Character VS. Neutral & Safe

I had a chance to catch up with an old friend recently.  This guy makes fine furniture and cabinets for a living.  He was showing me all the things he has done to his house.  It was pretty sweet.  Not something you see everyday. Loads of character.  Then he says to me that he doesn’t get this going neutral for resale thing.  He just does what he likes.   He then went on to say that the last house he had, he sold to the first person that saw it for top dollar.  I’m usually the one saying go neutral and play it safe, but like so much in life, there are exceptions.

I think what my friend didn’t realize is that not everybody has such great taste.   His house really rocked because all the work he did was so excellent and the house was full of hand-made furniture.  Not everybody can pull that off……I know I couldn’t!

Most buyers are happy to have some common updates when they go out looking for a house.  It is safe to go neutral because that has the broadest appeal.  But (again with the exception thing again!) I will say from experience that when a buyer walks into a house that has enough character to be remembered after they leave, they really like it or they really don’t. 

I sold a place recently that had a lot of character.  Hardwood floors, unique lighting, a sunroom, a koi pond, a heavily landscaped backyard.   Those sellers had great taste too.  Their house really stood out as a winner.   I’ve also seen several houses that the seller went with their own sense of style, and that is what is keeping their house from selling.  I guess I even went a little out of the realm of my own advice when I picked cherry for my hardwood and slate for some tile.  Safe would have been a medium brown oak & a neutral beige tile…….cheaper too!  I even polled my Facebook friends to see what they thought.  Some thought it would be awesome, and some thought they wouldn’t like the slate at all.   I know that when I sell, in like 20 years, that I will be looking for somebody with taste similar to mine.  When I find them, there will be a huge gap between my house & their second pick.  For others, they might come in and say “Why did they do that!?!”  By doing something so polarizing, it will either pay off big time when I sell or I have shot myself in the foot but just don’t feel it yet.  Of course, in 20 years just about everything you can buy today will be outdated and/or worn out.  I remember all the dark cabinets and floors, all the texture of the 70’s.  In the 80’s we all wanted light, bright & sleek.  We’re back in the 70’s again.  I wonder if an updated version of mauve counter tops and simple glazed tiles will be the next thing.

So, if you are going to throw caution to the wind and go with something out of the ordinary, here is my advice:  Make the whole house work together.  Don’t do one room at a time without regard to how it relates to the rest of the house.  No 4 different types of flooring or anything way random like that.   There is a difference between an accent and being totally random.  It is okay to mix maybe a couple of different finishes, but buyers will think you didn’t have a plan if they see a kitchen that has brass hardware, nickel light fixtures & oil rubbed bronze fixtures.  The house will come across like you just went to Lowe’s and bought what was on clearance.  See, a buyer is walking through your whole house and in their mind, they don’t separate the rooms mentally like we all do once we actually live in a house. 

Well, I hope I’m not contradicting myself too much here.  I guess the bottom line is that playing it safe is fine….maybe a little boring, but fine.  Character is a gamble.  If you are only planning on being in your current place for only a few years, go safe.    If you want a house with character & will be there for a longer time, go for it.  Chances are what you pick will be outdated/worn out by the time you sell, and you’ll get to enjoy them while you live there.

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