The Ultimate Guide to Painting Your Home from A to Z

Should You Paint Before You Sell? Top Designers Say, “Of Course!”

Guest Post by Kerrie Kelly, ASID

Paint color is a tricky, personal decision for homeowners, and prepping your home for sale only complicates the decision making process.  After all, the stakes are a little higher when money is involved.

Any realtor will tell you that a fresh coat of paint—inside and out—is the most cost effective improvement you can make to get your house ready for the market. You will certainly garner more interest, make the sale more quickly, and ideally, make your money back from the cost of painting.

Image via Sarah Fishburne

The conventional wisdom is that neutral colors are best, but that’s not always the case. We caught up with a couple of pros from the design and real estate worlds to help you hone in on the most important color details. Design expert Sarah Fishburne, the Director of Trend & Design at The Home Depot and the force behind Design Meet Style, surprised and inspired us with her unexpected suggestions on selecting colors and finishes.

Sunny Lake, Assistant Branch Manager of the Coldwell Banker in Bellingham, Wash., also chimed in with direct experience from the marketplace.

Let’s take a look at painting do’s and don’ts from the outside in.

Make a Strong First Impression

Painting for sale is more about cleaning up and updating than it is about style or specific color choices. But most buyers expect to see a fresh coat of paint. “I have seen homes sell that were stark white, as well as ones that offered every color of the rainbow, says Coldwell Banker’s Lake.

Nine times out of 10, the buyers say that the first thing they will do is paint, and those same buyers felt that the home’s value was less because it ‘required work’ before they could live in it.

Image via Sarah Fishburne

While it’s wise to consider a color that the widest possible audience of buyers will approve of, Fishburne reminds sellers that one size does not fit all when it comes to design.

“I don’t believe in a ‘go-to color palette,’ but I do recommend using current colors, inside and out,” she says. “Right now, neutrals are leaning toward taupe—including khaki with light brown and gray undertones—as opposed to a khaki with a gold base. An updated neutral will refresh the house and, because it’s the color that most home builders are using in new home construction, it really will make the home feel newer.”

Lake agrees with Fishburne, noting that because visualizing a color in their new home is hard for some buyers, sellers really need to consider the impact of their choices.

What may be soothing to one can raise the blood pressure of another,” says Lake. A playful color can be overwhelming. A neutral color can be lifeless. Choose your colors wisely!

Don’t Forget the Trim

The trim is actually what makes the rest of that new paint job look so great. Worn, rough trim really ages a house, whereas fresh new trim makes a house pop.

“You may have off-white or cream trim, and just adding a fresh coat of crisp white can quickly update the whole house,” says Fishburne.

 Image via Sarah Fishburne

Lake and Fishburne both agree that white trim is a solid, traditional choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only choice. The trim color should enhance the color of the walls and tie in with the flooring, but homeowners are not bound to white.

Trim can add a real richness to a home, when done right, says Lake. I love seeing a deep brown or charcoal for interior doors and trim. It feels luxurious and bold without being outrageous. It looks sharp and clean and modern.

Step Back and Take in the Big Picture

Before you make the last call about color, there are a few final considerations.

First, take a look at the elements of the exterior that you can’t change. Make sure to choose an exterior palette that works with the landscaping and hardscaping, as well as the roof and fencing. Then, make sure that the palette works with the other homes in the neighborhood. Buyers want a special home, but not necessarily one that sticks out like a sore thumb.

 Image via Sarah Fishburne

If you can do nothing else, however, make sure to give the front door a fresh coat of paint and new hardware, if necessary. Choose a color that is contrasting and complementary at the same time. For neutral exteriors in the beige family, black and red are timeless classics that we all respond to. If you’re working with a gray palette, citrusy greens and blues may be the perfect choice.

Own the Interior

Buyers are very interested in curb appeal, but once they walk through the front door, they remember that inside is where they’ll be spending the majority of their time. Because most of us think our own homes could use a fresh coat of paint, seeing one in the home they’re viewing (your home!) will instantly make them feel like they’re making a step up.

Don’t be afraid to make it special.

“Many people think you should have a ‘blank canvas’ when selling a house,” says Fishburne. “I don’t believe that.  Color can really highlight and accentuate design details. If you have beautiful molding details in the dining room, rich navy walls can really show them off.“


Image via Sarah Fishburne

Fishburne does recommend choosing a color palette and sticking to it throughout the house, however: “Color is great—just don’t paint every room a different color if there’s no common thread.”

Choose a palette that will help you accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives.

Living and Family Rooms

This is where a neutral palette can be a good idea. Buyers walk through houses imagining their own furniture and accessories in the space. Keeping it neutral makes that much easier. Beige, gray or “greige” tones work really well. Choose something on the warmer end of the color spectrum to make the space more inviting.

Image via Sarah Fishburne


The goal here is to enlarge the sense of space, and lighter or cooler colors are a better bet. They make the walls appear to recede, and open up the room. Don’t be afraid to mix in woods and a variety of metals via plumbing, lighting and hardware for added warmth.

Image via Sarah Fishburne


Keep the kitchen light and bright by choosing colors on the pale end of the spectrum. Grays are trending right now, and have the added advantage of creating a crisp, clean look. That said, if you keep it light don’t be afraid to try brighter citrusy colors

Image via Sarah Fishburne

Whatever colors and palettes you choose, Fishburne emphasizes that painting really is crucial to the sale of your home: Color is a huge influence on the reason we buy anything—and homes are no exception,” she says. “Exterior paint color can be a make-or-break deal for the sale. People seem to know interior paint can be tackled, but the exterior is a larger job that some people aren’t willing to take on. It’s all about the curb appeal.”

Award-winning interior designer Kerrie Kelly is a color-and-palette aficionado who writes on home decor for The Home Depot. The author of the book Home Decor: A Sunset Design Guide, Kerrie provides guidance to homeowners on paint colors and designs. A wide assortment of Home Depot paints, both interior and exterior, can be found on the company’s website.

Lindsay is the the Director of Media Engagement for Coldwell Banker Real Estate and manages the brand’s media and social media department. She is also a licensed real estate professional. In 2017 & 2018, she was named a top 20 social influencer in the real estate industry in the annual Swanepoel 200 power rankings.

Lindsay lives in Livingston, NJ with her college sweetheart and now husband Joe and rwelcomed another Joe into her life as she became a mom in June 2016.

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