If You’re a Seller, Fix Them Fast

As a home seller, you can’t always guess the things about your home that might turn off potential buyers—but you should try. In many cases, you could add thousands of dollars to the selling price by resolving potential problems—without spending much—before putting your home on the market. Here are common “home buyer hates” that can be remedied for a very reasonable cost—in some cases for free…

Popcorn ceilings. These rough-­surfaced ceilings, also known as stucco or acoustic ceilings, were popular from the 1950s through the 1970s, but now they make homes look old and outdated.


What to do: Instead of scraping off popcorn ceiling finishes, which is time-consuming and potentially expensive—or even dangerous if asbestos or lead was used—you can have a new layer of ceiling-grade gypsum board installed onto the popcorn ceiling. (Ceiling-grade gypsum board is lighter than regular gypsum board.) This costs about $2 to $2.50 per square foot installed and eliminates concerns about lead and asbestos. It lowers your ceiling height by about one-half inch—not enough to be concerned about.

Insufficient storage. Small closets and cupboards are a major turnoff for home shoppers and a difficult problem to correct, but the effect can be minimized.

What to do: Remove at least half of the things you currently have stored in cramped closets and cupboards. Small storage areas seem roomier when they are half empty. Example: Create enough room between garments hanging in a closet so that you can run your hand between them and barely brush the ­fabric on each side. Store excess items in a rental storage unit…or in matching, stackable plastic bins in the garage or basement (available in home centers for as little as $10 to $20 apiece).

Messy laundry rooms, garages, basements. Most home sellers know that they should clean and declutter before their homes are shown. But some don’t realize that cleaning for buyers is different from cleaning for houseguests. Unlike guests, buyers look everywhere and make judgments accordingly. If any part of the home is messy, cluttered or dirty, the whole home will seem less appealing.

What to do: If there is a pile of laundry in the laundry room when your real estate agent calls to arrange a quick showing, toss the laundry into the washer or dryer before heading out. If the washer and dryer are full, toss it in your car and take it with you.

If your garage or basement is cluttered, pack the clutter into matching, stackable plastic storage bins or rent a storage locker and stash the clutter there.

If your cupboards or closets are cluttered, buy matching baskets or bins and stow the mess in these inside the cupboards or closets—attractive small baskets or bins can be found for less than $10. They make storage spaces seem organized even when they aren’t.

Insufficient light. Dark, shadowy areas can create a sense of foreboding and ill ease. Shadows can make a room or hallway appear dirty, too.

What to do: Open all window blinds, curtains and shades and turn on all lights before showings. If there still are dim areas or dark corners, increase bulb wattage and/or add lamps. Reasonably attractive freestanding lamps are available at stores such as Target, Home Depot and Lowe’s for less than $100 apiece—and you can take these with you when you move. Confirm that ­every bulb in the house is working before showings. Burned-out bulbs don’t just make the house darker, they send a message that the home is flawed.

Dark or boldly colored paint on interior walls. Even though distinctive or dark wall colors have become trendy, they turn off many buyers. Any brash colors inevitably are not the ones many potential buyers would have picked, making it hard for them to imagine themselves living in your home. Your colors also might not work with buyers’ furniture…and dark walls can make rooms feel smaller and less inviting.


What to do: Apply a coat of primer/sealer over dark or boldly colored paint and then repaint in a neutral color such as beige or off-white. Primer/sealer is especially important—you even might need more than one coat of primer and perhaps two coats of paint, too. There’s no need to buy expensive primer or paint, however. A primer that costs about $15 per gallon and a paint that costs $25 per gallon or less should do. If you don’t want to do the job yourself, professional painters might charge $400 to $800 or so for an average 10-foot-by-12-foot room, not including the cost of the paint. Four to eight gallons of primer and two to four gallons of paint should do.

Wallpaper. Many types of wallpaper have been falling out of fashion and can make a home seem out of date. There are exceptions—interior designers sometimes hang stylish new wallpaper prints in bathrooms and dining rooms, for example…or a period-correct ­wallpaper might be appropriate for a historic home. But as a rule of thumb, wallpaper will be a turnoff to most buyers.

What to do: Unless your wallpaper was selected by an interior designer within the past decade—or was selected to match the home’s history—strip it away and paint the walls instead. If you don’t want to remove the wallpaper yourself—it can be tricky—expect to pay a professional around $1 per square foot for paper removal.

Dated or dingy bathrooms. It’s no secret that an unappealing bathroom can greatly detract from a property’s appeal. What many sellers do not realize is that they can downplay this problem without renovating the bathroom.


What to do: Buy a set of big, fluffy, bright white towels. Do not use them—just hang them on bathroom towel racks before showings. Roll some smaller white hand towels and stack these rolls in the bathroom, too. Also hang a new, bright-white shower curtain. These items make the whole bathroom feel cleaner, fresher and more welcoming, all for less than $100—and you can bring your new towels and shower curtain with you when you move.

It also can be helpful to bleach stained grout…repaint peeling trim…replace failing caulk…and update dated faucets (see below).

Gold faucets and fixtures and crystal faucet handles. These glitzy fixtures have gone out of style and now make kitchens and bathrooms seem dated.

What to do: Replace these with brushed-nickel faucets—it’s a classic, timeless finish. You can find very nice-looking kitchen faucets at home centers for $100 to $200…and bathroom faucets for $50 to $100. Professional installation typically costs $100 to $200 per faucet, though this can vary.

Pets in the house. It creates problems when dogs or cats are in a house when it is shown. Some buyers do not like (or are allergic to) animals…and some animals do not like strangers in their homes.

What to do: If your home is going to be shown many times during a short period, board the pet with a kennel, pet day-care service or a friend. Alternately, you could take the pet with you when you go out…or arrange for a neighbor or local pet walker/pet boarder to pick up the pet when necessary.


That bedroom you turned into a workshop or den—or that garage you turned into a bedroom—might suit your needs, but it probably doesn’t suit the needs of most potential home buyers. Converted rooms often feel out of place, and unless they were converted by a skilled remodeler, they may feel unprofessionally done.

What to do: The prudent option usually is to convert these rooms back to their original purposes ­before ­putting the home on the market. The cost of this varies dramatically depending on what needs to be done.

Exception: If you converted a garage into living space, don’t undo this if the finished space was (or appears to be) professionally done—the value of this added living space might outweigh the value of the garage for some buyers, particularly when the cost of converting the space back into a garage is taken into account.

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