to redo them.”
Stenciling Floor Tile
Hate your builder-grade tile? Adding a pattern with a stencil can transform the look of a bathroom floor with a few strokes of a paintbrush. “The powder room can always be the most fun room in a house. You have the liberty to make bolder choices, like the floor or a textured wallpaper,” says Gilson, and a bold bathroom can be a selling point.
Shannon Wood, an interior designer in Boston, is skeptical about painting tile. “I have to imagine up close, the lines are not sharp or clean,” she says. “And how well will that material hold up over time? What about pets?” She suspects the paint would require constant touch-ups, which could gunk up over time and become noticeable. One TikTok user admitted that her kitchen paint scratched when she dropped a pot on it and she was disappointed with its durability. Rust-Oleum, the paint manufacturer that offers a popular brand of floor paint among TikTokers, warns that it is not suitable for shower tile and prolonged water exposure. The company also advises against using abrasive cleaners on it — goodbye Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
Wood sees the appeal of this trend for people who lack the confidence to take on a full tiling project, noting there is a big difference between using a tile saw and a paintbrush. But both Wood and Rossi say homeowners could buy reasonably priced tile and lay a new floor for the same amount of time, which would be a better long-term investment. For anyone determined to try it, Rossi suggests painting the full tile as opposed to stenciling because the margin for error is so high. Again, prep work is key; make sure the floor is completely clean and the proper paint is used.
Dressing Up a Drab Door
“This one is my favorite idea and could make a big impact without much heavy lifting,” says Rossi. He recommends using a solid core door to ensure the molding can fasten properly. If you have a hollow core door, you will need solid-grade construction adhesive and nails to ensure proper fastening. Take the doors off the hinges and install the molding when the door is flat.
Wood questions why the other side of the door is never shown in these videos. “I think it would look odd with one side of the door decorated while the other side is flat. And if it’s done on both sides, you may not be able to close the door properly due to the thickness,” she says.
Installing Shiplap Over Popcorn Ceilings
The pros agreed: popcorn ceilings are ugly and can be the kiss of death when selling a property. While scraping popcorn ceilings is a TikTok trend in its own right, Wood warns it requires protective equipment in addition to spraying and scraping the ceiling, then finishing it with plaster or hanging drywall — all of which require time, money, and skilled training. Across the board, professionals approved of using shiplap on ceilings and walls. The shiplap trend still has life left in it and can adapt to different aesthetics with the wood finish, paint, or plank size. It is easily removable if the homeowner or buyer wants to change the look.
Like the door dress-up, installing shiplap assumes that we all have a table saw, electric sander, and garage readily available. For those without heavy duty tools, Home Depot and Lowe’s sell pre-cut shiplap or will cut wood for you in the store. From there, a brad nail gun, ladder, and coat of paint can quickly modernize a room. Rossi suggests using medium-density fibreboard (MDF) as it is easier to work with and takes paint better than plywood. Wood also recommends looking into clips that run on tracks mounted into the ceiling joist to secure shiplap or tile panels. They require a little more upfront cost but less technical skill.
A Few TikTok Project Watch-Outs
- Social media can be smoke and mirrors. People rarely show “fails” or the number of redos before or after a project’s completion. Do your research and test it out on a spare piece of material before you commit to an entire room.
- We all have budgets. Weigh the pros and cons of a short-term fix versus saving up for a long-term investment. “Sure it looks nice in photos, but if I was buying a house and saw painted countertops or stenciled tile, I would think, ‘OK, what else have they cheaped out on?” says Wood. And a bad DIY can cost you more in the long run. Try painting cabinets or updating fixtures first to see if you can live with a dated surface in the near-term.
- Opt for projects that are reversible if you intend to sell your home at some point. Like shiplap or door treatments, wood ceiling beams can change the look of a home and are easily and affordably removed, says Gilson. Contact paper or adhesive tiles also let you play with a space and can be removed, but they will not fool an eagle-eyed buyer.
- A can of paint can go a long way — on the right surface. Updating doors or window treatments can be done with a few dollars, a free weekend, and minimal amount of skill, while adding substantial value to a home.
- Make quality investments once. “You won’t regret it. Otherwise, it’s just putting lipstick on a pig,” Rossi says.