top of page

Rent or Sell Your House with Paint Color

Who you are choosing paint colors for should play an important role in what you pick. If you're planning to sell your home or rent it out for short term rentals your goal is to appeal to others. What's the secret to making it work? Tune in to hear color experts Amy Woolf and Amy Krane let loose their tried and true tips for choosing paint colors to sell your home.

Krane: Welcome to Let's Talk Color.

Woolf: I'm Amy Woolf, principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.

Krane: And I'm Amy Krane, founding designer at Amy Krane Color. We're both professional color experts who specialize in architectural color. We met while training and years later the conversation is still going strong.

Woolf: We both live our lives immersed in color and design. We often agree, but sometimes we don't because color is personal. Color truths, however, are universal.

Krane: In each episode we'll unravel the mystery of choosing color for your home or business, both inside and out.

Krane: Hey, it's great to be back. It's a new year and we're back at the mics. This is Amy Krane and I'm here with my friend and colleague, Amy Woolf, and we're still talking about Architectural Color.

So Amy, I think It's been implied in all of our previous episodes that we've been advising from the point of view of helping homeowners sort out the perfect palette for their own home, for them. But what if it's not for you? What if you're decorating to sell your house or to rent it on a short-term site like AirBnB? I think it's fair to say that your goal is to pique the interest of other people you're trying to appeal to. And the photos of your house are your calling card, so your home's got to look great when you list it. And I think there are a couple of schools of thought here.

I'd like to start with the approach that's more interesting to me, and that's giving a home a personality. It's basically branding the house. You're trying to tie the decor to the identity of the home, to its selling point. It's biggest selling point. So is it a beach house, a mountain house, a country house, a desert house, a city loft? You're trying to create some kind of romance and create an experience for the renter. You want to tell a story, and then you need to sell the story. And color goes a long way here, don't you think?

Woolf: Yeah, I definitely agree, and I think that there is no time when surroundings matter more than when creating that theme, that vibe. What are our expectations for a beach vacation, a mountain getaway, and how can you create and support that experience for rental guests? If you're creating a rental, I think you need to meet renter's expectations. You need to differentiate your property from others in the marketplace. A lot of times clients will come and ask me about who to hire as a realtor, and I say, look at their photos online. Look at the way realtors are photographing houses for sale, because you're so right, Amy. Those photos are what's selling it, whether it's a house listed for sale or a place you're trying to rent, it's all about the photos these days. Yeah, the reviews matter too, but I think it's the photos that really make that instantaneous impression. We talk about that with color all the time, that people register visual imagery and color specifically in a split second. Where it may take 15 minutes to scroll through the reviews. That instantaneous impression is irreplaceable.

Krane: I have a client right now… I'm working on decorating her house for short-term rental. It's in Kennebunkport, Maine, and this person purchased the house to rent it out when she's not using it. The rental is going to start in Spring. So we're doing the whole thing soup to nuts; everything from wall color to sofas and chairs and rugs, down to coasters and boot trays. It's been great fun except for dealing with the supply chain issues right now, of course. So the selling point of this house is that it's a short drive to a very well-known and much loved beach in Kennybunkport. Our goal is to create that chill, cool vibe without going so far as to having anchors and buoys and starfish everywhere and becoming a caricature of a beach house. We're walking that fine line, and I think we're doing it really well. So she ended up having to paint first, which generally is not what I advise, but that's a perfect world. Perfect world is to settle on your sofa and upholstery and rugs etc. and then choose the wall colors to bring it all together, to knit it together, as you say. But real world is that when a highly rated painter becomes available because they have a cancellation and it's right after you’ve closed on the house, you take the painter. A lot of my clients who have new homes, they have to paint first, which is what we did here. So to go hand-in-hand with a sort of beachy vibe, we've gone all with cool colors, except in the bathrooms where we've had to deal with very warm hard finishes. Otherwise, the walls are mostly muted and they're blues, blue grays, blue greens, green grays and gray with white trim. The white is quite crisp, and it's really working. The house is coming together really beautifully. I think what we're doing is what you want to do. Create a personality. You want it to be unique, not some cliched, trite idea of what a beach house is. You're not trying to fit into a uniform - like the shabby chic house [which of course no one does anymore] the modern farm house look, the nautical beach house look, the pottery barn look. You want to be current, but you don't want to tip over that line, step over that line into trendy. You just really want to appeal.

