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Melanie Dawkins appreciates a client who thinks ahead. Consider the sellers who sent her a variety of paint chips. “They were asking for my feedback since I was the person who would be selling their house,” said Dawkins, who’s with Red Door Realty in Lincoln, Nebraska. The family didn’t plan to sell for another year, but they wanted to be prepared.

Homeowners itching to put their house on the market this year should follow the sellers’ example. Come spring, for sale signs are as plentiful as daffodils. To compete in a crowded market, you must take stock of past color choices.

“If your personal color choices are bold or really artistic, the chances are that they won’t appeal to the majority of buyers,” Dawkins warns. And while there are exceptions to the rules, here are three general rules of thumb when it comes to painting your home for sale.
House needs painting
Since first impressions count, start with the exterior. “The paint job needs to fit in with its surroundings,” said Tony Mariotti, a Beverly Hills Realtor with RubyHome. “It should not be too vibrant if neighboring houses are classic.”

When in doubt, go light, he said. “It’s unlikely to clash with the surroundings and is tasteful and clean.” Other appealing colors include grays, off-whites, and tans. Within these colors are a staggering number of choices. Even neutrals have warm or cool undertones. So, which do you choose?

“Complement the roof and trim colors, stonework or brick, and other exterior materials,” said Cate Griffing, a painting contractor in Maywood, New Jersey, and owner of West Magnolia Charm, a painting blog. Whatever you do, don’t go brown. “It can come off as boring and unnoticeable,” Griffing explains. Nine out of 10 sellers call her to paint over a brown home.

“If your aesthetic balks at white or gray, appease it by painting a pop of color on shutters trim,” says Luke Smith, founder of We Buy Property in Kentucky, which buys and flips homes. “Or add vibrant plants.”
Paint exterior
“Inside, sellers should help prospective buyers imagine living in the space,” Mariotti says. That means getting rid of those once-so-trendy scarlet dining room walls.

Paint over dark colors with a neutral hue. For one, it saves the buyer a lot of grief; it takes time and primer to paint over reds and dark blues. For another, light hues will make rooms appear brighter and open. Dawkins likes “greige”—a mix of gray and beige. Chicago-area real estate agent Bill Samuel recommends Water Chestnut by Behr. “The color is a natural beige shade that will appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers,” says Samuel, who also owns Blue Ladder Development. “It presents well in natural and artificial lighting.”

The bathroom can be the exception—pale blue suits smaller spaces. Nix an accent wall. “It’s usually not appreciated,” Dawkins says. “Paint the room all the same color, so it has a calming effect.”
Painting interior
Paint comes in various sheens. The higher the gloss, the more the color reflects light. Gloss and semi-gloss are ideal for trim and not walls. That’s because they can reveal imperfections. However, flat paints cover blemishes for a clean, finished look, Samuel said. But low- or no-sheen colors are more challenging to clean than higher-gloss versions.

Your choice depends on the surface texture and condition, as well as how much wear and tear it will take. One middle-of-the-ground option is a satin or eggshell finish, which has a subtle sheen. (Satin will highlight divots and poor drywall finishes.)

Again, sellers should consider how the new buyers might use the room. Are families moving into the area? Then retired sellers should consider easier-to-clean eggshell paint for the family room.

“If you want the best price for your house, you’ll need to think from the buyer’s perspective,” Dawkins agreed. When in doubt, call a Realtor. “Your Realtor will always know what buyers in your market are looking for,” she concludes.