When the real estate website Zillow.com examined the effect that colors had on the closing prices of more than 32,000 homes that recently changed hands, it discovered something surprising—the color of paint used on the walls of a single room can add or subtract thousands of dollars of value.
In general, the Zillow analysis found that muted blues and grays add the most value (“muted” colors have some gray or black added, making them slightly darker and subdued)…while warm colors including reds, oranges and yellows reduced a home’s value the most. But the financial impact of different colors varied in important ways from room to room—and for one particular room that every home has, the best paint color was completely different from other rooms.
Bottom Line Personal asked design expert Ron Reed to help our readers understand Zillow’s room-by-room findings so that you can not only choose colors you like but also make your home worth more.
Caution: Although the Zillow study found that muted grays and blues are value-enhancing colors for almost every room individually, actually painting almost every room of a home blue or gray would make the home visually uninteresting. Instead, use these money-making colors mainly in rooms where they will make the biggest bottom-line difference to sale price based on this Zillow study…and/or in rooms that you hope to highlight to buyers…and/or in rooms where you just think the colors look good. In other rooms, avoid colors that Zillow says detract from value, and use a neutral color such as a warm white or creamy beige instead.
Here are the room-by-room paint-color winners…
• Bathrooms: Blue walls add $5,440 to the value of a home…white walls subtract $4,035.* The color of bathroom walls was found to have a bigger bottom-line effect on home selling prices than that of any other room—and even a bigger effect than the color of home exteriors. As any real estate agent can tell you, modern-seeming bathrooms are a big selling point for a home. Shades of blue that fare especially well for bathrooms include light powder blue and periwinkle (a lavender blue). Shades of white that fare especially poorly include off-whites such as eggshell.
Why these colors: Blue is the color of water. Our minds associate water with cleanliness, something home buyers particularly value in bathrooms. Besides, people just like blue—surveys inevitably find that it is the most popular color in general.
The surprise here is that white paint is a money loser in bathrooms—we tend to think of white as the safe, inoffensive wall color. Perhaps the problem is that white was the most common bathroom paint color for so long that it now seems old-fashioned and out of date—buyers like bathrooms that seem modern.
Or perhaps the problem is that the trendiest bathroom countertop right now is Carrara marble, which is mostly white with gray veins. Combining white countertops with white walls can result in a bathroom that lacks visual contrast. Painting bathroom walls white seems unlikely to detract much value if the bathroom’s flooring, countertops and cabinets supply lots of color.
Note: The Zillow study implies that all the bathrooms in a home should be painted blue, but from a design perspective, it generally is better to use different wall colors in the home’s various bathrooms to avoid making the home seem redundant and dull. Consider painting the master bathroom blue as recommended by Zillow—the master bath is the bath that tends to matter most to buyers—while selecting different colors for the home’s other bathrooms. Green or blue-green can be good alternatives here.
• Bedrooms: Blue walls add $1,856 to the value of a home…pink walls subtract $208. Shades of blue that fare especially well include light cerulean (a sky blue) to cadet blue (a somewhat grayish blue). Pinks that fare especially poorly include light pink to antique rose (a slightly brownish light pink).
Why these colors: Home buyers’ general preference for calm, cool, muted colors such as blue makes good sense in bedrooms—calm is conducive to sleep. Certain pinks and warmer colors in general tend to be stimulating rather than calming.
Note: Here, too, the Zillow study implies that all the bedrooms will be painted the same color to make the house worth the most possible. In the real world, that would be too repetitive. Consider painting the master bedroom blue and the home’s other bedrooms in soft whites or warm neutrals. If you do paint the master bedroom blue, use a “harmonious” shade of blue for the master bathroom. One option that often works is to select a slightly more “muted” version of the bathroom blue for the bedroom—that is, the same blue but with a bit more black added. Avoid using a shade of blue that has some green in one room and a shade of blue that has some purple in the next—that will not seem harmonious.
