In my yearlong house hunt, I’ve toured countless homes, and that first visit is a lot like a first date. It can be going great, right up until you spot your personal deal killer—like a pack of cigarettes in her purse, or white socks with sandals. Check, please!
Same thing happens when shopping for a house: The tour could be going swimmingly until you turn a corner and bam, you see that room that brings the possibility of living there to a grinding halt.
So what is this ominous, deal-killing room? It turns out there are more than one. Peruse the list below for the common offenders—not just my own, but ones that real estate agents have noted make buyers cringe en masse. Hey, it’s better to know than not so you can make some changes, right?
The empty room
“Empty rooms can kill a home sale, especially if the other rooms are furnished,” says real estate analyst Allison Bethell of New York–based FitSmallBusiness.com.
A room devoid of furniture leaves the buyer wondering what the space can be used for. And any of the room’s imperfections will also stand out. If you have an empty room, stage it as an office, extra sitting area, or guest bedroom.
The dark room
One of the biggest turnoffs for a buyer? “A dark room,” says Desare Kohn-Laski, broker and owner of Skye Louis Realty in Coconut Creek, FL.
The reason is simple: No one wants to walk into a home and feel like they’re trapped in a dungeon. Even if the rest of the house is flooded with light, one dark room can make a whole house seem dark.
For starters, open all the curtains and blinds before showing a home. If the room doesn’t have much light, paint the walls a light color and add a mirror to make it appear larger. Updating the lighting also goes a long way in adding to the brightness of a room.
“Finally, put a plant in the room, because plants need light and buyers often realize this, even subconsciously,” says Bethell.
The icky bathroom
A big offender in this category: carpeted bathrooms.
“Just gross,” says Janine Acquafredda, associate broker at House-N-Key Realty in New York.
Not only will many home buyers refuse to enter a carpeted bathroom, but “after seeing one, they lose focus on the rest of the house,” says Acquafredda. Note to sellers—replace bathroom carpeting with tile!
Another major turnoff? A tub that’s seen one too many baths.
“No matter if the home is large or small, expensive or affordable, every woman walks straight into the bathroom and looks at the bathtub,” says Kristina McCann of San Fransisco’s Alain Pinel Realtors. She advises clients across all price points to refinish a tub if necessary. “Or else someone could think they need to do a complete bathroom remodel.”
The cluttered playroom
Think the kids’ playroom gets a pass? Hardly.
“If a playroom looks like a cluttered mess, buyers get the impression that the current residents aren’t clean,” says Kohn-Laski. Home sellers should make it look immaculate. That includes erasing crayon and marker drawings as well as fingerprints on doors, windows, and walls.
The run-down kitchen
The state of your kitchen—the epicenter of most homes—can be a big-time deal breaker.
“Buyers will think twice if it’s too small, has outdated features and appliances, or looks run-down,” says Sarah Pickens with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Blaine, MN.
The problem starts when buyers start calculating how much a remodel is going to cost, she says. A quick fix with a lot of visual bang—that won’t break the bank—is to swap outdated appliances with newer ones found on priced-to-move sites such as Craigslist.
The stuffy formal living room
Rooms that serve no purpose or do not fit the needs of the homeowners definitely can hurt house sales, says Elizabeth Dodson, co-founder of HomeZada.com. For example, the formal living room of yore was once valued in a home; however, this room serves little purpose today and is more a room to look at than use.
“Instead, transform a living room into a home office, game room, or movie room,” says Dodson.
The creepy basement
Spine-chilling cellars can definitely turn buyers away from a property, says Pickens. She was recently touring a house with one of her buyers and came across an empty all-cement room with zero windows.
“The buyer was so creeped out that we left the property,” says Pickens. “And he said he would never purchase the house because of that one room.”
Decreep your basement by finding a use for potentially scary windowless rooms (e.g., filling what was likely a canning room with charming Mason jars).
The cluttered closet
I know, a closet is not a room. But lack of storage space is a big deal killer.
Teri Connors, associate broker at Coldwell Banker M&D Good Life in Patchogue, NY, and author of “Sell Your House … Successfully” was touring a pricey home with her buyers when they opened the coat closet and an avalanche of clothes spilled into the hallway.
“The buyers had one thought: There’s not enough storage space in this home,” says Conners, who recommends removing at least two-thirds of the clothes in the closets to give the illusion that there’s plenty of space.The Room- Realtor.com
Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.