And then there's the more common approach, I think. People think it is the safest way to go, and that's to choose colors that they believe are universally appealing. And this means neutrals. So here's my question, is white and gray and beige really universally appealing? What do you think?

Woolf: You know, it's interesting. As we were preparing for this recording, I looked back through my AirBnB history. I started renting AirBnB in 2014 when I took a little cottage at the end of one of the canals in Venice, CA that was built and designed by an architect. So you know what color those walls were... Right? Right- white! And it was funny because as I was looking through 26 different AirBnBs that I've rented: from Venice, California, to Spain, to London, all over the place, I couldn't believe how many of them had white walls. Because truly, when I look for a place to stay, whether it's a hotel or an AirBnB or a regular B & B, I'm kind of looking for a room that makes me feel good... What am I going to enjoy? We were supposed to go to Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago which we didn't do because of omicron and there was one particular hotel in a city I wanted to visit. All the rooms were painted in these really intense pop-y colors. Wildly bright, which made for great Instagram fodder, but I don't think I could actually spend time in a room like that and enjoy myself and relax. So what was interesting in looking through my history was that I rent houses usually for the views. I want a water view. I wanted to be looking down the canal in Venice. I want to be looking at the Harbor in Rockport. And when the views are really solid, it's okay for the house to be painted all white. But when I looked at some of my rentals that were more about the location being PRIMO that didn't have a terrific view, that was where the color really played a more important role. I think that's an important distinction. If you're trying to build character and charm and a little bit of magic in a house that maybe doesn't have those top views, that's where color really can be your ally. I think one of the best examples of that was a place that I rented in Newburyport, MA. I was actually in Newburyport working for a builder there and I took my husband along with me. We rented what was literally a basement apartment in one of these big old grand mansions and the windows were high. It wasn't terribly light. It was tiny, cozy as all get out. It was a great AirBnB with a beautiful outdoor space, a lovely patio, and each of the rooms had its own color. And even though the place was tiny, what I noticed looking back at that, was that... I think if they had painted the entire space all one color and we didn't have that differentiation between spaces, I think it would have felt as small as it really was. Whereas if you move from the living room into the bedroom, then into the little mini kitchenette, those differentiations in color helped create a progression and I think that kind of creates that physiological experience. There's a shift that comes from moving from room to room. So that was a place that was really done well and we were really happy there in a basement. Go figure! But I think color played a big role in that experience.

Krane: You know, I think that's so interesting. Because when places are small I generally say use fewer colors because that differentiation chops up the space and therefore makes it into distinct little parts. And if the whole is small and the parts are small, it just seems to feel small, small, small. But in this scenario, it worked very well as you're telling it, so... That's interesting. Yeah.

Woolf: It created some interest. And I will also say colors were done well. They were nice colors but with stronger, bolder, more garish colors, it would have been oppressive and not friendly, so...

Krane: Yeah, one other thing to think about, Amy is that if you are doing a short-term rental like an AirBnB and you're lucky enough to have a very popular busy place, then you have people coming and going. Another consideration for a short-term rental is maintenance and upkeep, whether you're the one who's maintaining it yourself or you've hired a property manager to do it. Nothing screams worn more than scuffed and dirty white walls. So it puts more of an onus on the property owner to keep those walls touched up and looking fresh and clean because otherwise it is a turn off. Yet many, many people paint their rentals white, as you know, you are the expert renter. I'm not. I have only rented twice on AirBnB. And you have done it 26 times, so brava!

