As a real estate agent, I’d say one of the most exciting parts of my job is when home sellers invite me over so we can chat and see whether we’d like to work together selling their house. In the current seller’s market—where demand outpaces supply—winning a listing is an agent’s golden ticket.
While this initial meet-and-greet is the seller’s opportunity to interview the agent, it’s also the agent’s chance to evaluate the home up close for its strengths and weaknesses from a marketing perspective. In other words, the agent is thinking: What are the pros and cons of this house, and how will they affect my ability to sell it?
While I’ve seen many gorgeous homes, a few interesting homes have crossed my path, too. And sometimes, this puts agents in a tricky position. Obviously, we follow a strict code of ethics and honesty in our dealings. However, there’s a fine line between making helpful recommendations and downright insulting the seller. Most agents will choose to focus on the positive and keep their more harsh observations to themselves.
But in case you’re curious about what we don’t say, here’s a sneak peek at what real estate agents are really thinking.
Your ‘creative’ renovation has me worried
Every agent I consulted for this story (all of whom, understandably, wanted to remain anonymous) cited the odd and often aged renovations we have all encountered when assessing a home.
“Sellers often say, ‘We have a fully updated kitchen,’ but 9 times out of 10, the work was actually done decades ago,” laments a fellow agent.
To the homeowners, it might seem like yesterday when they renovated their dream kitchen, but it won’t appear so to today’s buyer.
Another red flag we see in renovations is the strange upgrades that may seem fun and cool to the seller, but not so much to the buyer. We’re talking busy backsplashes and floor tiles, “infinity” decks that inexplicably drop off at terrifying heights, stained-glass windows with butterfly motifs—we’ve seen them all.
Pro tip: When renovating, consider making classic choices that will make you happy in your home, but aren’t so unusual that they will turn off future buyers when and if you decide to sell.
Watch: The Colors That Will Help and Hurt Your Home Sale
These ‘pops of color’ on the walls hurt my eyes
Numerous agents cited paint as making or breaking a sale. Really. When you consider how easy and relatively cheap it is to paint, you wouldn’t think such an insignificant cosmetic issue would make sellers dig in their heels at breaking out a paintbrush, or send buyers screaming out the door when a fresh coat isn’t applied. But you’d be wrong.
For one, white paint simply makes spaces look larger and cleaner. Many buyers are very literal, and some see even the tiniest of updates as a huge undertaking they’d rather not be responsible for.
If you must veer from traditional white interior paint, consider staying in a neutral cream or gray territory. Accent walls never seem to translate well, but I’ve seen some tasteful navy and black ones that can look modern and stylish. Just please, don’t go crazy. If you’re thinking green, red, or orange, just don’t go there.
Same goes for wallpaper, which most people are not big fans of and which can go horribly wrong unless you are working with a top interior designer.
“I simply could not move this one house,” an agent told me. “It was on the market for months, which is rare these days. I begged and pleaded for them to remove the wallpaper and pink accent walls and paint all of the walls white. We got an offer on the first showing after they finally did it.”
Telling me the carpet is a ‘huge bonus’ is a joke
We hear this one from—let’s be honest here—primarily the boomers: “And this house has wall-to-wall carpet!”
They argue that carpeted floors represent a luxury (they did once, and that time has passed) and are practical. “The floors never get cold,” we’re told.
One agent’s client boasted that the home featured a central vacuum system (this was a groovy addition to homes in the ’90s) and that it should increase the value of the house. Um, no.
Since the early aughts, pretty much no buyer has looked favorably upon carpeting of any kind. It has gone beyond style, and it’s unlikely to ever come back. Hardwood floors are prized—and even though it’s not ridiculously difficult to rip out carpeting, most buyers are so turned off by it that they’ll walk away as fast as their softly padded feet will take them.
When we agents are assessing your home, the presence of carpet can significantly affect our pricing strategy. If you know there is hardwood underneath, rip up the carpet. If your home is a newer build where carpeting is installed directly over plywood flooring, consider laying laminate planks, which are relatively inexpensive and have come a long way in terms of looks. It can make a huge difference in the value of your home.
Displaying your personality will not help your listing shine
This one is a biggie and represents the most challenging struggle between an agent and the client because it is so deeply, well, personal.
That gigantic Confederate flag you’re proudly displaying on your front porch? It’s making your agent cringe. (Don’t get me started on Trump signs lingering on the lawn way too long after the election, which several professionals have said were “huge deal breakers” for the sale of a house.) Another agent mentioned a home with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary—in a bathtub—square in the front yard, which the owner refused to remove.
Some sellers insist their bold personal style will help their home stand out from the crowd. It will, but not in a good way. Before listing your home, a good agent will advise you to scrub all political statements and religious items from the premises, and you should follow suit.
The bottom line: As agents, we’re not here to personally judge you. We want nothing more than to enjoy a positive, collaborative, and successful partnership. And honestly, isn’t that what you want, too?