• Living room: Shades of light brown add $1,809 to the value of a home…blue or gray walls subtract $820. The living room is the one room that bucked the prevailing popularity of blue and gray—and in a big way, because blue and gray both reduced homes’ values when used in living rooms. Shades of light brown that fare especially well in living rooms include light beige, pale taupe and oatmeal. Blues and grays that fare especially poorly include pastel gray, periwinkle and pale silver to light blue.
Why these colors: The living room is where we gather with family and friends to enjoy one another’s company. It’s where we sit together around fireplaces in the winter. So psychologically it does make some sense that this would be the place where home buyers might prefer certain warm colors rather than cool ones. And even here, the warm colors that home buyers favor are relatively calm shades of light brown, not bright, exciting reds and oranges.
• Kitchen: Blue walls add $1,809, on average, to the value of a home…yellow walls subtract $820. Shades of blue that fare especially well include light blue to soft gray-blue. Shades of yellow that fare especially poorly include straw yellow to marigold (yellow-orange).
Why these colors: As the world becomes increasingly hectic, people want their homes to serve as oases of calm. Blue is a cool, calming color. Perhaps blue kitchen walls help people feel calm for a few minutes in the morning before they rush out to tackle their daily responsibilities. That said, Zillow’s blue kitchen recommendation will be controversial among interior designers. Many designers believe strongly that warm, welcoming colors are called for in kitchens because kitchens (like living rooms, described above) are spaces where people interact and entertain.
It is particularly surprising that yellow hurt the value of kitchens in the study. Historically, yellow has been a popular kitchen color, especially for kitchens that lack sufficient natural light—yellow walls mimic sunlight, helping people wake up in the morning as they sip their coffee. The specific shades of yellow cited in the Zillow study provide a possible explanation—straw and marigold are shades of yellow that range from golden (slightly orangey) yellow to orange. Orange is not a color we associate with morning sunlight—it’s more of a sunset color. It’s probably safe to paint a kitchen a soft or muted yellow as long as you don’t select a pure yellow.
• Dining room: Blue walls add $1,926 to the value of a home…red walls subtract $2,031. Slate blue to pale gray-blue fare especially well, as does navy blue when combined with white “shiplap” (overlapping boards) that covers the lower sections of walls. Reds that fare poorly include brick red, terra-cotta and copper red.
Why these colors: This fits well with the general pro-blue trends described above. It is interesting that the anti-blue counter trend found in living rooms did not apply to dining rooms even though families gather here, too. Perhaps the reason is that warm colors—especially red—were popular choices for dining rooms back in the 1990s and early 2000s, so dining rooms that still have these colors now might seem dated. (And a bit dingy if they have not been repainted since the 1990s.)
• Home exterior: The exterior color “greige”—a mixture of gray and beige that can be light, medium or dark in tone—adds $1,526 in value…while a brown exterior subtracts $1,970. Medium brown and stucco—a tan color—are among the shades of brown that fare especially poorly.
Why these colors: The popularity of greige is no surprise—as noted above, gray is in vogue these days…and adding a natural tone such as beige to that gray can help a home’s exterior work more naturally with its surrounding landscape. Straight brown was a popular color for home exteriors around 15 years ago, so perhaps it now makes homes seem dated to home buyers.
Also: The Zillow study found that navy blue and dark gray are good choices for front doors, adding $1,514 in value. Home exteriors tend to be muted in color, so a significantly darker door provides an appealing contrast. (No front-door color was singled out by the study as a money loser.)
The Color of the Future
What if you want to paint a room or the exterior of your home now in a color that will add to its value in the future? Odds are that the muted blues and grays that impress today’s home buyers will not fall out of style very soon—blue has been the world’s most popular color for decades, and gray is at worst seen as inoffensive. But if you want to stay on the cutting edge of the color curve, also consider “Greenery.” This fresh, natural and relatively bright shade of green was named 2017’s “color of the year” by the Pantone Color Institute, a color-consulting company that has a record of successfully forecasting color trends.
*All dollar figures cited in this article are averages. The actual effect the color of a room or the exterior has on a home’s value will vary based on the overall value of the home, the locality and other factors.