So the other thing that relates to what we're talking about is when a client contacts you, a new client, and they say, "Hey, I need your help, but I'm going to sell." How do you advise them differently than you would have if they were decorating to keep the house and live in it themselves?

Woolf: Well, honestly, even if somebody doesn't say upfront that they're gonna sell... I still ask the question. At every consult, I will ask a client what their projected timeline is. What are they thinking? Is this their forever house, as we like to call it? Do they expect maybe they'll be transferred in two or three years? I think it's really important to keep that kind of thing in mind. Obviously, life sends us curve balls. It'll be interesting to see post-pandemic whether there are fewer house moves. I think we talked about this in a previous episode, about how people are more able to work from home so many are staying put. I do always ask people because I think that keeping selling in mind is important when deciding, particularly for people with bold taste (let's just put it that way) to keep it less idiosyncratic. It reminds me... I was helping a realtor get a house ready to sell here in my town that was absolutely top of the market, a gorgeous house, the best neighborhood and priced accordingly. And there was a lot of orange in the house. The client's favorite color was orange and as you and I know orange can be polarizing. Some love it, some hate it. This client loved the orange and really didn't want to repaint the orange in order to sell the house. I kind of said, "hey, no'" So anyway, yeah, idiosyncratic taste. If you're a lover of orange and you're a lover of purple, which are the kind of colors that can be triggering for people, it's best not to get too deep into that. The other thing I'll say is that you can do anything that you want at the back of the house, whether it's the last bedroom they're going to see, or whatever. That first impression shouldn't be orange. I always say if they can get all the way through the house, and there's one room in the back that’s questionable, it's OK. When I sold my house in Florida, my daughter's room was blue, floor to ceiling blue - blue carpet, blue walls. It was a pale, soft, elegant blue. But lots of blue. And I just said "if they get all the way there and they haven't turned around and left, that won't wreck the deal, right?

Krane: It sounds like it was a tasteful blue anyway.

Woolf: Well, I'd like to think so. But a lot of blue. So how about you, how do you start that conversation? What do you tell your clients?

Krane: Well, if you're going to sell, I generally say that it can keep its personality. It doesn't have to be bland, but generally keep the colors soft and light so that people have a clean, fresh feeling from the house. I'm also a Realtor, and I've helped a lot of my real estate clients stage their home with paint color. It's when my two worlds collide and I wear two hats at the same time. And generalizing, I help them get rid of poor choices. So those could be colors that clash with each other, colors that clash with hard finishes. I've seen a number of those! Then there's changing the paint finish, meaning a sheen that's too high on walls. I've gone into some people's houses and for some reason, they've put semi-gloss on their walls and I think that's a really bad move. I don't think it looks good. We've talked about this before. I think it's too reflective, it shows all the dents, it's just not a nice look. So get rid of the semi-gloss walls. And of course when colors are generally too bright they have to go. Just like you said, you let your child pick their bedroom color and if it's a screaming purple... It's really not what you want to show to perspective buyers. And colors that might be too dark too, as we've talked about before. Dark colors perfectly placed in combination with the right size and light in a room are fine. Next to appropriate colors, can be wonderful, really interesting and beautiful. But fewer people like dark colors, so really, depending on how many of them you have, where they are and how dark they are, I might advise to get rid of them also. So... Yeah, basically, nothing is more of a turn-off to perspective buyers or for a short-term rental when the place feels warn, feels dirty and doesn't feel like they perceive themselves. That doesn't mean your house has to be beige. It just means keep it soft and keep it light generally. And I think people will feel that it's fresh and therefore clean and be more appealing.

Woolf: One of the conversations I often have with clients who are getting ready to sell and they're staging, is that nobody ever walks into a living room and says, "I've always wanted a beige living room." And really, when you talk about the romance and the magic, Amy, about the rental, that couldn't be any more true of a selling situation too. I mean, you really want to create an emotional response when a potential buyer walks through the door, and I just don't think beige creates a compelling emotional response. And so that's kind of my argument against the paint it all beige, paint it all white thing. I get that all white supports certain kinds of architecture, but I just don't think there's a really strong emotional component or a really strong emotional reaction that one gets out of white in many houses. At least let's say not in more traditional houses...

Krane: You've just said something really important, Amy. If it's in a traditional house, it's really going to come off differently than if you have this modernist space that's decorated with modern furnishings. Those white walls are really part of the whole and do go towards telling its story. But if you're in a colonial or something... I don't know.

Woolf: Right. I think to paint it all white is a mistake. I mean, color is so emotional and buying a house is so emotional, and don't they say women are the deciders? Is that true? Is that the general wisdom?

Krane: I haven't really thought about that, but now being forced to... I'd say that's probably true. I think a woman is less likely to be convinced by her husband that the house is perfect for them than vice versa. Or let's just say that the woman has a bigger veto.

Woolf: Okay, alright, that's good. I'm guessing here, this is anecdotal, but yeah, my anecdote around color and selling houses comes out of my selling my house in Florida at the very beginning of the market crash. We got out of Florida in 2008, and at the time there were 8000 houses listed on our MLS. It was mind-boggling to think about. We were selling to move up to New England to live in Massachusetts full-time. That house is really where I started my business. And it became kind of where I learned and experimented. I was doing my IACC training out in San Diego and then coming back and painting and painting and painting. It was a ranch house, all one story, so it was really easy for me to paint the rooms myself and repaint and try this and try that. So I had like 14 different colors in that house. It was a four-bedroom ranch. I used Farrow & Ball paint, Ellen Kennon Full Spectrum Paint, I used C2, and I used Benjamin Moore. So yeah, a lot of different colors. But over and over and over again, the feedback that I got from my realtor after showings and open houses was that everybody loved the colors. Now, I'm gonna say this was carefully considered color, and this was not just somebody going ham. (That's what my daughter might say.)

Krane: Right, just slapping it up there.

Woolf: Yeah. Exactly. This was carefully chosen and I would say it was well done. Yes, it was many, many years ago. I didn't know what I know now. And you know what, we sold that house, within a couple of months. We got darn close to our asking price. There were houses on the market in our neighborhood that were all beige and they sat and didn't sell and the market went down the drain and they still sat. So I feel really lucky. We had a terrific house. It wasn't anything special. It was a1972, cinder block ranch house. Not a big deal. A nice neighborhood, but really well-considered color. And I think... I think it made a difference. I think it created an emotional response in enough people and we sold it in a couple of months, so... yeah.

Krane: That's fantastic, Amy. And you know, hats off to you. You were just training to be a color consultant but you nailed it. Two things stand out from what you said. One is creating that emotional response. I think that's so important. And the other... I know this doesn't really help our listeners 'cause we all want to be good, but I mean, it's the difference between good color and not good color. So folks, if you can't manage to do it well yourself then you should hire a professional. But it's not just that she used a lot of colors because that's not always a good thing. It's the colors she chose- what colors she chose, what each looked like and how they combined... She was able to do it really well. And that's your goal, right? Pick good color.

Woolf: Yeah, good color and colors that play well together. I think good color, how they stack up, how the site lines read... I think that was the most important thing. There was a spot I could stand in in my front foyer where I could see something like seven different colors simultaneously because it was a ranch house, an L-shaped ranch house. All the colors played well together and that's the tricky part. To me that's the excitement and the beauty of doing color for architecture - it's how do those colors play together well or not?

Krane: So there you have it. We hope you've gleaned some pearls of color wisdom again. Join us next time when we talk some more about color for the built world.

Woolf: And if you have any questions or suggestions for what you'd like to hear us talk about next, you can find us at Let's Talk [paint] Color dot com. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening.


bottom of page